First, let me explain that Microsoft has hundreds of certifications. They are separated into three major categories.
- Fundamentals - These certifications verify you have a basic understanding and awareness of the technology. (Entry Level)
- Role-Based/Associate - These certifications verify you have the skills and ability to implement the technology on the job. (Mid Level)
- Expert/Specialty - These certifications verify you are an expert in the field and can lead a team. (Senior Level)
So, definitely look through the certifications and pick the best one for you. You can filter down by Roles, Levels, and more—take advantage of that.
For my first certification, Azure Developer Associate was the best choice for me. I'm a full stack .NET developer, who has been working in the field for many years now. Fundamentals felt too junior for me. Expert felt too daunting because the one I wanted requires two exams. That said, I plan on pursuing expert level certification in the future. Especially since I am more comfortable with the certification process.
How I Studied
So, like so many other things in my life, after the decision to get certified, I jumped on to Reddit and did some research. After doing tons of reading, I found Whizlabs at the top of the recommendation list.
This was enough to convince me to purchase their AZ-204 online course and the practice exams. And, to be honest, I'm not sure I'll be purchasing the online course again. The practice exams are very helpful, but the online course wasn't as good. I learned more through Microsoft Learn material. Also, at the time of writing this, I haven't taken the official Microsoft exam yet. Therefore, I'm not sure how helpful the practice exams are. But I will say, I enjoyed Whizlabs practice exams and felt like they are valuable.
Here's the breakdown of the time I spent studying for this AZ-204 exam:
As you can see, I spent a total of 53 hours studying for this exam over a span of 1.5 months. I spent the entire time in August going through the online course on Whizlabs. This roughly took 18 hours. After that, the time was spent on practice exams and Microsoft Learn material.
I realized the entire Whizlabs course was only 9 hours long. So why did it take me 18 hours? Because I would pause the course to take notes. This is highly recommended BTW. I know it's a pain, but it's so worth it.
My original plan was to watch the course all the way through and come back a second time to do the exercises. However, I decided against this because I didn't want to pay for all the Azure resources working through the exercises. I found that Microsoft Learn will actually provide you with a FREE sandbox environment as you're working through the lessons.
Which is an amazing thing for Microsoft to do! So I went through the Microsoft Learn material instead.
Anyways, after I finished the Whizlabs video course, I went through the practice exams. Unsurprisingly, I did horrible on all of them. So, I went back and reviewed all the questions. This would take a couple of days because I wanted to make sure I understood all the technologies associated with each and every question. After I finished reviewing the practice exam, I didn't go back to the same exam. I would wait at least 5 days. This way, the answers weren’t fresh on my mind; I did this because I didn't want to easily pass the practice exam. Pro-tip: Struggle through practice, excel in the game.
So, I worked on the next practice exam and gave myself time to forget the previous exam. Forcing myself to recall information at a later date reinforces learning. That's what I picked up from "Learning How to Learn." This is one of the reasons why Whizlabs practice exams were so helpful: they provided multiple exams.
As I've said, I bombed the first few attempts, but I improved rapidly. One of my goals was to take the practice exams until I completed them all at 100%. It was actually harder than I thought. To get to 100%, I had to go through each question one by one and take notes on them. I couldn't review just by reading through them. If you look at the graph, you can actually see I did worse from Attempt #2 versus Attempt #3. That's because it was just too much information, and I got more confused when I tried to review just by reading.
Anyways, towards the end, when I completed all the practice exams, I started working through Microsoft Learn. I highly recommend doing Microsoft Learn. The lessons are amazing, they give you clear and specific examples, and it's hands-on. Again, Microsoft gives you a FREE sandbox environment to implement everything you're learning. Which is HUGE; hands-on learning is so important.
The only downside with Microsoft Learn is you have to do a lot of reading. If you're not a fan of reading, it can be a slog. Also, it's kind of repetitive. You end up reading big sections of text over and over again because the same steps are needed through multiple lessons. At the same time, you don't want to skip the reading because there is a chance you might miss something. That is the one bad thing about reading. You have to read it in order to know if it's useful or not. And, at that point, you already read it.
Scheduling the Exam
I scheduled my exam through PSI. Microsoft did a great thing where they offered the exam at a huge discount because of COVID-19. I thought it was an amazing thing to do during this horrible time. Give people a chance to study and further themselves when they are forced to be stuck at home.
Your experience may vary, but again I took my exam with PSI. I know PearsonVue is also offering the exam. That's a different company, and so I am not familiar with their process. However, for PSI I know finding a good location to take the exam is really important. Reading through the policy, it seems like they are very strict. You have to have your webcam and mic on to be monitored. The policy also said they don't want you to have sleeves because they don't want you to hide answers on your arms. The room has to be clean and neat, and you also have to be completely alone. They want to see underneath your laptop and desk, along with wanting a picture of your ID. Oh, and all of this is done through their software that will also scan your computer.
So yeah, I would definitely spend some time before the exam prepping your environment. You can sign up, download the software, and go through the verification process before the actual exam. You'll have to do it again before the exam, but at least you'll be prepared.
I'll be honest. I was kind of worried. I read on Reddit that someone studied 100 hours to pass the exam, whereas I only put in around 50 hours. That said, having some experience with Azure already definitely helped.
Sadly, I can't discuss the specifics of the exam because it's against the rules. However, you can check out this link for all the information on the exam.
I will say working through Microsoft Learn material and Whizlabs practice exams were extremely helpful.
Best of luck! ☮