Friday, 19 August 2011

Trying the CompTIA Network+ 2009 Prepkit from uCertify

I've recently been approached to review one or more of this vendor's training and so-called PrepKits, and having obtained the CompTIA Network+ 2009 certification myself thought this would be a good start, as this is making it possible to compare with other solutions and methods of learning.

First thing you need to do is go to the uCertify website, download the course you are interested in which gives access to a restricted free version, and then register the PrepKit if you decide to buy it as per these instructions, to unlock all the exam preparation and training features. I found the website easy to navigate and there's even a helpful CertAdvisor that can assist to zero in on your area of interest, although quite frankly if you've come this far and think of taking certification you should know what you're good at or need for the job. There's also an overview of hot certifications and practice tests, a sort of 'What's trending' feature on the main page.

uCertify seem very certain of their training and they offer a 100% money back guarantee should you not pass the test. Kits are not exactly cheap at anything between $84.99 and $120, but there are various deals that can knock off a percentage, and buying a competitor kit can cost roughly about the same in my estimate.

The file is distributed as a manageable 9.87 MB download, unfortunately only available as a Windows executable, so I resorted to my spare Windows 7 that came with the laptop and keep around for the odd gaming session. It would be nice if this could be made available in a more platform neutral format, or at least as a self-contained binary or tarball to ensure it will run on most if not all Linux distributions.

After installing I typed in the activation key received and hit update. The uCertify interface launched and I was able to navigate around among all the options, which seemed a bit overwhelming at first. My initial reaction was that perhaps they could trim it down a bit to focus more on the immediate knowledge transfer, then on training questions and exam checks.

Unfortunately I made the mistake of closing the interface after a bit of a looksie, and when trying to restart it received the following error:
Unable to connect to the PrepKit C:\Program Files(x86)\uCertify\CN10-004\CN10-004.ucp
After hitting ok this resulted in another pop up window with the familiar helpful message that
PrepEngine has stopped working, do you want Windows to look online for a solution, or close.
Knowing this is Windows I rebooted, but to no avail. I decided to give it another try and to first uninstall then reinstall the program. When I went for that I was told that -mysteriously- Windows was unable to uninstall the program and it may have already been uninstalled. Turning into a bit of a chore here.

Not somebody to give up easily, we use Slackware after all, I reinstalled the uCertify PrepEngine and this time all was well, it even picked up the activation key I had entered before. Happy happy, and time to take some screenshots (above). The program places a launcher on your desktop btw, and I later found out that uninstalling PrepKit did not remove shortcuts on the desktop and in the main menu, it did not even cleanly remove all the files, which is bad behavior reminiscent of the old W95/98 days. In the end I had to manually clean up and remove the relevant registry entries as well to make sure.

After all this we finally get down to business, and I was able to seriously inspect what PrepKit has to offer. The idea of including a flash card section seems good to me, giving the candidate the opportunity to write down his own open ended answer before checking. This ensures learning is more than a tick box exercise. Answers are quite comprehensive. Under Study Notes one can find a sort of glossary of important protocol and technologies.

The Final Test section gives the candidate 40 questions to answer in 120 minutes, which are supposedly more difficult than the ones in the proper exam. If I remember correctly the vendor exam had 90 questions though. Above all, when I was ready to take the test and hit the Start Test button the window became non-responsive for around a minute. I was about to force close it when suddenly it proceeded and the first test question showed up. Unfortunately, like before in the so called diagnostic test, I saw four answers displayed but no actual question. How are you supposed to answer this one?

And so it went with the adaptive test and the interactive quiz sections, all taking a long time to load with long periods of unresponsiveness leading up to it. If I wasn't a patient person...

To sum it all up, this uCertify PrepKit is a nice idea and has potential, but for less than £30 I can get a book from McGraw-Hill including a CD in the back that actually works, giving me training videos on every chapter of the book as well as two mock exams with different questions to test my readiness. I also found the book rather comprehensive, a pleasure to go through, and better structured with self-tests and exam relevant summaries at the end of every chapter. It got me prepared and was the only expense incurred apart from the exam fees, and I passed with a good score first time. The book was also on CD in searchable electronic format, for people who just don't want to lug a heavy book around, so there's no excuse.

If on the other hand the PrepKit had worked as advertised, at least displayed the actual questions and not taken minutes to load every section, it would have scored better, but I still find the whole setup a bit convoluted and the interface too crowded. As it stands, I can only say there are better solutions out there to help you learn that don't get in the way as much.


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