Microsoft Office Certification - Is it Right for You?

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Did you know that you could get certified in the Microsoft Office product line? Did you ever consider why you would need or even want this certification? This article should help you answer both questions, plus fill in the rest of the blanks about this certification track.

Who is the MOS for?

The Microsoft Office Specialist was designed for anyone who needs or wants to validate computer desktop skills on the Microsoft Office products. Considering how ubiquitous the Office products are in professional industry, this could include anyone from an administrative assistant to a network administrator.

Available Tracks

The MOS certification is available for Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003. It is also available in four levels: Specialist, Expert, Master, and Master Instructor. The Specialist and Expert Level certifications require only one exam while the Master level requires four.

The Master instructor level requires a candidate to have the MOS Master certification and either instructor experience, or qualifying instructor training or instructor certification. A candidate must then submit an application with the required documentation and pay a $95 fee.

Notice that Office 2007 certification is not listed as an available MOS track. This is because the MOS has been replaced by the new generation of certifications from Microsoft.

The MOS Upgrade Path: Microsoft Business Certification (MSBC)

The MOS has been replaced by the Microsoft Business Certification (MSBC) track. This track is mandatory if you want to obtain certification in Office 2007.

This track has two certification series that address product and job role competencies: respectively, the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) Series and the Microsoft Certified Application Professional (MCAP) Series.

The Application Specialist certification targets Information Workers and covers the 2007 versions of the most popular Microsoft Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. Windows Vista is also covered in this series.

The Application Professional certification is designed to meet the needs of workers who use the 2007 Microsoft Office system to deliver on specific projects and tasks. This credential demonstrates advanced, cross-industry skills and collaboration capabilities. The focus areas include managing budgets, managing presentations, and managing team collaboration.

The MSBC is still under development by Microsoft and is subject to many changes before it is finalized. Be sure to check the Microsoft website frequently to keep yourself up-to-date with changes.

Exam Format and Length

Office Specialist certification exams are performance-based and not written. Exams take an hour or less to complete and test results are available as soon as the exam is finished. Each exam is conducted within a "live" or simulated Microsoft Office program. Exam candidates use the actual program, or a simulation of the program, to perform a series of tasks to demonstrate their skills and product expertise. For example, a Microsoft Excel exam might ask a user to sum the values of a column and set the number format of that sum to two decimal places.

I already have the MOS 2000\XP\2003 certification. Will my MOS be retired when the MSBC is released? Will my Office (pre 2007 version) MOS certification be retired?

Microsoft stated previously that candidates who are certified in Office 97 would not lose their certification when the Office 97 MOS was retired in July of 2002. This is an acknowledgement by Microsoft that legacy products are often still in use long after newer products have been released to replaced them. This implies that even when the MOS is retired, candidate MOS certifications will not be invalidated. But do not quote me on this. The microsoft website has the final word on such matters.

Microsoft Official Pre-test Series for the MSBC

The pre-test series of tests are a way for individuals to determine their skill level. These tests are low cost (under 30 dollars) and are taken online. Results from pre-tests are used to create a custom learning plan for candidates that includes instructor led training, Microsoft E-Learning, and Microsoft Press Step-by-Step books.


Results posted on the Microsoft website from an independent study on MOS certification reveal the following:

  • Up to 87 percent of employers observe increased competency in their Office Specialist-certified employees.
  • Up to 83 percent of employers feel their Office Specialist-certified employees are more productive.
  • Up to 77 percent of employers feel Office Specialist certification has a positive effect on employee credibility among co-workers.
  • Up to 74 percent of employers feel Office Specialist certification has a positive effect on employee credibility with customers and clients.
  • Up to 82 percent of employers believe Office Specialist certification directly benefits an organization.
  • Up to 67 percent of employers feel Office Specialist simplifies hiring and advancement decisions.

So, aside from increased productivity gained through the certification process, another major benefit is increased employer recognition. Candidates that achieve the MOS certification or the MSBC will also receive a certificate by mail documenting the achievement.

Testing Centers

Unlike all other Microsoft exams, the MOS is not offered at Sylvan Prometric of VUE testing centers. Instead MOS Certification exams are offered exclusively by iQcenters, authorized Office Specialist exam testing centers.

College Credit

The American Council on Education (ACE) has recommended MOS certifications for MS Office 2000 and 2002 for one semester hour of college credit in “Computer Applications” or “Information technology.” Considering the price of the MOS certification exams (typically less than 100 dollars) and the average cost of a college credit hour (50 to 300 dollars per credit hour), this can save you cash.

Exam Fees Reimbursement for United States Military Personnel and Veterans

Active duty military personnel, veterans, and their family members who take exams in the Microsoft Office Specialist certification program can now use their United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits to cover examination fees.

That covers the bulk of what you need to know. If you have any further questions, your best bet is the Microsoft website.

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Gary Eimerman

(VP of IT Pro Content) heads up the IT pro curriculum at Pluralsight. He brought his expertise over from TrainSignal, where he spent eight years helping to grow the company into the leader in online IT training. Gary has a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems from University of Iowa and brings hands-on experience with computer hardware, networking and administration, as well as a passion for education, to the Pluralsight team.

You can follow him on Twitter: @garyeimerman.