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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nail that Certification Exam with uCertify.com's "200-530 – Zend PHP 5.3 Practice Test"

As a Moodler with a background in programming, I am keen to improve my PHP and MySQL programming skills. I recently had the opportunity to access and review uCertfy's Z200-530: Zend PHP 5.3 - Evaluation Copy PrepKit. This is my review. However, this is more than just a review on PHP exam preparation. It is also a review of the PrepKit software engine that is the brains and workhorse of uCertify's other Certification preparation products.


Introduction

Certification is the lifeline of any Information Technology (IT) Professional. IT professionals are constantly updating themselves with hard skills through Certification programmes. In a busy world like today, how do you keep pace with current IT skills like Oracle, Windows 7, CCNA, PHP, SQL, etc.?

Enter uCertify.com. uCertify.com specialises in certification preparation software. Now you can simulate the Certification Examination by taking an exam preparation kit by uCertify.

First, little introduction to uCertify. uCertify creates top quality test preparation software for over hundreds of IT certification exams from all major vendors including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, CompTIA, Cisco, Adobe, ISC-2, EC-Council, LPI, Project Management Institute, and CIW. uCertify offers a superior product with content written by industry experts, and a powerful learning platform that ensures understanding of the concepts being tested. UCertify's mantra is, 'Learn Smarter, not harder'. A visit to uCertify.com will show you that the company has a whole array of commercial certification study aids:


Screen 1: uCertify.com's array of products is dazzling


As its name suggests, "you" can and will "Certify yourself" by hard work and study. Self-discipline plays a major part in getting your IT skill certification if "you" do lots of self-study and keep away from Facebook, Youtube and Angry Birds.

I have divided this review into three logical sections.



Section I. Learn It!


This section is the main part of the software engine - the PrepKit. It allows you to assess your knowledge of PHP. The main assessment tool is the Test which consists mainly of multiple-choice questions. There are various Test sets - a diagnostic test, two practice tests, adaptive test and a final test. In addition, you have interactive and timed quizzes. This vast array of assessment tools is to the advantage of the learner!

Screen 2: Learn & Practice Main Menu

The Exam Preparation Engine presents you with a dashboard consisting of two main tabs. The interface itself is clean and neat, but tends to be cluttered with text on some screens. The Learn & Practice tab gives your a mostly text-based main menu with various Test options. The Study Helper had various options, mainly exam topics, that weren't selectable in the demo version.



Screen 3: Diagnostic Test - way too much on-screen text

A very nice touch is you can customise your own test session. Enter the total questions, the duration of the test and the passing score. Don't even think of cheating by entering a lower score! Leave the default value of 750 points for a real challenge. By the way, the screen above is an example of screen with, in my opinion, way too much text. I would suggest that to reduce text clutter, some of the text be hidden in a pop-up window.



Screen 4: Question type - single answer



The ubiquitous multiple-choice-question where you are presented with a multiple-choice question with 4 possible answers with a single correct answer. Below is another question type: multiple correct answers. 





Screen 5: Question type - multiple answer


uCertify supports 7 different formats of questions. It would be nice if drag-and-drop matching questions were supported to give the Learner some variety. The questions in the demo pack that I reviewed consisted of fully text-based questions. Also, it would be nice if there were some questions in the demo version with some graphics. The full version has content with images and graphics.

The questions presented are actual Certifcation level type of questions, meant to challenge you, or to drive you to despair if you didn't do any preparation. Don't expect to pass if you are trying your luck at the questions. If the code above looks nothing like anything you've ever seen before, then perhaps you're taking the wrong PrepKit. However, if the code above looks as familiar to you as your local district map, then go ahead and see if your can score a distinction!



Screen 6: End of Test - Pre-Result screen


Once you have finished answering all the questions in the test suite, you are ready to submit your answers for grading. Click the rd Result button to proceed.



Screen 7: Examination Score Card

Your score is displayed. The image above is my miserable score. Don't let it discourage you - my current level of PHP is limited more to the textbook "Hello World" level. If you're taking the Certification Exam, your score will most probably be greater than mine. You are given a chance to review the questions in multiple ways. 



Screen 8: Question Review1

Here's an example of a review. The explanation shown below the question is a nice touch. It allows the Learner to learn about the correct answer. The detail of the explanations vary from question to question. Unfortunately, the explanations themselves are the full width of the window, making it a tedius chore for the human eye to follow and to read.




Screen 9: Question Review2


Another lengthy explanation. The formatting of the explanation could be improved by putting the explanation text into half-screen-width columns. That would aid the readability of the verbose text.



Screen 10: Create a Custom Test - by chapters


You can also create a custom test by choosing questions from various categories. This is useful for you to hone your programming knowledge skills of specific chapters that you feel you are ready to be tested on.


Screen 11: Create a Custom Test - by all or specific questions

Creating a test - method2. You can create a test based on one or more, or all questions. You can even have the software choose for you all incorrectly answered questions. This level of customisability is an added plus point for the software. You can take a test in 2 modes: Test and Learn mode. Taking a test in Learn Mode means that you will receive feedback on your current answer, before moving on to the next question.




Screen 12: Tagging questions

Here's a nice touch: you can tag each question with a text. This allows you to create tests based on tagged questions. 



Screen 13: Create a test suite from tagged questions

You can create a custom test from questions that were tagged earlier.




Screen 14: Creating your own notes

Another nice touch is that you can create your own notes to accompany each question. However the text editor allows only standard text, not rich text. So if you copied a webpage's contents and pasted it into the text box, you would lose all formatting information.



Screen 15: Answering a question with user-saved notes

If a question has your custom notes saved, then in a custom test, you will be able to read those notes below the question being tested. This is a useful feature for open-notes tests, if ever such a test were needed.



Screen 16: Create a Quiz

You can also create a custom quiz by choosing questions based on various categories. This is useful for you to hone your programming knowledge skills of specific chapters that you feel you are ready to be tested on. 



Screen 17: Answering a Quiz question

As you answer a quiz, the time remaining for each question is displayed at the top-right-hand corner of the screen. The duration of the quiz is shown at the bottom of the window. I would have preferred if the duration timer text could be enlarged. Perhaps the developers felt that it would distract the user. However, it is important for the user to keep tabs on the remaining time, hence in my humble opinion, a large font would be better.


 Section II. Study Material


This section gives you to supplementary information and knowledge about the examination and the study areas involved. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Like Sun-Tze once said, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles". Your enemies are the knowledge-gaps of the syllabus.








 Screen 18: Exam Objectives

You can view the examination objectives. This arms you with the knowledge of which topics to study.

 

Screen 19: Study Notes1

Another test of your knowledge of PH functions. Better brush up your knowledge first!




Screen 20. Study Notes2

The Study Notes screens is shown above. I do have some gripes with the content. 

Firstly, the notes stretch along the entire window's width. The formatting could and should be improved so that reading the text will be easier on the eye. Secondly, in most cases of the demo, the notes provided were very brief. What happened to the examples? To show the user the format of the function is not enough. It should be complemented with some sample code usage of the function and the actual output. 

It can be argued that only professionals would purchase the PrepKit, and thus there is no need for the software to babysit the Learner with verbose, detailed and pedagogically enhanced study notes. I suppose it is assumed that the Learner has his own learning material. However, I feel that uCertify should have gone the extra mile and provide more detailed study notes, complete with examples and where permitting, diagrams and images to enhance the learning environment.



Screen 21. Articles1

You also have access to various articles. The demo only listed 2. The articles were lengthy and detailed.



Screen 22. Articles2

A sample lengthy article. Note the lack of diagrams or illustrations. Perhaps the developers could include such visual aids. That would make the content more engaging and visually more appealing.




Screen 23. Study Tips1

More help is available for you. If you are going to be spending hundreds of your hard-earned US Dollars on Certification examination fees, this software contains some invaluable study tips for you.




Screen 24. Study Tips2

For example, you can read the real examination structure, number of questions, duration, etc.


Section III. Tracking Your Progress

This section provides you feedback, both visually as well as numerically, of your study and assessment progress.

This section is useful for you if you are studying the material according to your own speed, pace and convenience. You can review your progress in three main ways. 


Screen 25. Test History

Firstly, track your progress based on a chronological record. The icons on the left of the screen are fully clickable, giving you full access to many ways to review the tests.





Screen 26. Test Readiness Report


You can check your progress of various test sets.


Screen 27. Objective Readiness Report

You can check your result performance according to objective categories. This gives you great visual feedback as to which topics you need to spend more time on. A nice touch is that you have instant access to re-test the questions based on correct, wrong or unattempted questions. This is a strong point of the software.

Overall the demo PrepKit has given me a taste of what the full version is like. The full version has everything the demo has, including:
  • 285 practice questions
  • 2 full length practice tests
  • 132 study notes
  • adaptive testing
  • access to final test
  • 24x7 technical support
  • free unlimited upgrades for one year
  • 100% money back guarantee
  • discount on all future purchases


Conclusion


Notwithstanding uCertify's awesome offer of a 100% money back guarantee - uCertify.com will refund your money if you don’t get certified on the first attempt - here is my concluding remarks and my review scores for uCertify.com's Examination Preparation software for Zend PHP 5.3 emo Verison (not the full version!):

Pros:
  • Easy to use and to navigate user interface;
  • Excellent PrepKit, rich in features that matter - the features that enable you to simulate the whole examination experience, and to help you to score higher in the Certification Examination.
  • The software also shines in the Progress Tracking section. This give valuable feedback to the self-paced learner to make the most of his or her examination preparations.
  • Fantastic offer of 100% money back guarantee
  • Company's excellent track-record of users' examination results. 14 years of excellence – over 98.17% pass rate, through the purchase and use of PrepKit-enabled products
Cons:
  • Explanations of answers should be formatted better - currently the text occupies the entire width of the windo, making it a core to read
  • Study content are skimpy - they could do with some serious beefing up so that the learner could also learn and reinforce his or her current knowledge
  • Screens can be wordy at times
  • Quiz timer digits of remaining time duration are too small
  • User created notes store only plain text

My Scores of the PrepKit Demo version:


User Interface
7/10 **********
Exam Engine
9/10 **********
Study Content
5/10 **********
OVERALL SCORE
is 7/10*

* = The full version PrepKit should and will definitely score higher than this!

In Closing

If you are a beginner PHP programmer, I wouldn't recommend uCertify's PrepKit to you. Do not look to the software to teach you PHP! That is not its strength. The Study Notes are skimpy and inadequate to fill you with PHP knowledge. For PHP knowledge, it would be best for you to look elsewhere - a good, comprehensive book on PHP, Google PHP tutorial sites and blogs, etc. You would have to feed on PHP books and websites, and do lots of coding and projects in PHP to be come more proficient first. The PrepKit's strength lies in the test management engine that allows you to take assessments and to keep track of your progress.

However, for any PHP developer or professional, for whom certification is of utmost importance, I assume that you already have a background and experience in coding in PHP. If that is you, then I highly recommend uCertify's Zend PHP 5.3 PrepKit software. The main reason is because, even though its study notes content can be made more comprehensive, I find the software to be feature-rich, highly flexible and effective in preparing the professional for any Certification Examination. Kudos to uCertify.com. So for the IT professional, uCertify offers a superior product with content written by industry experts, and a powerful learning platform that ensures understanding of the concepts being tested.

Postscript: 
This just in:
Readers of moodurian.blogspot.com are entitled to a specaial 10% discount (in addition to any existing sale) on any test preparation software from uCertify. Email me (boonsengkam@gmail.com) for your special 10% discount code in uCertify's shopping cart.

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