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Earning Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) Status

written by: John Garger•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/15/2010

Microsoft offers certification in its core products such as Windows, Word, Excel, and other applications. Learn the advantages and requirements of becoming a Microsoft Certified Application Specialist.

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    Why Become Certified?

    Microsoft applications have become so entrenched in office settings that some companies require at least some level of familiarity with them before a potential candidate for hire is offered an interview. Unfortunately for many companies and interviewees, there is serious ambiguity as to what constitutes familiarity, competency, and mastery of the applications.

    One problem companies often run into is gauging skill competency for which there are no standards set that distinguishes one person’s abilities from another person’s abilities. College degrees indicate what a graduate is capable of but there were no certifications that measured an applicant’s skills with the Microsoft Office applications, an increasingly important skill set.

    The answer to this problem came from Microsoft itself with the introduction of application certifications. Much like an educational environment, participants in the certification program study, take tests, and earn different combinations of certification depending on which program the student wishes to pursue.

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    What Application Certifications are Available from Microsoft?

    The Microsoft Certified Application program offers three levels of certification. The Specialist program allows participants to specialize in any one of five applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. Students may, of course, become certified in more than one program but passing the specialist exam in only one application is enough to earn Specialist Certification in that particular application.

    Expert certification is available for both Word and Excel. Passing either of the expert exams certifies the student as an expert in his/her respective application. Students may also earn expert certification in both Word and Excel by passing both expert exams.

    Master certification is also available but is different from the previous two programs. To earn master certification, participants must pass both of the expert exams for Word and Excel but must also pass the PowerPoint specialist exam, as there is no expert exam for PowerPoint. In addition, students must also pass one elective exam in either Access or Outlook. Clearly, becoming certified at the mastery level is much more of an investment in time and effort. Whether the effort is worth the outcome is for the student to decide. If Microsoft applications are an absolute necessity in a certain field, the extra effort may be worth the certification to be seen as superior to other applicants for a position.

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    Passing the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) Exams

    Passing certain or a combination of certain exams earns a student in the MCAS program certification in Microsoft applications. The exams are currently handled by Certiport to ensure fair and accurate testing conditions and environments. Exams are not pencil and paper but are administered in a simulated environment where students must demonstrate first-hand their ability to competently use the application under review.

    Exams for MCAS programs must be taken at Certiport Centers found in most major metropolitan area. To find a testing center near you, consult the Certiport website. At this time, there are no options and no plans to offer online certification. This is mainly due to the inability to ensure test integrity if no proctor or administrator is present during testing. Some find this fact a little dated but actually, it only serves to enhance the legitimacy of the certification by ensuring that Microsoft does not certify an undeserving candidate.

    Microsoft does not offer refunds if a student fails an exam or misses the exam date. Consequently, students have the highest incentive to take studying the material seriously to avoid wasted time and money. In addition, the Help menu in each application is disabled during testing ensuring that students know the material themselves and are not relying on the application’s help database to get through the test or jog their memory during testing.

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    The Microsoft Certified Application Specialist program offers students an opportunity to document their knowledge of Microsoft applications without having to enroll in costly college courses or spend several semesters in an institution of higher learning. In fields where knowledge of Microsoft application is a necessary condition of employment, the MCAS program may be beneficial as a way to document and make tangible an important skill set.