Certifications / Microsoft

Microsoft Office Certifications — Are They Worth It?

by Team Nuggets
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Published on May 28, 2019

Microsoft offers some of the most popular tech products in the world. While many users might not be familiar with Azure, Microsoft Server, or SQL Server, they certainly know about Windows and the apps in the Microsoft Office suite. Applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are so typical that they are taken for granted.

Every Microsoft product has a corresponding professional certification. The Microsoft Office is no different — in fact, it has three. Microsoft Office certifications are somewhat controversial because Office is a baseline technical competency for most office jobs. And for something so familiar, why get certified?

We'll explore that question, looking at what these certificates cover, who should earn them, and who should not.

Microsoft Office Certifications and Exams

There are three Microsoft Office certifications: Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), MOS Expert, and MOS Master. They are intended to demonstrate increasing proficiency levels in using one or more of the five main Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook.

The key word here is "using". These certs are all about using the Office apps, not installing or administering them.

We used the term "increasing levels of proficiency", but maybe we should say "increasing breadth of proficiency". That's because specialist-level exams are used at each level apart from Expert-level exams for Word and Excel. You must pass more of them as you move up the ladder. The current certification exams are for the 2016 versions of Office apps, also available via the cloud in Office 365.


You do not need specific prerequisites for any of the MOS certification levels. Microsoft, however, recommends that you have specific skills in Microsoft Office or the previous level of certification.

Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS)

You can become a MOS Specialist in one or more of the five Office apps we mentioned. There are no prerequisites. All you need do is pass the relevant exam(s):

Again, these exams show that you are proficient in the application. They do not say whether you can install or administer the app.

MOS exams are administered at third-party Certiport Authorized Testing Centers. Each exam costs $100 USD for an individual purchaser. Corporate purchasers, schools, and testing centers may be able to negotiate special pricing with Certiport.

Each exam is weighted into four or five categories related to the use of the particular application. For example, the Word 2016 exam contains the following categories:

  • Create and Manage Documents (25-30%)

  • Format Text, Paragraphs, and Sections (25-30%)

  • Create Tables and Lists (20-25%)

  • Create and Manage References (5-10%)

  • Insert and Format Graphic Elements (20-25%)

  • Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Expert

Whereas the baseline Specialist certification allows you to be certified in one or more of five Office applications, the MOS Expert cert is focused on your choice of just two: Word or Excel.

You can get certified as a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Expert in one or both of these apps by passing the appropriate expert-level exam(s):

There are no specific prerequisites for either exam, although proficiency in Word or Excel is recommended. If you can't pass the Specialist exam, don't waste your time and money on the Expert exam.

As with the Specialist level exams, the Expert examinations are administered at Certiport Authorized Testing Centers for $100 per exam for an individual purchaser.

Both exams are weighted in four categories related to the use of the app. The Excel 2016 Expert exam covers the following categories and weightings:

  • Manage Workbook Options and Settings (10-15%)

  • Apply Custom Data Formats and Layouts (20-25%)

  • Create Advanced Formulas (35-40%)

  • Create Advanced Charts and Tables (25-30%)

As previously mentioned, these exams validate expertise in using the apps, not administering them. Therefore, they would be relevant to professionals who use Word or Excel or support other users.

For example, a MOS Expert certification might be useful for a Word or Excel trainer or help desk person. An Excel Expert certification might also be useful for accounting and financial professionals and data analysts who must be proficient in advanced spreadsheet techniques.

Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master

The highest level of MOS certification is the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master. The exams that you need to pass are ones that you might have taken at the Specialist or Expert levels. Unlike those levels, where you could be certified in just ONE app, here you are expected to prove your mastery of four apps, including passing the Expert-level exams for Word and Excel.

To be certified as a MOS Master, you must pass exams for three required Office apps, followed by one exam for your choice of an additional application.

The exams you must pass are as follows:

You can then pick one of these exams:

If you're already a certified Microsoft Office Specialist or Expert, then you may have taken and passed one or more of these exams. You have to fill in the gaps.

However, it's not like other certs where you must be a Specialist before you can become an Expert. You can go straight for the Master badge. It will cost you $500 to take all five exams.

As we've said before, the exams are weighted into four or five categories related to the use of the specific app. The Outlook 2016 exam (Exam 77-731) has the following categories and weightings:

Manage the Outlook environment for productivity (20-25%)

  • Manage Messages (35-40%)

  • Manage Schedules (35-40%)

  • Manage Contacts and Groups (10-15%)

Which One Should You Pursue First?

There are no prerequisites for MOS and MOS Expert. So which should you do first? It depends on whether you want to get your MOS Master, which requires the MOS and Expert.

Based on the skills demanded by your employer, you'll know which exams are the best. With this information, you can decide whether to get certified and, if so, at what level.

Why Become Office Certified

Although most business and government organizations use the Office suite, it's probably true the overwhelming majority of people use only a few of the apps. And from there, only a fraction of the features of each app. You may think you know Office, Excel, or PowerPoint. But you've probably only been scratching the surface.

Unlike their more technical certifications, Microsoft has not done a tremendous job promoting the MOS certs to employers as a measure of user proficiency. For that reason, you won't see many jobs that specify a Microsoft Office Specialist as a requirement.

You're more likely to see general requirements such as "must be proficient with all Microsoft Office; Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Outlook". However, organizations tend to be open to training and development and will likely pay for MOS certification exams.

So should you go to it? If you're working in an office and using one or more Office apps, then going for a Specialist level certification in Word will probably be a good move. At a minimum, it demonstrates your proficiency and eagerness to advance to your boss. Depending on what apps are used, you can go for additional certifications.

Can you help your boss with her PowerPoint presentations? What about Excel and Access for financial and data analysis? The certs you go for will be situation-specific — depending on what your job requires and your career goals.

The same thing applies to the Expert level certs. If there's value to you and your job in becoming an MOS Expert, then go for it. Perhaps a MOS Expert in Excel will help you land that coveted analyst slot in the Finance or Strategic Planning department.

Training and Office Support is one area where MOS certifications are specified as a job requirement. In these situations, you are either teaching students how to use one or more of the Office apps or you are providing Help Desk support to end users.

In these situations, Expert or Master level certifications may be a requirement for the job. Practically speaking, the MOS Master cert with an Access elective would be an ideal combination for either of these job responsibilities.

Why It Doesn't Make Sense to Get Office Certified

How can a MOS certification benefit you if you already have a job? Just because you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Access regularly doesn't mean it's worth getting certified. It might be worth taking a course or two in using a Microsoft Office product. But there's probably little reason to spend the extra time and money for the certification exam(s).

If you're an IT pro working in an Office or Office 365 environment, you might consider how a certification like the MCSA: Windows Server 2016 might be more valuable than an MOS cert. It can't hurt to learn to use Office apps, but you'll get more career leverage by learning how to administer them.

Wrapping Up

Since Microsoft Office apps are in almost everyone's workspace, most people can probably benefit from some training. However, taking the next step to certification is an individual choice.

Your decision on whether to go for a Microsoft Office Specialist certification will be based on your own personal situation. Factors could include your current job, your aspirations, or your long-term career goals.

Whether you want to upskill in Microsoft Excel or earn a MOS certification, CBT Nuggets has the necessary training. Trainer Simona Millham has created a wide range of Microsoft Office training — from Word to Teams!


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