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Handling that external pressure

The ACE students battle along with their coursework despite illness and mounting external commitments, showing initiative and remaining positive in the face of increasing exam difficulty.

Since getting their first real taste in mid-February of the workplace environments where they will begin their careers in the IT industry, it was back to business-as-usual for our ACE Diploma students Shayna Bryers and Michael Lovell. Well, at least for a short while.

Following their placements, at an already busy time of year, extra-curricular activities and straight-up illness complicated matters even more. For Bryers, the MBA that she has ambitiously undertaken while also studying at ACE began to demand even more of her time, alongside other external pressures. She took this all in her stride as she sat the ‘Implementing, Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure’ exam early in order to fit everything in. “I was the first in the class to book and pass my exam on Monday morning, which left me with time to organise the induction of ACE’s second intake for the Diploma in Computer Technology, which started on the same day,” she details in her blog.

With several major MBA assignments looming, Bryers was forced to take further initiative and sit another upcoming exam ahead of schedule. She conducted her study over the weekend before, and was, once again, the first in the class to sit the Microsoft Certified System Engineering (MCSE) exam, doing so at the very beginning of the study week the class was allotted to prepare for the exam. “It was hard, but I got through it,” she said, adding that she achieved a pass mark of 915 out of 1000.

Lovell, on the other hand, has unfortunately been debilitated by illness. He missed out on some five days of class, and he was then forced to play catch-up. Of course, being behind means that catching up is eating into the time allotted to other course material. “It’s basically set me back about a week at least. It’s so frustrating because we started the next course on Wednesday. My goal is, today and tomorrow, I’m going to make catch-up study days and then over the weekend, I’ll study the [exam] material,” he said.

Typically, the students have an allocated period to prepare for a course segment and then sit the exam, although there is a degree of flexibility as to when they can take the test. “If we miss that window, then it’s slotted around the other course. It’s like a big pie, really. How we slice the pie is really up to us,” explained Lovell.

He has also noticed a monumental increase in the difficulty of the exams at this part of the year, which is adding to his woes. “These ones are more than just studying the material; there’s industry experience to go along with it. We’re given case studies and we answer technical questions based on the case studies.”

Surprisingly, though, and despite all of the frustration, Lovell is ploughing through the work with a positive attitude. “On the whole, I’m very confident. It’s still all good. Spirits are high. Paul [Hooykaas] has been a fantastic tutor. He’s helped me a lot.”

ACE has also recently laid down some firmer ground rules for the students when it comes to preparing for exams. “ACE has sort of revised its policy on which programs we can and can’t use as study aids,” began Lovell. “Where they had a loose policy before, ACE now has a watertight policy. From my point of view, it levels the playing field. There’s only two in New Zealand that Microsoft has approved. ACE has come back and said we can only support the ones that Microsoft has approved.”

Secondly, the students are now required to study on-site at ACE, which Lovell sees as a positive on many levels. “It’s nice being there with Paul. He can give me immediate feedback, and there’s a real team environment, which is good.”

Where previously it had been somewhat of a moving target, the students now have a more realistic idea of when the course will wrap up. “We’re looking at finishing around about the end of April, first week of May,” said Bryers. Once the course is over, Bryers and Lovell will almost immediately begin their careers with Microsoft and Axon respectively.