The key to certification success is to make sure you have the current requirements and training sites to have the best chance of passing the exam. This article reviews where to learn about the Microsoft exam structure, the program’s role-based nature, and the material provided.
Like most exams, Microsoft certifications are not all that difficult if you’re prepared. I have to be the worst when it comes to feeling confidant in getting a certification. Having had to write a few Data & AI certifications over the last couple of years, 7 to be exact, shows that anyone can do this if they prepare.
Note: I published a companion post on My 5 Tips to Preparing for Microsoft Certification Success That article presents the five most essential tips that have helped me pass my certifications.
Make sure you are looking at the most recent requirements
Cloud technologies are continually changing, and with them, the exam content can change as frequently as each quarter. Gone are the days when you could write SQL Server’s latest version’s exam and nothing would change for a couple of years. As you start your exam preparation, make sure you know the current requirement.
There are two essential resources for learning the current requirements and exam paths, the first of which is the Microsoft Certifications – Main Landing Page, pictured below, which is the classic web-based portal. A second reference is a new Microsoft Training Certification Poster, a PDF, updated monthly, containing the various exams available within their selected Role and Level area. Let’s quickly cover both resources.
First – the PDF – Microsoft Training Certification Poster
The poster, pictured below, is an interactive, organized listing of Microsoft’s various certification paths.
The exams are divided into three different levels, Fundamentals, the introductions to a topic, Role-Based, the core certification paths, and Specialty, stand-alone exams that cover specific topics. In addition to roles, the exams are divided up by product base such as:
- Azure: Cloud-based infrastructure and data platforms
- Microsoft 365: On-premises and cloud-based desktop technologies
- Microsoft Dynamics 365: Cloud-based CRM and ERP applications, a set of intelligent business applications that helps you run your entire business, including predictive AI-driven insights
- Power Platform: Create Solutions That Accelerate Business with Power Platform: Connect Your Data, Build Powerful Apps, Enhance with AI, Automate Processes
Note: If you are interested in the data Platform, these exams reside in both the Azure and the Power Platform section. IMHO: PowerBI may have the word power in it, but it is a data application. My bias as a Data consultant 🙂
The PDF is interactive and allows you to select various links within. Below, selecting the Role Certification (1) will take you to the exam detail or select (2) the exam number to go to that specific exam.
Selectable tiles in the PDF
The next section covers these in more detail and contains the same links as in the Web Portal.
Second – The Web Portal – Microsoft Certifications – Main Landing Page
The exams are divided by role; choosing your role brings you to the exams specific to that role. For this article, we are going to use the Data Engineer role as our example.
Certifications divided by roles
Each link takes you into the exams closely related to the learning path for that role. The exams are divided into three areas: Fundamental exams, Role-Based certifications and Additional certifications. We will select the Data Engineer for our example here. The link takes us to the following page, where the various certifications are listed.
Select the Level for the certification
Many of the role-based certifications will show the Azure Fundamentals level, recommended for those new to the platform. Even if you are familiar with the platform, you can get something out of this exam. I found it allowed me to get a well-rounded overview of Azure, which helps me in client conversations. Writing the exam took me out of my data-centred knowledge and a better understanding of the platform’s overall architecture and features.
If you are familiar with the topic, a significant benefit of the exam is getting you up to speed on any changes in the platform and new features since you last reviewed the topic.
Selecting the Azure Data Engineer Associate will take you to an overview of the certification.
Requirements for the certification
As shown above, This role certification requires two exams, DP-200: Implementing an Azure Data Solution and Exam DP-201: Designing an Azure Data Solution. Most role-based certifications only require one exam, but be careful to note the exact requirements for the path you are interested.
Exam Requirements Page
Now that you have found the exam that interests you, there are a couple of focus areas. The following example is based on the exam requirements as of Oct 2020 and may have changed. Let’s use the link to DP-200 as our example. There are eight items tagged for this exam.
Exam DP-200 Landing page
- Exam Title – Ensure the exam number you are looking for matches the title.
- Notifications – These are placed here from time to time to communicate different content or program changes in general.
- Content Changes – Will come up once in a while from old content to new content in the transition period. Discerning what is changing and what has changed. These are reflected in the Skills Measured word document. The link is located in the last section of the landing page.
The Skills Measured will have details on the content changes housed in a "Track Changes" settings in a Microsoft Word document.
This example provides a good view of the changes to requirements, as pictured below, with the removal of global distribution topics from the skills measured for this exam.
- Exam Descriptions – This area will review the exam itself and the expectations for those wanting to write the exam.
- Part of the Requirements: If the exam is part of a more extensive role certification, these are noted and linked. DP-200 is part of the Azure Data Engineer Associate role.
- Related Exams – Will list any related exams such as DP-201 for this role based certification.
- Important: See Details – This takes you to the Schedule Exam / Skills Measured
- Go to Certification Dashboard – This takes you to a listing of your certifications.
Note When you provide a sign-in for your dashboard or your Certification ID, use a personal e-mail address that will be yours throughout your career as you change companies. An Outlook.com address would be a good one, for example.
The middle portion of the exam page contains the Schedule Exam section. If the exam you have selected has a practice test, you will see the link below the Schedule button. I will detail this in topic 4, the Practice with exam simulations topic below.
More exam requirements can be found in the Exam process overview, Exam security policy and Exam retake policy. If you are not close to an onsite exam facility, and with the current state of the world, you may need to take your exam online, more information about setup and requirement can be found here, About online exams with Pearson VUE.
By selecting the Schedule Exam, this will take you to your dashboard. Make sure that your name matches the name on the piece of ID you are going to use in the exam. For example, most of my information has Steve, but my ID has Stephen. If the names are not the exact same, it can be enough for them to refuse you to write the exam. You can change that on the first screen in the exam schedule conversation, as pictured below.
The Skills Measured, the final portion, and the most important is a section we have already touched on above.
The Skills Measured will have details on the contents of the exam. Selecting the Download Exam Skills Outline will download a Word document, including an overview and a review summary of the skills measured.
In using our DP-200 example, pictured above, you will notice the exam had an update on September 24, 2020. The exams can be updated quarterly; however, this online section will show you how the exam may change in the near future. This exam has three areas of focus;
- Implement data storage solutions (40-45%)
- Manage and develop data processing (25-30%)
- Monitor and optimize data solutions (30-35%)
Each of these is divided into various sub-topics, such as what is pictured below.
This article reviewed the process and resources to help make sense of Microsoft certifications. It can seem daunting but a first step is to make sure you know what you are measured on and finding the correct path that meets your exam certification goals.