Study plan for a certification exam
November 26, 2021
Andrei Antonescu

Getting a certification can be quite challenging. But if the necessary things are done, anyone can do it.

Getting a certification can be quite challenging. But if the necessary things are done, anyone can do it. In this article, I will write about how I prepared myself for the AWS Solution Architect Associate exam and passed it on the first try. At the moment, I’m learning to take and pass the Microsoft Azure Administrator exam, so I’ll be using everything featured in this article. Since both AWS and Azure exams cover administrating cloud infrastructures, I will create this article in the scope of preparing for cloud certification. Still, I do believe that the guidelines can be applied for other certifications too.

Things that you’ll need to do:

• Documentation on the exam

• Creating your plan to tackle the exam

• Reading/watching a course

• Taking exam practice tests

• Filling up the gaps

• Ace the exam

Documentation on the exam

First things first, you need to document the exam. This means that you need to determine what topics you will have to tackle in the exam and what skills you need to pass it. You can find everything you need to study on the official certification page (link for the skills measured for the Azure AZ-104 exam: ). Azure provides all these skills and topics. For example, here are some of the things I studied: Cloud Fundamentals: cloud deployment and computing models, global infrastructure; Compute Services: VMs, NSGs, LBs, Containers, Azure App Service; Storage Services: Storage Accounts, Managed Disks, Azure Blob Storage; vNETs, Azure Load Balancing, Databases Services: Cosmos DB, SQL DB, MySQL DB, PostgreSQL DB.

Creating your plan to tackle the exam

To pass any exam, you need to make up your plan. Mine was to follow a video course on Udemy and take handwritten notes so I could review them before starting a new chapter or after having a break from studying. After finishing the course, I read all the official materials provided by Microsoft for the certification. I find this one of the best methods to test your knowledge since the materials are official and updated regularly to be in sync with the exam.

Microsoft, for example, provides six learning paths for the Microsoft Azure Administrator self-study course. They provide you with the basic knowledge to pass the exam. The learning paths also have hands-on labs, so it’s good practice to do every step yourself.

After following a course or learning paths or reading a written course, I test my knowledge by taking practice tests. After that, with just some research regarding the missing knowledge, and I’m ready to take the exam. After looking up on Reddit and online forums on how other people prepared for the exam and how they rated their approach, this method is, in my opinion, the best way to prepare for a certification exam.

Reading/watching a course

To get all the information you need to pass the exam, you should cover a course about that topic. Personally, first I watch a video course and do practice labs(provided with the class) to get accustomed to the platform and its services. It’s way better to correlate an image or a process with a piece of information. This is the video course that I’m watching: . After looking up what other people that took the exam had to say about their experience following different courses, I found that this particular one is one of the more often used courses for the AZ-104 certification. It’s highly popular, and it’s well made. While covering the course, I take written notes. I find this useful since I can read them daily, right before I resume the video course. This helps me a lot with pleasantly memorizing a lot of information.

After finishing the course, I’ll read all the official information and documentation about the provided exam. Microsoft even offers labs to help students be more prepared for the exam. Since all of these are official, they are directly related to the exam.

Taking exam practice tests

After covering a course and the materials provided by Microsoft, I test my knowledge with a test. Most of the tests available have an explanation of why the answer you chose was right/wrong. I do these tests until I am confident enough to take the actual exam. For the AZ-104, I used these questions collections: & &  

Most of them are actual exam questions. The chance of getting in the exam a couple of these questions is high. I believe this is an essential part of the preparation for an exam. You get to see what you know and don’t, where you need to put more effort. Some platforms even offer timed practice tests. By doing them, you’ll get used to the exam, the format of the questions, and how to answer them efficiently. One important aspect is that most of the questions are written in a pattern. Not everything in the question is necessary, so keep in mind that you shouldn’t waste time reading the questions a couple of times. Extract what’s needed, only the important parts. Remember to take notes on what you didn’t know or where to put in more effort.

Filling up the gaps

After all this learning and taking some tests and practice exams, the last step before you practice a bit more or, if you’re confident enough, go straight to the exam is to review what you didn’t answer correctly. Take each question and look it up. If it’s just a service, read about it and what are the best cases to use that service. If it’s a question where you don’t have the basic knowledge, like what is port 22 used for or what is the role of a load balancer. No worries, look them up and fill in the gaps.

Ace the exam

The final step is to pass the exam. Go in there confident and calm. You did the practice tests, you reviewed what you needed to check, and now you’re ready. Skip the questions you don’t know or are unsure of because if you don’t and waste too much time, you will miss questions that you could have answered quickly. You will do them at the end. They will be more like a bonus if you get them right. When reading a question, find the important part, skip what is not essential. That’s pretty much it. If you are going to take a certification exam, I wish you the best of luck!

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