Azure Spring Clean 2023
This special blog post is part of the amazing Azure Spring Clean 2023 event organised by the awesome Joe Carlyle and Thomas Thornton.
Microsoft Azure certifications have many benefits, including the potential to get your first job working with Azure, earn a promotion, keeping your skills up to date, and having greater job satisfaction.
In this session, we’ll cover which certifications are available, learning resources, exams and renewals, money-saving tips and much more!
What are Microsoft certifications?
Many organisations offer technical certifications such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco, CompTIA, Oracle, and VMware. This session will focus on Microsoft certifications, specifically for Azure services.
“Old school” Microsoft certifications
Previously, Microsoft offered “product-based” certifications (e.g. Windows Server 2016) such as the following:
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
Current Microsoft certifications
However, in recent years Microsoft have changed their certification offering to be more “role-based” - in other words, covering the skills you would use for a given role such as the following:
- Administrator: Administrators implement, monitor, and maintain Microsoft solutions.
- AI Engineer: AI engineers use Cognitive Services, Machine Learning, and Knowledge Mining to architect and implement Microsoft AI solutions.
- App Maker: App makers build apps with low-code techniques to simplify, automate, and transform business tasks and processes.
- Business User: Use Microsoft applications to move your business forward. Learn how tools like Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and AI can support your team and grow your business.
- Data Analyst: Data analysts make data easy to understand through designing and building data models to drive meaningful business value.
- Data Engineer: Data engineers design and implement the management, monitoring, security, and privacy of data using the full stack of data services.
- Data Scientist: Data scientists apply machine learning techniques to train, evaluate, and deploy models that solve business problems.
- Developer: Developers design, build, test, and maintain cloud solutions.
- DevOps Engineer: DevOps engineers combine people, process, and technologies to continuously deliver valuable products and services that meet end user needs and business objectives.
- Functional Consultant: Functional consultants leverage Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform to anticipate and plan for customer needs.
- Security Engineer: Security engineers implement security controls and threat protection, manage identity and access, and protect data, applications, and networks.
- Solution Architect: Solution architects have expertise in compute,
Microsoft certifications are typically earned by passing one or more exams.
Microsoft certification types
- Fundamentals: Fundamentals certifications are the recommended starting point and do not expire.
- Role-based: Associate- and Expert-level certifications which expire in one year and can be renewed.
- Additional: Other certifications are available such as Specialty, Microsoft Certified Educator, and Microsoft Office.
Which Microsoft certification are available?
View the current Microsoft certifications using the following links:
- Browse Certifications and Exams
- Microsoft Certification Poster
- Microsoft Training and Certification Guide
Benefits of certifications
Microsoft quote the following:
Upon earning a certification, 61% of tech professionals say they earned a promotion, 73% upskilled to keep pace with changing technologies, and 76% have greater job satisfaction - 2021 Pearson VUE Value of IT Certification.
These may resonate with you, and you may also have your own reasons for considering Microsoft certifications.
How to achieve a certification
Exams can be taken at either a Test center or as an Online proctored exam (say, at home).
It’s worth noting that Associate and Expert exams may contain labs / performance-based testing.
How much time do you get for an exam?
The exam duration varies based on the type of exam you take:
|Exam type||Exam duration||Seat duration|
|Fundamentals exams||45 minutes||65 minutes|
|Associate and expert role-based exams without labs||100 minutes||120 minutes|
|Associate and expert role-based exams that may contain labs||120 minutes||140 minutes|
|Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams||50 minutes||60 minutes|
More information can be found here: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/exam-duration-question-types
Microsoft fundamentals certification cost breakdown
Let’s look at a cost breakdown (using UK pricing) for a Microsoft fundamentals certification:
The Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification requires passing Exam AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals which costs £82.80 (£69 + VAT).
This costs a total of £82.80.
Microsoft expert certification cost breakdown
Let’s look at a cost breakdown (using UK pricing) for a Microsoft expert certification:
The Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification requires passing Exam AZ-305: Designing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions which costs £135.60 (£113 + VAT).
However, this certification has a prerequisite of the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification which requires passing Exam AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator which costs £135.60 (£113 + VAT).
This costs a total of £271.20.
Something to bear in mind if you’re looking to earn several certifications. Later on, we’ll look into exam discounts to help save money.
Another option to be aware of is Beta exams. Some notes:
- Taking beta exams provides Microsoft with useful information to evaluate the quality of the exam and its questions.
- Passing a beta exam in your certification path counts toward your certification.
- Exam has 80% discount.
- Receive 25% discount from exam provider on their next exam.
- Beta exams announced on Microsoft Learn blog.
- There can be a long wait for results.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/beta-exams
Certification exam results
Exams contain 1000 points and you need to earn 700 or more to pass. Some questions are worth one point, others are worth more than one point.
For most exams, you will receive your pass or fail result within a few minutes of completing your exam.
When you pass a certification, Microsoft email you with instructions on how to claim your badge.
However, if you fail the exam there’s nothing to worry about. You can retake the exam but note that you must pay for each exam you retake.
As they say:
Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/certification-process-overview
Microsoft certification renewals
Certification renewals are free and are done by using the online renewal assessment on Microsoft Learn.
Renewals are available around 6 months before your certification expires, Microsoft send an email notification.
If you do not pass the first time, you may immediately attempt the assessment again. However, after the second try, you must wait at least 24 hours before any additional attempts.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/renew-your-microsoft-certification
Let’s take a look at available learning resources.
Microsoft Learn is always my first port of call when studying for a certification exam.
Microsoft Learn is a free, online training platform that provides interactive learning for Microsoft products and more.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/training/
When preparing for an exam, check the skills required on Microsoft Learn. For example, here are the skills required for Exam AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals:
- Describe cloud concepts (25–30%)
- Describe Azure architecture and services (35–40%)
- Describe Azure management and governance (30–35%)
Note how some sections contain higher % than others.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/exams/az-900/
Microsoft Exam Sandbox
If you’re new to Microsoft Certification exams, you can demo the exam experience by visiting the Microsoft Exam Sandbox to help you become familiar with the question types that you may see on the exam, how to navigate the user interface, and much more.
More info: https://aka.ms/examdemo
[Note: Sometimes this link does not work for me unless I use a private web browser tab.]
Exam Readiness Zone
The Microsoft Exam Readiness Zone provides tips, tricks, and strategies for preparing for a Microsoft Certification exam.
Only a few exams are currently covered such as PL-100, MS-100, etc but more are being added all the time.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/shows/exam-readiness-zone/
Exam Sample Questions
Microsoft is exploring the possibility of providing sample questions as an exam preparation resource.
Sample questions are intended to provide an overview of the style, wording, and difficulty of the questions that you are likely to experience on this exam.
I use these sample questions as a basic “practice exam.”
AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals Sample Questions: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/resources/az-900-sample-questions?azure-portal=true
YouTube has lots of Microsoft Certification exam prep videos and other content.
Special mention goes to John Savill’s Technical Training which has an impressive collection of free study guides, study crams, master classes, and much more.
There are many excellent books available covering Microsoft certifications and exams.
Something to bear in mind is how up-to-date a book is as Microsoft certifications are frequently updated. For example, if you’re studying towards Exam AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals which was updated, say, one month ago, then a book edition published five years ago may not contain the latest updates.
Online training courses
There are many online training providers such as Udemy, Pluralsight, and LinkedIn Learning (full disclosure: I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor).
Most course providers do have costs involved such as a monthly subscription or one-off payment per course. However, many course providers do offer free trials.
Microsoft Learning Partner
Microsoft Learning Partners offer training options such as in-person and online, and typically have costs involved.
More info: https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/certifications/partners
Microsoft Official Certification Practice Test
Practice tests are designed to help candidates prepare for and pass the Microsoft exams.
Microsoft Official Certification Practice Tests come with benefits such as being written by industry experts in the subject matter, containing questions similar to exam questions, and providing detailed explanations for both correct and distractor answers to reinforce the material.
Personally, I haven’t used this option but I’ve heard good feedback from people who have tried them.
AZ-900: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals Certification Practice Test: https://uk.mindhub.com/az-900-microsoft-azure-fundamentals-microsoft-official-practice-test/p/MU-AZ-900
Bear in mind that there are also various unofficial practice tests available, some provided by the online training course providers mentioned previously.
I have tried several unofficial practice tests from various vendors and quality has been mixed - however, I’ve always been happy when buying from an online training course provider/instructor who I know provides quality content.
In this section, we’ll look into various exam discounts available.
30 Days to Learn It
You can be eligible for 50 percent off the cost of a Microsoft Certification exam by completing a challenge within 30 days.
The challenge is typically to complete several Microsoft Learn modules within 30 days.
The challenges change often but at time of writing, the following challenges are availabe:
- Azure Network Engineer
- Azure Database Administrator
- Windows Server Hybrid Administrator
- Azure Virtual Desktop Fundamentals
- Azure AI Fundamentals
- Microsoft 365 Developer
- Azure Developer
- Power Platform App Maker
- Information Protection Administrator
- Azure Data Scientist
- Azure Cosmos DB Developer
- Build apps with Microsoft Graph
- Designing Azure Infrastructure Solutions
- Java on Azure Developer
- DevOps Engineer
- Azure Synapse Analytics
Each challenge has a related exam. For example, the Azure Network Engineer challenge is related to Exam AZ-700: Designing and Implementing Microsoft Azure Networking Solutions.
More info: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/offers/30-days-to-learn-it
Microsoft Cloud Skills Challenge
The Microsoft Cloud Skills Challenge is sometimes available for conferences such as Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Build.
Similar to 30 Days to Learn It, it consists of a challenge to complete several Microsoft Learn modules by a deadline in order to earn a discount. However, the discount can be a free exam voucher.
The last event, Microsoft Build Cloud Skills ChallengeMay 2022, had the following challenges:
- Microsoft 365: Building Applications and Solutions Challenge
- Azure Developer Challenge
- IoT Developer Challenge
- Azure Cosmos DB Developer Challenge
- Power Platform: Functional Consultant Challenge
- Power Platform: App Maker Challenge
- Microsoft Security: Who Hacked? Challenge
- Data and AI: Who Hacked? Challenge
Microsoft Virtual Training Days
Microsoft Virtual Training Days are one of my favourite ways to learn because you get the double-whammy of free excellent training as well as a free exam voucher for select Microsoft Fundamentals exams such as the following:
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals
- Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Fundamentals (CRM)
- Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Fundamentals (ERP)
I’ve used this approach for most of my Microsoft Fundamentals exams, a great way to save money!
After completing the training by watching the live broadcast of a pre-recorded training video, you typically receive an email within a few days containing your exam voucher. From there, you can book the exam for free.
More info: https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/events/training-days/
Another option to consider is to see if your employer provides support such as the following:
- Would they provide training?
- External training provider.
- Pluralsight subscription.
- One-off course. For example, Udemy.
- Would they contribute towards exam costs?
- Would they allow studying during work hours?
To help build your case, consider what’s in it for your employer:
- Trained employees.
- Microsoft Partnership.
Here are a few study tips which have worked well for me.
Managing exam stress
Exam stress can affect everyone differently but there is plentty of help available.
More info: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/schools/deal/deal-resources/coping-strategies/exam-stress-coping-strategies/
Prepare for the exam as best you can such as by doing the following:
- Reading the skills measured for the exam.
- Going through the appropriate Microsoft Learn modules.
- Use the resources to get hands-on experience.
- Take practice tests to check your knowledge.
If you’ve prepared well, be confident that you’re as ready as you can be for your exam.
Read the question properly
It sounds simple but make sure you read the question properly. It may be worded in a way you don’t expect such as “Which one of these options is not relevant to perform xyz?”
Use your available time
Don’t rush, use your available time. Some people choose to answer all questions once (which is what I do), others choose to answer all questions then re-visit them where possible to verify they’re happy with their answers.
Don’t skip any questions
There are no penalties for getting a question wrong so don’t skip any questions.
If you know the answer, great! If not, try to make an educated guess.
If you’re still struggling, see if you can exclude any of the multiple choice options.
If you’re still stuck, no harm in taking a wild guess! Remember:
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Think of your answer before seeing the options
A tactic I try is to think of my answer before seeing the options. For example, if the question is:
_______ is the logical container used to combine and organize Azure resources.
…I’m immediately thinking about resource groups.
So, when the options are presented:
- A resource group.
- A plastic storage box.
- A Filofax.
- A filing cabinet.
…I’m now confident to select the option I had in mind! OK, maybe the options won’t be that obvious 😄
If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it with others and on Twitter using hashtags #AzureSpringClean, #AzureFamily and #AZOps.
If you’re taking a Microsoft exam, best of luck! 🤞
Check out more Azure Spring Clean 2023 event sessions here: https://azurespringclean.com/