As with many exams, Microsoft certifications are not all that difficult if you are well prepared. For one, I am the worst when it comes to being confident in getting a certification. Having had to write a few over the last couple of years, seven to be exact, which shows that anyone can do this if you prepare the way that works best for you. This article presents my five most essential tips that have helped me pass my certifications.
I published a post on Making Sense of Microsoft Certification Resources that reviewed how to make make sure you are looking at the most current requirements. Exam criteria could change quarterly to keep up with the latest product updates.
1. Finding Relevant Exam Content
Docs.Microsoft.Com has many learning resources, as shown in the example pictured below. We are going to use Azure Synapse Analytics as an example throughout the article.
Microsoft documentation – Azure Synapse Analytics example
The documentation for most azure products contains; Quick Starts, which show you how to provision or set up the service so it is ready to use. Also, Deep-Dives, which are more detailed information resources, Tutorials that walk you through an end-to-end solution and Architecture, which contains a solution architecture that features the product or service you are reviewing.
Searching using the Exam Skills Measured
I have had quite a bit of success using the exam’s skills measured listing and using the requirements as the search term. For example, DP-200 Implementing an Azure Data Solution has the following skills listed;
Using some variant of the skill, searching for "How to implement data masking in Azure" will bring up at least someplace to start. Make sure you include an authoritative source such as docs.microsoft.com as that is what material will appear on the exam.
Remember that the skill represents a concept, and I found that an initial search reveals several resources I could use to get enough detail.
How does the product fit into the Solution
The role based exams are a departure from the general deep-dive technical exams of the past. These exams cover the technology and how they fit into an overall solution and your role. The DBA is now a Data Engineer who needs to know more than just the database but how it works into the overall solution architecture, such as the Modern Data Warehouse architecture pictured below.
You can browse and search for various solution architectures and guides at the Azure Architecture site. It is essential to know for the certifications how the products fit into a solution, which is why these certifications have become role-based (IMHO).
2. Get some Hands-On Experience
Don’t underestimate the value of actually doing. I am a tactile learner, Kinesthetic learning if you want to get technical :), I just can’t read; I have to do, for it to sink in. Some exams have had questions that would require experience, such as, "what would you do if you had error message X", for example. Ok, but how do I get hands-on? Especially if I do not have access to Azure?
There are ways to get a free Azure account, which does have limitations with what you can provision, such as Azure SQL DW, but it is a start.
Watching YouTube demos can help, such as Channel 9 or the Microsoft DEV Channel. Searching YouTube for your relevant exam topic, such as DP-200 Implementing an Azure Data Solution can provide results, but make sure that you have a recent video as the content can change from time to time.
Tutorials & Quick starts
In the documentation, there usually is a section for Quick Starts and Tutorials. As an example, Azure Synapse Analytics has the passage pictured below. Even if you do not have access to an environment, these can provide the extra details and the steps you can follow to gain some close to hands-on experience.
3. Practice with exam simulations
I have used Exam Simulations from MeasureUP, which are now called mindhub. I like these because, in addition to providing realistic exam simulation, they offer answers and references to the material behind the question. Not only why one answer was correct, but also why the others were not. These are not free, but I have found them very useful when available.
4. Make use of online training courses and certification books
For the exam book, your first search should be Amazon. The main issue with this is that since most of these exams are concerning online products, they tend to change quickly, and the books can become out of date. Check the publication dates!
There are many sources for online courses, the first of which, if available, are listed below the Skills Measured section. This will list both free and paid courses. The Microsoft Learning Path should be your first destination. The example below is from the DP-200 Implementing an Azure Data Solution course. Various courses or modules from different subject areas covered will be listed.
Some other courses can be found at the following providers with a link to a listing of certification courses.
Udamy – Microsoft Certifications
LinkedIn Learning – Microsoft Certifications
Microsoft Learn TV (Preview) – Lesson Learning
5. Take Handwritten Notes
I do find it difficult to only consume content online without taking notes. I also have to highlight as I read, go over it once, make notes, then write up summary notes. I find it extremely helpful to organize this in OneNote. Let’s quick review the process as the Cornell process has worked well for me over the years.
Organize your Online Notes
I create a OneNote notebook for the exam or subject I am studying (1) and create a TAB for the specific source (2), in this case, the DP-200 and DP-201 skills measured document topics. I organize the exam topics, making each one a sheet and using those as headings (3). I search for information on the topic and then use the OneNote’s Clipper for Chrome (also edge) to clip that web page into a section (4). Once in OneNote, I use OneNote on my iPad to highlight and make notes on each page (5).
Pictured below is my final product.
This gives you a place for your ideas, further information. It lets you put the ideas in the notes into your own words, which helps you retain the new information. You can also paste in other pictures and notes from your research.
Take HandWritten Notes
Once I have all of my notes, I review them, making summary notes in a Cornell Note Taking System pad, which you can find some templates here. These give you space for your notes and space for a followup summary.
You take notes, and the spacing on the page allows you to make followup notes as you review. Check out the links above for more information or a tutorial from Cornell themselves.
Hopefully, this has been helpful, and I wish you luck with your certification journey !!!!
Feel free to DM me on Twitter, @5MinuteBI
About Microsoft Certification exams This site reviews various options for Registering, how to prepare, exam formats with sample questions and how exams are developed. Great place to start!
Browse Certifications and Exams – This site has a full listing of all the exams currently offered under the Microsoft banner. This site’s key feature is the search filters and the ability to change views as you look at the offered exams.
Microsoft certification Dashboard – I recommend you sign up with your personal e-mail address; that way, if you ever change jobs, you will not have any issues getting information.
Microsoft Training Certification Poster – This PDF shows the various exams available within their selected Role and level area.