How does Microsoft set time limits for exams?

Microsoft Certification exams are intended to test whether or not you have a certain set of skills. That said, from a practical standpoint, Microsoft cannot allow a candidate to take up a seat in a testing center until the cows come home. They do have to set a time limit on every exam. It is, after all, a standardized test!

The seat time is comprised of two parts: the exam time, which is set aside solely for a candidate to answer the items; and the non-exam time, which includes the NDA, the instructions, the post-exam comment period, and other non-exam activities.

When Microsoft releases the beta version of an exam, they typically set the seat time to the four-hour maximum, and set the exam time to whatever is left after the non-exam time is subtracted. During the beta, Microsoft gathers statistics on how long candidates spend on the exam. The exam time for the live exam is calculated based on how long it would have taken at least 95% of the beta candidates to answer the number of items that were selected for the live forms. The exam time is recalculated based on fresh statistics every time the exam is republished.

Exams should allow candidates to demonstrate their skills on a given content area in a fair and equitable environment. This means that certain candidates are entitled to more exam time than others. For example, some candidates have disabilities that make it difficult to finish an exam in the standard duration. These candidates may be eligible for a special accommodation, such as extended time. For more information about special accommodations for MCP exams, click here. Or, for more information in general – look at the Born to Learn site.

If an exam is not available in your native language and you must take it in English, you may request an additional 30 minutes to complete it. You need to set this up when you register for the exam—it cannot be done at the testing center on the day of your exam.

Statistically, very few MCP candidates are unable to finish the exam in the time provided. That doesn’t mean that you won’t run out of time, because you could be part of that small percentage. I’m saying that during the exam, your focus should be on answering the questions correctly rather than on watching the exam timer. If you’re worried that you’re not going to finish every question, make use of that Mark for Review button. Answer the questions you know first. Skip the questions that are taking you too long and come back to them later.

-Randy Muller

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