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Mattias Fjellström
Mattias Fjellström

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A tried and proven method on how to pass a Microsoft Azure certification

Disclaimer 1: Some of the content might sound like bragging, but that is not the intent.

I have currently passed ten different1 Microsoft Azure certifications, and I have never failed an exam (yet). This does not sound like much, but I have done other certifications parallel to this because I have other technology interests apart from Microsoft Azure.

In this post I would like to share my method on how to study for, and pass, an exam.

My method

Disclaimer 2: my method is based on having someone else pay for the certification exam and practice assessments. It will get very expensive in the long run if you have to pay for it yourself. I have been lucky to have my employer pay for my certification exams. Luckily you can renew Microsoft certifications for free, so you buy it once and keep it forever (as long as you renew it in time of course).

Disclaimer 3: This process will be the most difficult for your first exam, but it will get easier and easier the more certifications you have because there is a lot of overlap in the content of many of the certifications!

Step 0: Work experience

Unfortunately I will begin this guide with an advice that could be difficult to fulfil unless you have been lucky to work a lot with Microsoft Azure for a few years. Real-life work experience is the single most important source of learning there is. However, it doesn't have to be work-related, it could also be your own projects. But it should be something real, not following tutorials blindly. You can learn so much by solving problems that you encounter along the way in a work (or private) project.

Step 1: Microsoft Learn

The first step I follow is to go through the Microsoft Learn learning path for the certification I am interested in. This learning path most often cover 100% of the topics you are expected to know about, but rarely to the level of detail that you need to know.
The learning paths have become better and better throughout the years, and today they are very good.
While I go through the learning path I take notes whenever I read something that I didn't know before. I go through these notes after finishing the learning path, and 1-2 times more before the certification exam.

Step 2: Labs

This step might as well happen in parallel with step 1 above. If there are things you read about that you have not done in real-life before now is your chance. I don't do this for everything, e.g. I am not interested in actually learning how to set up an express route for real, I'll save that learning opportunity for when I need it in my work.
Labs are good, especially if you can figure out a project of your own to combine it with.
However, if all you do is follow a tutorial with step-by-step guidance (like the one I am writing, haha!) then chances are that you won't learn anything from it, and you might as well not do it.

Step 3: Practice exams

I always buy a practice exams from MeasureUp for Azure certifications (except for the fundamental certifications). They have been very valuable for me. You usually get somewhere between 120-180 questions to practice on, and the questions are very representative of the actual exam. This is a huge learning opportunity that you should not neglect. If there is a question you get wrong you can read the detailed explanation of the correct answer, and you are provided with links for further reading.
You should go through all the questions you bought, and read the answers even for questions that you know because you might still learn new things from the answers.
Go through the questions more than once, I recommend to go through everything at least twice, but it can get quite tedious after that (in my experience).

Note that Microsoft has official practice assessments available online for free, for many but not all certifications. More are added every now and then. In my experience these practice assessments are easier than the actual exams, so be cautious.

Step 4: Book and sit for the exam

When I am confident that I know all (or close to all) answers to the practice tests with motivation as to why the answer is correct, then I know I am ready for the exam. I never book the exam far in advance, I try to book it within 24 hours of taking it if possible. I always book the proctored version so that I can sit at home or at the office.
Doing an exam is somewhat stressful, but after a few times you get used to it.
One thing to keep in mind for the exam and that is to not get stuck on a question. If you are uncertain, go with the answer that feels best and move on. I never flag a question for review because I know I will be equally uncertain the next time I see it during review.
Most Azure certifications have some sort of case-study question which involves a lot of information before you even get to a question. My tip here is to skip ahead to the first question immediately, and then go back and start reading the case-study, because then you can read with more focus and try to find the answer to the question while you read.

Why to get certified?

Not everyone thinks that getting certified is something worth doing. I respect people's opinion on that. However, I do think it is worth taking certifications. It is a learning opportunity with a well-defined list of what one should know. And the certification is a concrete way of showing that I have studied the material and completed the exam. Note that Microsoft exams are much harder than other certification exams (I have tried exams from AWS, The Linux Foundation for Kubernetes, HashiCorp, Launch Darkly, and GitHub), so it is unlikely (but of course not impossible) that someone achieves an Azure certification by chance.

What are your thoughts on certifications?

  1. I have the following (written in the order I have completed them): AZ-204, AZ-400, AZ-303, AZ-304 (303/304 is nowadays replaced by AZ-305 so I count them as one and the same), AZ-104, AZ-420, DP-900, AI-900, AZ-700, AZ-500, and SC-300. 

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