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If you've never taken a Microsoft exam before, my goal is to get you familiar with the exam structure and some test preparation resources. The Azure Administrator Associate certification comprises two exams: AZ-100 and AZ-101. These exams also feature a new test-taking requirement: performance-based questions or live lab scenarios. These labs require you to demonstrate your skills that go beyond answering questions by completing actions in a real environment, and I will provide some resources to help you prepare.
Pearson Virtual University Enterprises (VUE) delivers and proctors Microsoft exams and provides test centers around the globe (find your nearest test center here). If a test center is not available near you, they also provide online exams you can take from home or the office. They proctor these exams remotely through a webcam and require some additional configuration, such as a clean work area and a good internet connection. To learn more about these online exams, check out this link and read through the requirements and expectations.
Microsoft tests you by using several different question types, such as multiple choice, drag and drop, build a list of steps, or short answer. Understanding the types of questions and how to answer them can boost your confidence during the exam because you won't waste time figuring out how to answer. Microsoft lays out great examples of each of their question types in this YouTube playlist: Microsoft Certification Exam Tutorial. Check out each video as well as these resources to help prepare for the different types of questions:
- Microsoft Learning Blog: Revisiting a New(ish) Question Type: Understanding Questions that You Can't Review
- YouTube: Tim Warner: The New Microsoft Azure Certifications – Question Types
Let's shift focus to the Azure Administrator Associate certification. This certification is for admins who implement and maintain Azure cloud solutions, with a focus on compute, storage, networking, security/identity, and application services. It is attainable one of two ways:
- Pass the AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment and AZ-101: Microsoft Azure Integration and Security
Note: On March 20, 2019, Microsoft announced that the AZ-100 and AZ-101 are being retired and combined into a single exam named AZ-103. You will now only need to pass the AZ-103 to achieve the certification. Read more about this change in this Microsoft Learning Blog.
- If you previously passed the 70-533: Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions exam, you can take AZ-102: Microsoft Azure Administrator Certification Transition This exam will contain a subset of topics from the 100 and 101 exams. This is exam is available for a limited time only and is scheduled to be retired on June 30, 2019.
Each exam page will have a Skills Measured section that breaks down the exam into several subsections with topics and tasks. This isn't just a suggestion; this is what will be on the exam. I like reading and taking notes while reading, so I use the skills measured format to create sections and pages in OneNote for each topic. Here's a screenshot of my note-taking format from my AZ-101 exam:
The main page in OneNote maps to the exam's major sections, and each subpage maps to a topic in that section, then bullet points map to the tasks following May include but not limited to. I then read up on the documentation for that task and start taking notes, starting with what the service is and how to manage it. This may seem tedious, but this is what I do to make sure I cover everything on the exam. I don't always make it to every single bullet point, but I cover most topics in some way. I will also include screenshots and links back to the documentation for future reference.
Each of these exam topics can be broad, so how do you decide what's important to study? The exam isn't going to be a definition exam; it's not going to ask, "What is an Azure policy?" Instead, you'll need to know how to create one, where you can apply one, how to do in the portal, and any limitations that go with the topic. If something about the topic has an exception in certain scenarios, I'll take note in case a scenario-based question tries to take advantage of that. For example, certain app service plan tiers don't allow for scaling out, so an exam question may try to see whether you know this or not and can identity the appropriate action to take.
Finally, you may think you know enough to cover the different exam questions, but what about the performance-based labs? Here's the (not so) secret: you're going to have to know how to do things in the portal. This is going to require stepping through scenarios and practicing how to create them in the portal, sometimes even via PowerShell or command-line interface (CLI). If you don't have access to something like an MSDN subscription, go here and start an Azure free trial. You'll have $200 in credit to spend in the first month, and then several services are free for the first year, including Linux/Windows compute, storage, and networking.
Now you have a tenant, but what do you practice? Again, go back to the exam objectives. If it says to know how to configure, then go create in your trial tenant things like virtual machines, storage, and virtual networks. If you need more specific guidance, I highly recommend going through Microsoft Learn, which has learning paths with labs that map very well to the exam objectives. Here are my suggested learning paths and modules to go through:
- Azure Fundamentals
- Administer Infrastructure Resources in Azure
- Manage Resources in Azure
- Secure Your Cloud Data
- Secure Your Azure Storage Account
- Connect Your Services Together
- Host a Web Application with Azure App Service
Many of these learning paths will have a demo subscription, so you don't have to use your free trial. If you need additional practice with tasks, the Microsoft Docs pages will have a Tutorial section with step-by-step instructions on how to deploy a certain scenario. For example, this tutorial covers how to connect networks together using virtual network peering. Go through as many of these tutorials that cover the topics in the exam objectives.
The lab portion will present you with a web browser to access the Azure portal. During both of my exams, it took a while for the Azure log in page to load on my first lab, so if you experience this, just be patient and keep trying. If it continues to be a problem, be sure to notify the test proctor for assistance. The second lab in each exam loaded much quicker, so luckily I did not lose any time there. You may also have limited screen space with both the portal and the tasks sitting side by side. I would suggest collapsing the main left menu of favorited Azure resources as well as any blades to gain some screen real estate. You can resize the split bar between the two, but I sometimes found the list of tasks would disappear.
If you run into a lab task you don't know how to do, don't panic. I wasn't quite sure on a few tasks, but I found a solution by going into the resource and just exploring the different settings. Take a few minutes to look around and see if you can find the setting or option you need to configure. If you find yourself spending more than a few minutes doing this, move on to another task. By knowing how to navigate and find things in the portal, you may be able to find the solution without knowing exactly how to do it. This is where being familiar with the portal and common tasks will benefit you. It doesn't matter how you complete the task (via portal, PowerShell or CLI); it only matters that you complete the tasks.
Finally, be prepared to experience some jumping around during the exam. You may get a group of questions, a case study, a lab, another set of questions, another lab, and then more case studies. The exam will most likely have two labs with 7–12 tasks each, and you won't be able to return to a lab to finish it later. Do the best you can without spending too much time before deciding to continue. You will most likely have additional questions to answer after completing the second lab. Key an eye on how much time is left and the number of questions you have completed so far to pace yourself through the exam.
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I hope some of this information is valuable to you as you prepare for this or any other Microsoft certification. If you have any questions, I'm happy to discuss them; please leave a comment below or find me on Twitter at @JeffWBrown.