In the Part 1 of this blog, I identified which exams to take, and in Part 2, I reviewed the resources proposed by Microsoft to study for a specific exam, 70-413.
Now, in Part 3, I will look at more resources and what else you can do to be successful when taking the exam.
Studying is not enough
It might not be completely true for the entry exams, but when you are going for MCSA-specific exams or the exam we used as an example as part of the MCSE track, then just studying won't get you where you need to be.
You need to have real-life experience. This can be an issue if you don't work in the field on a daily basis or if you are a more specialized IT professional and don't touch everything that you need to know about. For example, you might work on a daily basis with Active Directory, which is a large part of the exam, but maybe you don't work on the networking part because it is another team that works on that.
In an ideal world, you could go to the organization where you work, give yourself some access to VMs or even one or two Hyper-V hosts and start gaining experience by trying out everything that you are learning in the various resources.
Unfortunately, it is not always an ideal world, so you might need to prepare your own lab instead. In this case, you might not have the necessary equipment to test out everything you want.
When you build your own lab, you can use emulators that are more "real-life". Running VMware on a decent specked laptop or desktop gives you the possibility to run Hyper-V on top of it, or you just use one host and run it on Windows 8.x. You can also look out for a virtual router that can emulate multiple VLANS, subnets and so on, so you can play with different AD sites, VPN's, routing multiple NICs and more.
There are multiple ways of setting up your lab, but make sure it isn't running over the same network or VLAN, because that won't teach you much about the networking part.
I do know this costs money, but even if you don't intend to take the exam I believe every company should look at this for training their internal IT departments. It's a small investment for making sure your IT pros are working with the technology and leveraging everything out of the license investments you made in Windows Server 2012 or later.
There are already two courses in the Microsoft Virtual Academy that are proposed by Microsoft as study material for your exams, but possibly one of my best tips I can offer is that you register on that site and start following as many interesting tracks as possible, even if you're not planning to take the exams. It even has a fun part where you can score points and medals.
While most of these tracks start off as being very basic, they do go deeper and deeper as they progress and that deeper information is what you want.
From the community
Use Google or Bing to find more information. There are also quite a lot of blogs out there that will help you find good resources.
Expert blogs (Try to find the MVPs in that specific area, they certainly will have some tips on the exams)
Forums for the technology, in case you get stuck in your lab environment.
Microsoft exams may still have a bad name to some people, yet many others are surprised about the difficulty level today when they take the latest exams. You probably can still get away with buying the exam tests from various sources and studying them, but it is my belief that with the latest versions of Windows Server you will get more value when you take this seriously and actually study for it. As I stated, I discovered some gems in the newer operating systems that I use on a daily basis now.
I also hope you realize that just reading a book or reviewing some blogposts will not get you the certification you want. Much better to really make an effort, and the best effort includes hands-on experience. Working in a lab environment is a must and, depending on your available resources, you'll actually be able to emulate things or work in a full environment.
I also hope that you understood that it will take quite a bit of time to prepare for these exams and that you will definitely need your company's support. Make sure that you talk this through with your workplace and that you have a plan ready when you need to take the certifications. And then make sure that you are given the time necessary to properly study and prepare. And with that, good luck to all of you!
Mike Resseler is a Product Strategy Specialist for Veeam. Mike is focused on technologies around Hyper-V and System Center. With years of experience in the field he presents on many occasions on large events such as MMS, TechEd and TechDays. Mike has... More