After spending the final trimester learning about Microsoft Office programs and taking tests, two Brownstown Central High School students earned the right to take their skills to the next level.
Makenzie Bennett won the state title in Microsoft Word 2013, while Luke Cobb was the state’s top finisher in Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 and Microsoft Excel 2013.
That qualified them for the 2016 Certiport Microsoft Office Specialist U.S. National Championship in Orlando, Florida.
There, Bennett wound up in the top 10 in Word, and Cobb competed in PowerPoint.
The two seniors-to-be were among 108 finalists for the national competition out of 300,000 entrants. More than 680,000 people took the tests this year.
The national winners will compete in the world championship Aug. 7 through 10.
“It was incredible,” Bennett said of the national championship. “There were so many kids from all across the nation, and you got to meet them, and they were so smart and talented. It was an honor to be among so many smart people.”
The competition started with Word in the morning, followed by Excel and PowerPoint. About 20 students competed at a time, and each of them had 50 minutes to try and complete an exam.
This time was different, though, because during the school year, Bennett and Cobb had multiple opportunities to take tests in Word, Excel and PowerPoint and try to earn a faster time.
At Orlando, they had one shot. Plus, the exam was more advanced and contained some parts that were new to the students.
“It wasn’t like the Certiport exam that we took at school. The instructions were on paper, and they were kind of vague. It wasn’t the same,” Bennett said.
“It was tough because at school, you had all of those shots. You knew you could mess up and go back and fix it later,” Cobb said. “But then this, you mess up, you’re done.”
Bennett said she got Word down to 7 minutes at school, but it took about 40 minutes longer at Orlando. Cobb wasn’t able to finish his PowerPoint slides at the national contest, and he said that was the case for several other competitors.
“You kind of just had to go with the flow. You could kind of guess around, and there were some things that we didn’t use, but you could find it and click around and make it work,” Bennett said.
“At the beginning, I was really flustered because I was like, ‘I’ve got to go quick. I want to win,’” Cobb said. “But then I had to calm myself down to get like, ‘Hey, I know how to do this. You’ve got to go slower.’”
This was the second year in a row for students in Robin Perry’s information communications and technology class at Brownstown to receive an opportunity to earn certifications in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
That required studying the programs in books, taking tests on a computer and scoring at least 700 to be considered certified.
The tests could be taken multiple times if students wanted to improve their time.
Times were posted online throughout the spring, but names were not listed with the results.
“We didn’t know for sure who each student was, so every time they updated the contest placements, we would log in to see if BCHS was still at the top,” Perry said. “I had students email me on my school account during the weekends to report BCHS was in the lead, so they were checking, too.”
Perry created a leaderboard in her classroom. As students improved, she moved their name along the board.
“It is satisfying to them and to me as a teacher to see their faces as they improve so they can move their name down the board or just make the board for the first time,” she said.
Bennett and Cobb both said they scored higher than 700 the first time they took the exams and kept taking them to improve their times.
“We thought we knew a lot about (the programs), and then we get in there, and there’s so much more. It was just the tip of the iceberg what we knew,” Bennett said.
“The guy in Florida quoted, ‘You all think you know how to do it, but then once you get into it, you really don’t,’” Cobb said. “There’s so much to them. It’s so vast.”
Perry said her students received more than 90 certifications.
She also had two students win state titles and qualify for the national competition last year.
“I think Makenzie and Luke performed fabulously at nationals,” Perry said. “To go in and take a test in a large setting like that would be difficult for anyone, but they didn’t let that hold them back. They represented BCHS and Indiana well. It was also nice that both students were able to visit surrounding attractions with their family while in Florida and create memories with their families.”
Perry said she chose to offer the free program through Certiport, Microsoft and the Indiana Department of Education again because of the benefits for students.
“The opportunity for students to gain certification is extremely beneficial in terms of gaining employment and in student confidence,” she said. “I have had students take their certificates to job interviews, and I have also seen students display them at their graduation parties. It’s that important to them. Also, the opportunity to have students compete nationally is a wonderful opportunity.”
Students also earn dual credits by passing Perry’s class, which will help them as they head to college and work toward a career.
Perry said the certifications help the students be that much more employable. According to microsoft.com, a certification can earn an entry-level business employee as much as $16,000 more in annual salary than uncertified peers.
While Bennett and Cobb can’t take Perry’s class again, they can take the exams to try and make it back to the national competition in a different Microsoft program.
Both of them encourage other Brownstown students to take Perry’s class and earn certifications.
“I definitely recommend it for the college benefits, and the experience down there (at nationals) is fun,” Cobb said.
“To any students who need to fill their schedule, definitely take Mrs. Perry’s class because it helps you in so many ways,” Bennett said. “If you take the exam, try to win and do your best because it’s a really good experience going down (to nationals).”
For information about becoming a Microsoft Office specialist, visit microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mos-certification.aspx.
Why are Microsoft Office certifications important?
Five times as many high-growth/high-salary positions require experience with Office than all non-Microsoft software skills combined.
Twenty-nine percent of tomorrow’s high-growth/high-wage positions require Office or Office-related skills.
Eighty-six percent of hiring managers indicate that information technology certifications are a high or medium priority during the candidate evaluation process.
Eight in 10 human resources executives verify certifications among job candidates.
Ninety-one percent of hiring managers consider certification as part of their hiring criteria.
In high-growth industries, entry-level employees who have a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certification or Microsoft Office Specialist certification can earn up to $16,000 more annually than their peers.
When you pass a Microsoft certification exam, you become a member of the Microsoft Certified Professional community with access to all of the benefits provided through the Microsoft Certification Program. You can use your Microsoft account to access your benefits and exams dashboard and to find lots of ways to keep your skills relevant, applicable and competitive.
Exams you pass and certifications you earn become a part of your official transcript, which you can allow potential employers to access directly. A Microsoft certification is an industry standard that is recognized worldwide and can help open doors to potential job opportunities.