Microsoft exams are flavour of the month at work at the moment. A training company have sent the developers a quick quiz to fill in, which seems to be about about 40 questions pulled from here. [n.b. I found this after I completed the quiz.]
Once completed, the quiz is sent back to the trainers for assessment. There will be individual interviews where the results are discussed, and a training plan developed to see what needs to be done to pass the exam. This seems like a good approach, as the study books are really fat.
I have been a little negative about the prospect of taking Microsoft exams. The main reasons I've been given for taking them have been rather cynical - it looks good on your CV, and it helps the company with partner status. In the first case, I've known bad developers get certified, and good developers with no exams, so if I were interviewing someone, I'd probably ignore the exams. It's true that it's good to have MCP / MCAD etc. on your CV if you want to work for a company where the HR department checks the applicants for buzzwords. Neither of these reasons have motivated me to give my spare time to studying.
The least-mentioned benefit, and the only one that has motivated me, is that I'll learn more about .NET. My current method is a little less structured than cramming for an exam: I subscribe to various .NET blogs. There were a couple of questions in the quiz that I knew the answers to solely from blog reading, such as the difference between value types and reference types, and what boxing and unboxing is all about.
So, two approaches to learning. Which is better? Exams force you to learn things that you wouldn't otherwise know about. This is both a good and bad thing. I went on a SQL Server course once, and spent a good chunk of time learning about replication. That was good, as I learnt something knew, and also bad, as I have never needed to use replication since, and could have learned about something more useful. With blog reading, I choose to skip over the things I don't need to know about, such as remoting or image manipulation. Again, this is a good and bad thing. I can't decide which is better at the moment.
Once I've had the interview, and find out which exam(s) I'll be most suited for, and what I'll need to study to pass them, I can decide how relevant the exam is for me. Whilst I don't want to take anything away from people who have passed exams, I don't really give two hoots if I take or pass the exam. I'm interested to see how much I learn along the way, and how practical my increased knowledge will be. I certainly don't want to cram-pass-forget a load of stuff.