Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft Certification’

How to Study for a Certification Exam

The most common question I get when talking about certification is what should I study? Well, before you crack open a book, take the time to make sure you are taking the right exam, and figure out what you don’t know so your study time will be spent as effectively as possible. If you want get certified, there is a simple plan you can follow:

  1. Choose your certification goal/exam
  2. Figure out what you don’t know
  3. Fill in the gaps
  4. Take the exam

In the last blog, “How to Prepare for a Certification Exam” I talked about how to figure out what you don’t know. That blog explained how to determine what topics are on the exam, and how to prioritize the topics to study. Now it’s time to look at Step Three: Filling in the Gaps.

You’ve completed step two “Figure out what you don’t know”, so you should now have a list of the topics you need to study. But where will you find suitable study materials? There are many, many resources out there to help you prepare for exams. Let’s review a few key resources.

Preparation Materials tab in the Exam Guide

Every exam guide has a section called Preparation Materials that lists all the MsPress books, e-learning, and courses you can access that include content covered in the exam. Now it’s important to note that just because a course or book is listed here that taking that course or reading that book guarantees you will pass the exam. You know what topics you need to study. These are suggested resources. You need to go look at the course outlines to see if they cover the areas you need to study, you need to see the table of contents for that book to see if it has sections on the areas YOU need to study. The courses and books are a great overall review, but unless you take a boot camp course which is designed to help you prepare for a specific exam, you should assume the course only covers some of the exam content. So you still need to find your gaps and fill those gaps. Some exams, like this SharePoint 2010 exam, also have Exam Coaching Sessions with tips on that specific exam you can watch.


Training Kits

The more popular exams have books called Self-Paced Training Kits that are specifically designed to help you prepare for an exam. They include exercises and practice tests to help you study and check your knowledge at the same time. If you are going to invest in a book to help you prepare, and there is a training kit for your exam, these are often a worthwhile investment. If you already have deep knowledge of the product and just need to learn a few specific topics, the training kit is probably more than you need.

Practice Exams

Practice Exams are also a great study tool. Both MeasureUp and SelfTest give you the option of completing practice test in a learning or study mode. These are a great study tool because after you answer each question you can check your answer and then read an explanation of why each answer was wrong or right. For the maximum value from a practice test, I recommend customizing your test. Both Self Test and MeasureUp give you the option of specifying which topics you want on your test. If there is a specific content area you know you need to study, customize your test to ask you all the questions on that topic.

Training Catalog

The Microsoft Learning Training Catalog is another great place to search for exam preparation materials. You can search this catalog to get a list of learning materials related to your technology. You can even create a My Learning account to help you remember which resources you want to review and help you keep track of which white papers or articles you have read. You can search by technology or by exam number, and you can customize the search to change what types of resources are returned in the search results.


Learning Plans

One of the resources you may see displayed in your training catalog search results is a Learning Plan. Many exams have Learning Plans associated with them. Learning plans are designed to identify resources to help you achieve a goal like passing an exam, or learning a new version of a tool. Learning plans are an often overlooked resource, and can point you to articles or whitepapers that you might otherwise have missed. In order to follow the links on a learning plan, sign in with a Windows Live ID and save the training plan to My Learning, then you can go to the articles and keep track of which content you have already read.


Try features out for yourself

Reading is great, but actually trying out a feature is always the best way to learn if you have time. Many product teams provide virtual machines you can download, and TechDays Canada will be hosting a number of Hands On Labs on developer and infrastructure tools throughout the year you can complete online.

Today’s My 5 covers a situation that occasionally comes up with new exams:

When a certification exam is first released, sometimes you go to the Preparation Materials tab and there are no books, no courses, and no practice tests. So now what? Well first of all you have earned my respect because you are probably going to pass this exam before most of your peers. But what can you study?

5 Places to look for study materials when there are no preparation materials listed for the exam

  1. MSDN & TechNet, sometimes reading one or two pages on the topic in MSDN or TechNet is enough to grasp the basic concept and commands
  2. Try it for yourself, there is nothing quite like trying out the technology to master it, if you don’t have the software, search the team blogs to see if there are any Virtual Machines you can download or labs you can try
  3. Visit the team blogs (e.g. Windows, SharePoint, Exchange, Azure) they often have blogs explaining the latest features
  4. Bing  – try searching for the specific topics you need to study, you may find someone out there has written a great blog post or article that explains the very feature you are trying to understand.
  5. Visit the Microsoft Learning Training Catalog, search by product, there may be whitepapers or articles you can read

Next blog we will wrap up our certification discussion and talk about what to expect on the day of the exam and a few tips to increase your chances of walking out with a passing score.

This blog is also posted on the Canadian Developer Connection

How to Prepare for a Certification Exam

About once every couple of weeks on Reddit, I see a post like this one asking for advice on preparing for an exam. Whether you are preparing for a .NET exam or an Exchange exam, an ITIL or a Cisco exam, there is a simple plan you can follow to get certified and prepare for exams.

  1. Choose your certification goal/exam
  2. Figure out what you don’t know
  3. Fill in the gaps
  4. Take the exam

In the last blog, “Does Certification Seem Overwhelming?” I talked about how the Microsoft certifications are organized and how you can figure out which certification to earn and which exams you need to pass to earn that certification. That is step one. Now it’s time to look at Step two

Figure Out What You Don’t Know

Anyone preparing to take an exam expects to spend a certain amount of time studying. The trick is to spend that time studying as effectively as possible. If you are planning to take a .NET exam and you spend a lot of time in your day to day work serializing classes, don’t spend your evening reviewing how to serialize classes! If you are a database administrator, chances are you know how to perform a database backup, so don’t spend hours reading chapters on how to do backups. The trick is to figure out what will be on the exam that you do not already know. Then you can focus your study time on learning new material that you will need to master to pass the exam.

There are two excellent tools you can use to determine what you do not know:

  1. Exam Guides
  2. Practice Tests

1. Exam Guides

For each Microsoft exam you can view the exam guide on the Microsoft Learning website. Go to the tab marked Skills Measured. This information is a gold mine! This is a bullet point list of the topics that will be covered on the exam, divided into different content areas. Read through the list of topics (print it out if you need to) and make a note of anything listed you do not know or that you think you need to brush up on.


Skills Measured Tips

  • Check the percentage: There is a percentages beside each topic. For example, in the Skills measured tab above it says Implementing Tables and Views (14 percent). This means 14 percent of the questions on the exam will be on this topic. Percentages tend to vary from about 8 to 22 %. Now of course, in a perfect world, you would have time to study everything on the exam. But, if time is short, and one topic makes up 22% of the exam, and another makes up 8% of the exam that will help you prioritize.
  • Know the command line tools: Maybe it’s because it is easy to ask questions about command line tools on multiple choice exams, maybe it’s just important for you to be aware of them. I don’t know the reason why, I just know if you see a command line tool listed in the Skills Measured it is worth your time to go to TechNet or MSDN and read the page that describes what that tool does, and the basic command line options.
  • Know the new features: Think about it, if you were creating an exam on .NET 4.0 or Exchange 2010, would you want someone who had worked with .NET 2.0 or Exchange 2007 to be able to pass the exam without reading about or opening the new product? The only way you can ensure someone with experience on a previous version of the product can’t pass the new exam without spending some time learning the new product is to ask questions about the new features. So if you see a new feature listed in the skills measured, you had better know what it does and how to use it.

2. Practice Tests

I know most of us think of practice tests as a tool for studying, but they are also excellent tools for figuring out what you don’t know. If you go to the Preparation Materials tab in the Exam guide you will find links to MeasureUp and SelfTest. Both these companies sell practice tests you can use to gauge your knowledge and prepare for the exam. I will talk more about how to use them as effective Study Tools in the next blog. They are also excellent tools for finding out what you don’t know. Simply launch a practice test complete 40-50 questions and look at the summary score sheet provided at the end of the test. You will see how you scored for each content topic. If you got 5 out of 5 questions right on Security, don’t spend the next two nights studying security. If you got 0 out of 4 questions on high availability, you know that any time spent reading up on that topic will be time well spent. So your scores per content area on the practice test can help you prioritize how to spend your study time.

Practice Test Tip

  • Always use the Study Mode or Learning Mode. There are two options you can choose when you launch a practice test, one mode is designed to simulate the test environment as closely as possible it will have a time limit and you won’t know your score until you complete the test. The other mode allows you to check answers as you go and explains which answers are right and wrong for each question. If you are going to take the time to do a practice test, use it as a study tool at the same time. When you get a question you don’t know, check the answer and read the explanation, no reason you can’t find your gaps and fill those gaps at the same time!

Today’s Top 5 is of course related to certification

5 Microsoft Certifications that can help you stand out from the crowd

  1. MCPD Windows Phone Developer – Yes there is now a certification for windows phone developers. This certification requires passing a Silverlight Exam, a .NET Framework exam on data access, and a designing and developing with Windows Phone exam.
  2. MCPD Windows Azure Developer – Yes there is a certification on the cloud! This certification requires passing a .NET exam on Windows Communication Foundation, a .NET exam on data access, and a designing and developing Windows Azure exam.
  3. MCPD Developer or MCITP SharePoint Administrator – Companies all over the place are implementing SharePoint, they need people who know to install it, administer it, architect it, and customize it!
  4. SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance – Business intelligence is a growing area for many companies. It’s not just about reports any more, it’s also about designing and building cubes for high performance trend analysis over years and years of data. In my opinion this is the toughest SQL Server certification to earn, but just about every company out there needs someone with these skills (even if they don’t realize it yet)
  5. Server or Desktop Virtualization – You can’t go anywhere these days without hearing about virtualization. Prove can do more than just build a virtual machine, learn what you can really do with the Microsoft virtualization technologies and impress your boss or potential employer.

This post is also available on Canadian Developer Connection

Does Certification Seem Overwhelming?

I recently saw a post in a forum entitled “drowning in sea of exams” complaining about how confused they were by the current Microsoft  certification process. At first glance, certification can seem that way, but if you break it down it is actually pretty simple and really makes a lot of sense. If you are thinking of getting certified, you need to complete four steps.

  1. Choose your certification goal/exam
  2. Figure out what you don’t know
  3. Fill in the gaps
  4. Take the exam

In this blog post I’ll explain how to complete Step 1 – Identify your certification goal/exam, more blog posts to follow on steps 2-4.

Step 1 – Choose your Certification goal/exam

To determine your certification goal, you have to figure out:

  • The certification level you want to achieve
  • The technology certification that most closely matches your skill set
  • The exams required to earn that certification

Saying you have an MCTS or an MCITP doesn’t really tell an employer anything. That’s like saying “I took a course”. A course in what? SQL Server? Spanish? Cooking? You need to be specific when you choose your certification goal, do you want an MCTS SQL Server Business Intelligence, or an MCITP Exchange 2010.

Let’s look at each level, and then you can follow the links to see the technology choices and exam requirements for each level.

MCTS – Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist

This is someone who knows how to perform tasks using a specific technology. Someone who knows the commands, the syntax, what properties to set to enable features. If I am a manager looking to hire someone to do my database backups, I know someone with an MCTS Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance will know how to perform a backup or restore a database. If I am looking to hire someone to write reports I would look for someone with an MCTS Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance. (FYI – MCTS is kind of like the old MCP certification, but and MCTS is specific to a technology)

Earning an MCTS will require passing 1 or 2 exams. You can see a complete list of the MCTS certifications for each technology and the exams required to earn each one here.

MCITP – Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional or MCPD – Microsoft Certified Professional Developer

MCITP is the title for infrastructure technologies, MCPD is the title for developer technologies. the MCITP and MCPD certifications are referred to as Professional level certifications. When you earn an MCITP that tells a potential employer that you not only know how to perform specific tasks with the product, but that you can design a solution with the product. You understand the different features and you know how and when to use them. If I am a manager and I want to hire someone to design my virtualization strategy I would look for someone with an MCITP Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2. If I want to be promoted from web developer to web architect, I would work on earning my MCPD Web Developer 4. (FYI an MCITP is similar to the old MCDBA, MCSA, MCSE certifications, MCPD is similar to the old MCSD)

Earning an MCITP will require earning one or more MCTS certifications and then passing 1-3 additional exams. You can see a complete list of the MCITP certifications for each technology and the exams required to pass each here. You can see a complete list of the MCPD certifications for each technology and the exams required to pass each here.

MCM – Microsoft Certified Master

The Masters certification is a major undertaking and shows that you are an expert in the technology. You have deep technical understanding of all aspects of the product. You are a guru! If you want to go out and help large organizations plan their strategy for implementing a technology, or you want to be THE go-to person on a product, you go for your Masters. Earning a Master certification will require completing one or more MCITP certifications and completing a 2-3 week training program and passing a knowledge exam and a qualification lab exam. Suffice to say I know many many people with MCTS, and MCITP certifications, but only a handful with a Masters certification. It is a big investment and effort to earn, but it certainly distinguishes you from others in your field and is really a badge of honour!

You can see a complete list of the MCM certifications for each technology and the requirements here.

You need to choose the level of certification that is suitable for your role and goals. Every level of certification will require earning an MCTS, so that is always a good place to start. If you follow the link to the MCTS certification listing, you can expand any technology to see the MCTS certifications available for that technology. You will also see the exam or exams you need to pass to earn each certification. As I mentioned before most MCTS certifications only require passing one exam. The figure below shows the list of MCTS technologies, and I have expanded the list of certifications for SharePoint and SharePoint Server. If you are an administrator working with SharePoint 2010 you would want to earn the MCTS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuration by passing exam 70-667. If you are a developer working with SharePoint 2010 you would want to earn the MCTS: SharePoint 2010, Application Development by passing exam 70-573.


So there you have it, I hope that helps you understand and navigate your way through the Microsoft certifications, and helps you understand what exam you need to take to earn that certification. Next blog I’ll give you some tips on how to prepare for that exam! Certification is good for your career and for building your own skills. It’s not as hard as you think so go out there and get certified

This blog is also posted on Canadian Developer Connection