How to prepare and successfully pass the Microsoft Azure certification exam

A little over two years ago, I was at the Microsoft Technology Center in Manhattan, and I noticed that all of the engineers and technical people I was working with that day seemed a little stressed. I took the opportunity over lunch with the chief architect to find out what was going on. Microsoft had decreed that anybody in a technical role had to take and pass the Microsoft Exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions. I also found out that many had already taken and failed the exam.

This got me thinking. If Microsoft required everyone to pass this, then the future direction of the technology, and Microsoft’s investment in it, was sure to be significant.

I did everything to find as much study material as I could, and I spent the next three months preparing for the exam to become a certified Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect. I took advantage of online courseware from Pluralsight, and I read every FAQ and Microsoft KB article that I could get my hands on. In the end, I was able to pass on my first attempt.

So now, a few years later, I have been asked to talk about the certification, the benefits of it, and the best methods to achieve it.

What to expect from the Microsoft Azure certification exam

First, and I cannot stress this enough, this is a very dynamic exam. The skills measured and tested directly reflect what is happening in Azure at the time you sit for the exam. For instance, I only had a few questions about Azure Resource Manager (ARM), and now the exam is mostly questions covering that topic.

To get an understanding of what you will be tested on, a great place to start is right on Microsoft’s exam page. Here you will see a list of skills being tested, and what percentage of the exam will reflect them.

This should be your go-to resource when figuring out what to study. This page is continuously updated to reflect new exam guidelines and skills measured. As for today, during the exam you’ll be tested on the following:

  • Azure Web Apps and App Service plans design and implementation
  • ARM virtual machines creation, configuration and management
  • Azure storage design and implementation
  • Virtual networks configuration, design and implementation
  • ARM templates design and deployment
  • Azure security, data protection and recovery services management
  • Azure operations management, including automation and data collection and analysis
  • Azure identities management, including integration with Azure Active Directory

At the time of this writing, this exam is only available in person at a Microsoft-approved testing location.  It is comprised of 45 questions, some of which are multiple choice, and some that are simulation-based.

Don’t be surprised to be presented with questions showing the Azure portal, with questions about where to click to accomplish certain tasks. For this reason, it’s not enough to read an exam guide. Hands-on knowledge of the platform is necessary.

Microsoft has made practice exam questions available on this exam page, as well as some videos which show what kinds of questions exam takers can expect. It is worth the time to watch the video and try the sample questions.

What certifications does this exam count toward?

Anyone who successfully completes 70-533 will be certified as a Microsoft Specialist: Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions. The exam also counts toward the MCP, MCSA, and MCSE certifications.

Also, if the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator exam is successfully completed, the MCSA – Linux on Azure certification is achieved.

How to prepare for the Microsoft Azure certification exam

Once you’ve determined what areas you need to spend time learning, you’ll need to find a good training resource. All of the online training providers offer courses, but with the rapidly changing exam objectives, be sure to find one that keeps its material up to date. In my experience, Udemy has been the best regarding that. In particular, there’s a course available from Scott Duffy that he updates every few weeks to keep it relevant.

There are a few other things to keep in mind during preparation. If you don’t have a good understanding of PowerShell, your chances of passing are greatly reduced. The same goes for hands-on time working with Azure. Microsoft offers a fully functional 30-day trial with $200.00 in Azure credit, so be sure to take full advantage for preparation. You can expect both PowerShell and Azure portal questions that require a much better understanding of tasks than a simple multiple-choice question would. Hands-on time is key to success. I can’t say this enough.

Your career in cloud can accelerate with Microsoft Azure certification!

I recommend that anyone interested in pursuing a career path in cloud technologies sit for this exam. After I finished my certification, I enjoyed the benefit of not only knowing what I’m doing, but also being recognized as a subject matter expert at events and meetings, both with customers and with Microsoft internal people. Veeam has doubled down on the cloud, and with this direction, the need for trained and experienced cloud technologists will not likely diminish in the long term. Have you already gotten your Microsoft Azure certification? Share your experience and feedback in the comments below!

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