How I prepared for the Azure Solutions Architect exams

Read this first

This article is pretty generic, but please note that the exams in the Azure Solutions Architect path are being replaced. The certification will remain, but the exams to get there will be somewhat different than the current ones.

Introduction

I recently passed the AZ-300 and AZ-301 exams to get the Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification. It covers a lot of ground, so it took me a bit more studying than previous certifications.

A couple of people who passed the exams have posted tips and guidance on how they got there, so I thought I’d do my bit. In this article I give some insight in how I usually tackle an exam and what resources I use. It works for me, so it might be useful to you.

Note that some parts here are specific to the Architect path, but most of it can be applied in general.

Where to start

When I’m aiming for a certification, I start at the landing page. I read up on any of the information there and click through to the exam I want to do. Next, I download the skills outline to see the competences being measured.

I go over the outline to see which subjects I’m pretty confident about and have a lot of experience with, and which subjects I need to dive into. I do that one by one, by reading up on them up in the Azure documentation and finding articles and how-to’s on Google.

Study guides

An often overlooked study guide is the one offered for free by Microsoft. You can find a guide at the bottom of the homepage for the exam. It is divided into sections and modules and includes labs, using a free Azure sandbox to practice in.

There are more great sources of information and guides out there, like those from Tim Warner and Ravikiran Srinivasulu, to name a few. Also check out the Azure exam resources by Gregor Suttie, this Azure learning repository by David das Neves, and my blog post 12 Resources every Azure developer should know.

Courses

Reading tons of information becomes overwhelming (and boring) pretty fast. I like to mark major subjects that I feel are gonna be important and find video courses on them.

A great video source for me is Pluralsight. They have tons of courses and other types of content. What’s particularly useful is that courses are grouped into paths, including paths aimed at a specific Microsoft exam. Pluralsight isn’t free, but you can start with a free trial. They also have a mobile app which lets you download courses.

You can find other (free) video sources on Twitter and YouTube.

One tip: many of the videos are still comprehensible at up to 1.5x the original speed. That way you can see more in less time.

Labs

For any exam you should have hands-on experience. I cannot stress this enough. This is especially true for the Azure Architect exams, where you really need to know your way around the Azure Portal and the command line.

I follow along with demo’s in the videos and do labs like those provided by Microsoft Learning on GitHub.

For Azure exams that have labs, make sure to know about these:

Study notes

I find it impossible to remember every little detail of what I read or watch. And not everything is that important. To keep track of what I really need to remember, I always have a document open to paste in important notes or (video) screenshots.

The order and layout doesn’t matter, as long as I have the notes. I’ll also include things that I know are important for the exam, but I won’t look at in detail at the time I add them. For the Architect exams this could be overviews of service SKUs and tiers.

The notes are the only thing that I memorize literally before doing the exam.

You can find my study notes (only the publicly available stuff) for the Azure Architect exams below. As mentioned, the exams I did will be replaced, but I still think these overviews can be useful for the new exams, or just as a reference for working with Azure.

Disclaimer: these are dumps of information, will contain spelling errors and might have things that are not completely correct (anymore). Remember, the Azure platform is always changing and improving.

Download the PDFs here:

Practice exams

To verify that all this reading, studying, watching videos and practicing has paid off, I’ll do a couple of practice exams.

I like to use at least two different providers, to make sure I cover a lot of ground. For the Azure Architect path, I used MeasureUp and Whizlabs. I’m not a great fan of MeasureUp’s simple interface, but it’s the official practice test and supposedly resembles the real exam the most. Whizlabs is cheaper, but doesn’t have features like ‘give me questions not asked last time’.

To save some money, I always look out for a combination deal. You can often buy the MeasureUp practice exam in combination with an exam voucher (and a retake voucher) at Mindhub, at a discount.

Another tip: go trough the questions in practice mode. This lets you check the answer for each question before moving on to the next one. For me at least, this makes me remember things much better.

The final week

I do all of the above kind of unplanned, whenever I have time.

When I feel that I have read and watched everything I need to, I plan at least a week where I can free up some evenings and a whole weekend, and book the exam right after it. I also make sure to check with the wife if she’s OK with me being out of sight for the week :).

Next I outline how I’m gonna use the time to get ready. For my last exam this looked something like this:

DayTask
Monday eveningRepeat MeasureUp practice questions
Tuesday eveningRepeat MeasureUp practice questions
Wednesday eveningRepeat Whizlabs practice questions
Thursday eveningRepeat Whizlabs practice questions
Friday eveningREST
SaturdayPractice labs in Azure Portal
SundayStudy notes
MondayRepeat practice questions and notes.
Exam @ 14PM.

Exam day

To give me some final hours to review everything, I always plan the exam at the latest possible time of day.

I make sure to get enough sleep the night before, and to only eat light food and not drink too much on the day itself. This might sound a little ‘too much info’, but you’ll thank me when you’re doing a 3+ hour exam.

Tips for studying

Finally, some general studying tips that work for me:

  • Mix it up: don’t read or study documentation for hours at a time, but break it up by watching some video, practicing something in the Portal, …
  • Short study intervals: studying for an hour and taking a ten minute break works better than studying (or working for that matter) for hours on end. Also dare taking a day off, doing nothing for your exam. Things you’ve learned will sink in better.
  • Get enough sleep. You can’t remember things accurately when you’re tired.
  • Take advantage of those little nothing-to-do moments to watch a video on your mobile, but don’t wear yourself out.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Thanks for reading!

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