A few years back I was working for a smallish IT company who didn't have the budget to pay for me to go on the whole Microsoft Certified systems engineering training course (MCSE), they did have some budget and after discussion with my manager at the time we agreed to purchase a CBT (computer based training) course which would cost about the same price as 2 of the modules if class room training was provided.
The MCSE certification consists of 7 exams, each of which cover a different subject within Microsoft's requirements. There are 4 core exams that revolve around the Windows server 2003 product, they include management and maintenance, networking, and 2 planning modules. There is an exam that revolves around a Windows desktop OS (vista or XP), a design exam (for designing networks around specific requirements), and an optional exam that covers one of Microsoft's Server application line up such as Exchange, SQL or SMS server.
We looked at several products including Train Signal, CBT nuggets, and Testout as they were the big players and each had a good reputation. After reading the reviews though we opted to buy Testout's MCSE certification course as it had the most varied and interesting feature set.
The training itself is really impressive as it aims to give the closest possible experience to actually being in a class room. Each course is broken down into modules that cover the areas of the exam that you are training for. The training is then delivered in several forms. It usually starts with a trainer who faces you and explains the module, he/she uses a whiteboard to diagram the theory of the module before switching to a demo (screen recording) of the area concerned (where applicable). Where possible the module finishes with a simulation where you have to complete a number of tasks to show that you have understood the content. Finally you get a small 2-10 question test that is similar to the Actual exam. The software records all the videos you complete, the passed/failed simulations, and the results of the mini tests which it collates into an easy to read report. If you close the program it also saves the point you were at so it will return you to the same screen as you left.
Upon completion of all the modules you are given a mock exam which covers all the topics you will get in the exam. After completing the exam it will give you a score and will show you where you did well and where you need to go back to in order to strengthen your knowledge.
The training for each exam varies between 20 - 35 hours worth of training over 1 or 2 CD's. This is a good 10 - 15 hours more than either Train Signal or CBT offer but that is because of the extra content.
CBT and Train Signal are both video only training where you never see the instructor (purely screen recorded) and you never get any simulations or test questions.
I found myself spending an hour most evenings doing the training over a month before doing each exam, taking a couple of weeks between courses, this allowed me to complete the MCSE in just over a year which felt like it was about the right amount of time without impeding too much on the rest of my life.
I have since used some of the training materials from CBT and Train Signal as they have offerings that Testout don't but I can say without a shadow of doubt that the Testout offering is far better on a like for like course. Each video on testout is bite size usually not going over 10 minutes each compared to the others which has videos which can last up to 50 minutes at a time meaning that your attention has gone long before the video has finished. Add that to the fact that neither Train Signal or CBT save your progress, offer simulation, or practice exams then I feel that the testout software is far superior.
The only downside to Testout's offering is its price. Individually each exam costs $499 usd or you can get the 13 MCSE pack for $1999USD, compare this to the CBT Nuggets who offer the same exam set for $899USD then the argument suddenly becomes a lot harder especially with the tightening IT budgets in this recession hit time (not to mention the low £ - $ rate at the moment) .
In conclusion the testout course is excellent, it allows you to learn at your own pace at times that suit you. It has a great variety that brings it closer to the real class room experience compared to other products on the market even at its hugely increased price. If you can afford it then the experience will be massively improved.
Oh and don't forget to factor in the £90 per exam when you sit them as well.