Practice Tests Helped Me Pass The MCSD – Azure Solutions Architect Exams

Over the last few months, when I mentioned to fellow travelers in the .NET world that I was working toward certification as a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer – Azure Solutions Architect, I was asked by some about how I prepared for the exams:

Exam 70-532, Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions: This exam is designed to see whether you know how to write .NET code that works with Azure services, and if you can conduct the kind of DevOps activities needed to install and manage the services your code leverages.

Exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions: This exam focuses on DevOps-type questions, assessing your practical ability to manage Azure resources.

Exam 70-534, Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions: This exam mostly uses case studies, testing if you can turn requirements into specific actions in Azure.

Due to the breadth of the non-disclosure agreement and certification exam policies I signed, I can’t be more specific about what’s in the exams.

Disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with any company mentioned here. I have not received, and will not accept, compensation for this post. Everything I praise or condemn here is worthy of what I say about it on its own merits.

Certification banner from measureup.com

MeasureUp Tests Made The Difference

The single most valuable tool I used to pass these tests were the official practice tests from MeasureUp.

These tests won’t help you if you’re starting from zero. You have to have strong experience with Azure to even understand the practice test questions, nonetheless answer them correctly.

I’m assuming you’re not foolish enough to take MCSD exams without extensive (read: “years of”) experience in the subject matter.

The best parts of the MeasureUp practice tests are the inline answers provided for each question. Basically, MeasureUp will tell you not only which answer is correct; and not only why it’s correct; but why the other answers are wrong. The answer keys also hyperlink to Microsoft resources that back up the answers.

I found that absolutely invaluable.

You can take these tests for a dry run to see what I am talking about. MeasureUp provides free examples for Exam 70-532, 70-533 and 70-534.

The tests aren’t perfect. There are some technical glitches here and there, and there are some questions that are ambiguous or difficult to understand. But overall, there’s little question in my mind that passing the real exams would have been a lot harder without the MeasureUp practice exams.

The Microsoft Press Exam Reference manuals for the MCSD - Azure tests.
The Microsoft Press Exam Reference manuals for the MCSD – Azure tests.

The Exam Reference Books Didn’t Help Me

I purchased all three official exam reference books from the Microsoft Press store, in both PDF and print form. I read the parts of them that covered the parts of Azure I don’t often use, but I found it almost impossible to retain that information.

I think that’s because the books present the material covered by the exams as a general body of knowledge, rather than as answers to specific problems.

For example, the exam references will give you the exact steps necessary to create a network security group. But they don’t compare and contrast when you might want to use an access control list instead, or maybe do some route management, or maybe use Active Directory, etc.

Mind you, that’s me. It may well be that you are better at retaining written information of this sort than I am; in which case, the books are probably a good choice for you. It may also be that I was using the books incorrectly and needed to read them from front to back in order to retain the information.

Believe me, I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I found the books way too dry to stick with them for very long.

Microsoft Certification Booster Pack advertisement, via microsoft.com
Microsoft Certification Booster Pack advertisement, via microsoft.com

Deal Of The Century Running Right Now

If you’re thinking about taking the tests to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer – Azure Solutions Architect, now is a great time, thanks to a new Microsoft promotion.

Pearson VUE’s bookstore, MindHub, is running an absolutely insane deal on certification testing. Called a Booster Pack, you can get a MeasureUp practice test, a test voucher and up to four retakes of the test, for $225.

Consider: Pearson VUE will charge you (if you live in the United States) $150 for the exam alone. And a 30-day online practice test from MeasureUp costs $99.

So you’re at least getting $24 off (a 10 percent discount) through this deal. But you’re also getting as much as $600 in credit for test retakes.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I needed a couple retakes to get certified, because those tests are hard. But that said, I gotta tell you: If you can’t pass these certification tests after five tries, it’s hopeless. Especially if you actually use the practice tests.

It’s worth noting that this deal applies not only to the Azure tests, but to most professional certification tests Microsoft runs through Pearson VUE.

Says Microsoft: “Booster Packs apply to the exams in our MCSA, MCSE, MCSD, and Microsoft Specialist certifications and to Microsoft Dynamics exams. Note MTA exams, MOS exams, and MCE exams do not qualify for MCP certification and are not eligible for the Booster Pack offers. Beta exams can only be taken once, so they do not qualify for the Booster Pack offers.”
Photo by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay, in the public domain.
Yes, I know that’s a MacBook in the feature photo. Beggars can’t be choosers in the free-as-in-free-beer stock photography arena. Photo by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay, in the public domain.

8 Comments

  1. Congratulations, Doug, on your MCSD certification success. Thanks for sharing your comments and experience about your overall exam preparation including MUp’s practice tests. Everyone is welcome to use our free demos at ow.ly/10Cxhd.

  2. Nice post Doug and congratulations on passing these exams! I would be keen to understand your study plan in a little more detail…

    In the past I have worked through the exam ref books at a rate of about one or two chapters per week, taking two-to-three months to prepare for an exam. I have had mixed results, but on-balance, this approach has worked out well. Like you say, it’s each-to-their-own really and although your post worries me a little bit, I’ll probably still use the exam refs again for these exams – initially, at least. Depending on your response to my question though, that might change!

    So, with regard to the MeasureUp & MCP voucher deal (thanks for the heads-up) – how did you structure your study plan to make best use of this?

  3. @Bernard, thanks for your input. We’re in agreement; the ExamRef books work for some people, not for others. I certainly would not discourage you from using them if they aided you in the past. It’s entirely possible I wasn’t using them correctly or am not capable of benefitting from them, even if I had used them correctly.

    The Booster Pack promotion was not running when I took my MCSD exams. The Second Shot promotion was running at that time; it basically gave one free retake per exam, which I used for exams 70-532 and 70-533. Second Shot expired on Jan. 12, 2016, but it has been reprised previously and it wouldn’t surprise me if Pearson VUE rolls it out again.

    The MeasureUp tests I stumbled upon while searching for flash cards, which were recommended by other blog posts talking about MCSD exams. I never did find any flash cards for the Azure Solutions Architect exams, but I was very glad to find the MeasureUp tests.

    MeasureUp tests come with two modes: In practice mode you can set a number of questions to answer, whether to include recent or incorrect answers in that test, and whether you want to see the answers. In certification mode, the test is delivered with a timer, using random questions, and you can’t view the answers until after the test is complete.

    I used the tests in practice mode repeatedly, until I could pretty much ace them every time. Then I took each practice exam in certification mode twice a day for a couple of days before the actual exam, around the same time of day as my actual exam. This put me mentally in the best place for taking the test when exam day arrived.

  4. I don’t believe that practice tests and exam ref books are enough. Bollocks.
    It requires developer’s skills of C# and being able to predict sometimes what is expected from the candidate in means of objectives.
    Language is vague in the case studies and still using the old Azure Management portal. We are approaching end of 2016 and still outdated.
    It is weighted to have code examples perfectly completed else you certainly fail.
    Sometimes it is asking for dev skills of a widely experienced developer … but hey ho, the company that makes those exams are just making enemies of their products when they put the benchmark painfully high.
    Exam Ref guides are not enough either – sometimes you get a question out of them.

  5. @Reviewer: It sounds like you didn’t use the MeasureUp tests, so I’m not sure your categorical rejection of their utility holds water.

    That said, yes, I agree with you; as this blog posts notes, passing these exams requires one to be well-versed in Azure and Microsoft’s platforms. That has always been true of Microsoft’s upper-level certifications.

    That does not mean that it is not helpful to have an understanding of the content that is covered in the exams or the nature of how the exams are structured, which is the point behind the exam references and practice tests.

    I agree the exams were outdated as of your comment. Pearson is updating the exams as of Monday. They remove a significant amount of Azure Service Management (“Classic”) content; for example, Exam 70-533 (PDF) completely removes references to cloud services and Classic virtual machines, and adds a section on Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates.

    All of this is part of a complete overhaul of the Microsoft certification program, which I blogged about previously.

  6. I attempted the test today and unfortunately missed the passing by not much. I had take then practice tests from MeasureUp but what disappointed me a lot was that in these practice tests ,in the Certification mode, you had to answer 50 questions in 180 minutes.
    In the actualy Microsoft exam there were 40 question with 120 minutes.

    Also in the actual test you could not go back to review the answers to the Use case questions once you completed a use case. So you had to complete each use case, be sure about the answers, submit it and move on to the next use case. No coming back! This was unlike the practice test where I could review any of the 50 questions at any time.
    Now I need to prepare with the updated objectives. Any way to contact you to get some more insights into how to prepare better?

    Thanks for all the information.

  7. @audipen: Sorry to hear about your test result. Same thing happened to me and I know how frustrated I was.

    I am surprised to hear that the Pearson test did not let you review your case study answers. It seems to me I was able to do so when I took the test but it may be that has changed, or I may not be recalling it correctly.

    Re: The updated objectives, I can’t really offer a lot of advice other than what Microsoft has revealed in its certification pages: Focus on Azure Resource Manager resources and the new portal; much of the “classic” / Azure Service Management resources have been removed.

    That said, my employer, LinuxAcademy.com, is developing courseware to help students pass exams 70-532, 70-533 and 70-534. We are now revamping courseware for 70-533 to meet the new objectives and will soon be developing courseware for the other two exams.

    Since this is my day job now and my employer is a for-profit company, I can’t dispense much free advice. However, if you have a Visual Studio Dev Essentials account, you can get a 90-day free trial subscription to LinuxAcademy.com, where I will be more than happy to talk about certification.

    Most people who have a Visual Studio account, including free / community accounts, have a Visual Studio Dev Essentials account. Just log in, scroll down to the Education section, and you should see an option to generate a code for Linux Academy. Generate the code, enter it at LinuxAcademy.com during signup, and you’re on your way. Introduce yourself in the community forums and ask any questions you have; I’ll answer them directly.

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