A short while before TechEd, Andrew Coates wrote on his blog that people could do free Microsoft exams at TechEd. I did my first MS exam in 1998, getting my MCSD under the old Architecture I and II exams. I upgraded to the VB6 exams as the other ones deprecated, but hadn't taken the .Net exams yet. Just hadn't put the priority on it that I had done in the past. Perhaps it would be different if the VB6 ones had deprecated too, but they haven't, so I hadn't taken any of the new exams yet.
But I had thought I should get around to it, and had even bought a couple of exam prep books. So I registered to do one at TechEd, and then registered to do the second one too. Stupid really. Just made me stress a bit, remembering how I always went into uni exams feeling under-prepared, and had typically felt the same about MS exams. I figured they were free, and it wouldn't matter if I failed - but I don't do failure, and I did stress a bit.
I read through the two books once each by the time TechEd came round. It just reminded me that I tend to rely on documentation for knowing the details of how to do lots of things. The principles are there, but when I go to write the code, I'll look it up, use Intellisense, that type of thing. I'm sure this is what most people do, but it doesn't help pass an MCSD.Net exam.
The first exam was 70-320 - XML in C#. I passed in about half the time. So I asked about doing the other exam right away. Not because I felt I was ready (I didn't), but because there was an offer to resit any exams done in August for free during September. It was Aug 31st, so I just planned to get a month study time. But I passed that too! And still before the scheduled end of the first exam! I was now MCAD. I asked about trying the other two exams during TechEd too, and they said ok. One during my other scheduled time, and one on stand-by. I had no study material for them, so I was a little stressed (Roslyn tells me I was very stressed), but I just thought maybe I could get one of them passed and behind me.
So anyway, I'm now MCSD.Net, and didn't use that stand-by time. I think the exams are less pedantic than they were in the 90s, which I guess is why I managed to pass them without doing Transcender exams and reading lots. If you're in the .Net space then you're doing this type of thing often enough so that you probably know enough to pass the exams - so don't worry about maybe failing them. Buy a book. Do a sample exam. But even if you can't do these things - just try the exams. And if you see them offered for free, then jump at the chance. And I'm including you in this, Alastair!