Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) are the premier technical and instructional experts on Microsoft technologies, and are the only individuals authorized to deliver training with Microsoft Official Courses. MCT Sasa Kranjac—a preeminent Croatia-based IT Technical Trainer, Consultant,  and Speaker—stopped by the Born to Learn blog to offer a wealth of training and certification tips, including an exhaustive list of free resources you shouldn’t miss.  Take it away Sasa!   

Study Tips: Blend your Learning Styles

When preparing for a certification exam, different people have different approaches. What works for one person Sasa Kranjacmay not work for another.

I would not recommend a single study resource or approach. Blended learning—combining different methods—seems to be the best for me. Both theory and practice are equally important, and to pass an exam you’ll need both.

It’s important to realize that you are not learning to pass an exam. You are learning to secure your future; to be successful at your job, to be knowledgeable, and to be an expert—you’ll need that knowledge throughout your career.

Think of knowledge as a pyramid. Why are pyramids so stable? It’s because of the wide base. As you go higher, the pyramid narrows. Theory is the foundation of your pyramid, and hands-on experience builds on top. You have to have solid theory knowledge on which to build your practical knowledge. You’ll probably pass an exam without reading a book or an article about underlying technology, but that won’t make you an expert and won’t benefit you in the long run.

Self-paced Study: My Preferred Learning Method

Self-paced studies are my preferred method because I can decide A) what I study and B) when I study. I read, listen and watch while going to/from work, not only when I’m studying for an exam. During these times, I focus on my weak spots to learn about the topics I don’t know so well. 

Tips: 

  • I reference the Skills Measured section of exam pages on Microsoft Learning (i.e. http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/Exam.aspx?ID=70-xyz where xyz is exam number)  to know where to focus my studies.
  • One place not to miss when preparing to take an exam is Microsoft TechNet and the TechNet Library. Be sure to bookmark these sites, as you will be using these pages for a long time (well, at least you should!). If you are a developer, please see the table below to find links to resources that are useful to you. I am an IT Pro, not a Developer, but I still read articles on MSDN. If you need to dive deeper and know more about a technology, then there is no better place than MSDN.
  • Needless to say: buy and read some books! Choose carefully what books you buy; this should be a long-time investment. Books are now more available than ever, in print and in digital format. It only takes couple of seconds to access your favorite book on one of your electronic devices.

Instructor-led Training

This option is slightly more expensive but here is the crucial thing you need to be aware of: picking a class and a subject should be your secondary concern. Picking right instructor for a class you want to attend should be your primary concern. The instructor makes a difference and holds a lot of the value in the class you want to attend. Instructors can answer your questions and assist with his or her experience in your studies.

Online Learning

Just as with instructor-led, online classes are as good as the instructor.

My Most Valuable Resource: TechNet/MSDN Subscription

If I could pick only one resource that is MOST valuable to me, then TechNet/MSDN Subscription would be definitely the one I’d choose. With TechNet/MSDN Subscription you are in possession of almost all Microsoft products and operating systems, licensed for evaluation. That means that you get access to full-versions of software for 12 months with no feature limits. You also get other benefits, depending on the subscription level. Visit TechNet Subscriptions or MSDN Subscriptions to learn more about Subscription levels, benefits and prices.

TechNet Library and MSDN Library are competing for first place with TechNet/MSDN Subscriptions ;-)

I have already mentioned some of the important resources. There are numerous blogs, sites and places where you can read a lot about your preferred technologies, but I’ll mention some of the most popular and what’s most important, FREE, resources you shouldn’t miss. (You can also download the list at the end of the post.)

IT Pro Resources

  • TechNet. IT Pros’ Product and Technology Resources
  • TechNet Library. The TechNet Library contains technical documentation for IT professionals using Microsoft products, tools, and technologies
  • Test Lab Guides. Test Lab Guides (TLGs) allow you to get valuable hands-on experience with new products and technologies using a pre-defined and tested methodology that results in a working configuration. When you use a TLG to create a test lab, instructions define what servers to create, how to configure the operating systems and system services, and how to install and configure any additional products or technologies. A challenge in creating useful TLGs is to enable their reusability and extensibility.
  • TechNet Video. Find videos, screencasts, podcasts, and articles to help IT Professionals stay up to date on the latest Microsoft products and technologies.
  • TechNet Wiki. Visit a content portal to find information, resources, and help over a wide range of topics, projects, and issues.
  • TechNet Magazine. Monthly Magazine for IT Pros. Articles, Videos, scripts, digital magazine downloads. 
  • TechNet Evaluation Center. FREE Microsoft products trials. 
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy. Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) is a cloud-based learning experience focusing on Microsoft Technologies. You can access a variety of training content online to assist you in becoming one of the renowned experts in the IT Pro and developer communities around the world. MVA provides its users with a virtual university experience: the students can select a course and study the material and then complete the self-assessment
  • TechNet Virtual Labs. FREE hands-on! TechNet/MSDN Virtual Labs enable you to quickly evaluate and test Microsoft's newest products and technologies through a series of guided, hands-on labs that you can complete in 90 minutes or less. There is no complex setup or installation required, and you can use TechNet/MSDN Virtual Labs online immediately, free!
  • TechNet Events and Webcasts. Find links to upcoming events organized directly by Microsoft and by third parties, plus webcasts, podcasts, and other on-demand resources. All content is recorded and made available on demand
  • Ramp Up Learning Series(TechNet). Learn about Microsoft products with these "Ramp Up" learning collections. TechNet assembled these training materials for customers to learn either by reading, watching a video, or playing with the products in virtual labs. 
  • TechNet Events Repository. Find supporting documentation, reference materials, and media from TechNet events and briefings listed by product or technology.
  • “How do I?” Videos. Learn more about Microsoft products with these "How Do I?" videos. TechNet has assembled these short videos for customers to learn how to accomplish specific tasks with Microsoft products: step-by-step.
Developer Resources

  • MSDN. Microsoft Developer Network – Developers’ Resources
  • MSDN Library. Essential source of information for developers using Microsoft® tools, products, technologies and services. The MSDN Library includes how-to and reference documentation, sample code, technical articles, and more
  • MSDN Learning Resources. All for Developers: Samples and code, library, tutorials, Videos, Virtual Labs. 
  • MSDN Magazine. Monthly Magazine for Developers. Articles, Videos, code, digital magazine downloads.
  • MSDN Virtual LabsFREE hands-on! TechNet/MSDN Virtual Labs enable you to quickly evaluate and test Microsoft's newest products and technologies through a series of guided, hands-on labs that you can complete in 90 minutes or less. There is no complex setup or installation required, and you can use TechNet/MSDN Virtual Labs online immediately, free!
  • MSDN Events and WebcastsThrough this event portal, you can virtually meet your local Microsoft Developer and Architect Evangelists and connect with them through their blogs; you will also be able to experience videos brought to you by your local teams covering technical topics and recordings from recent events. 
  • Visual Studio DownloadsInstall and try Visual Studio today and seize the future of development. Visual Studio Express 2012 products provide FREE development tools for creating modern applications on the latest platforms. 
General Resources

  • Microsoft Virtual Academy. Microsoft Virtual Academy – MVA is a cloud-based learning experience focusing on Microsoft Technologies. You can access a variety of training content online to assist you in becoming one of the renowned experts in the IT Pro and developer communities around the world. MVA provides its users with a virtual university experience: the students can select a course and study the material and then complete the self-assessment
  • Microsoft Press FREE e-books. Free e-books
  • FREE E-Book Gallery for Microsoft Technologies. More FREE e-books
  • Microsoft Events. Recorded sessions from Microsoft events worldwide, available on demand.

Fundamental Technologies: Technical References on TechNet

The links below points\ to some of the most important fundamental topics. You should get familiar with how TechNet Library topics are organized; something that’ll happen once you start reading and exploring.  The resources below are not buried very deep in the library, but often are not easy to find. Although the core topics are placed under the “old” technologies/products section, they are equally important today.

If you need to learn the basics, don’t miss these:

Networking

Group Policy Collection

Storage Technologies

Windows Security Collection

Active Directory Collection

Print and Save TechNet Library Articles

I almost forgot to tell you about one really cool feature TechNet Library has. You can print and export multiple topics in PDF and HTML! Files you export retain links to selected topics; you don’t need to scroll much – just click on a topic in the Table of Contents and jump to sections.

Follow these steps to use the Print feature: 

1. Navigate to your favorite topic in TechNet Library.

2. On the top right corner, below the Search bar, right-click on a downward-pointing arrow next to the printer icon and choose Print Multiple Topics. A brief introduction page loads.

3. Click START to begin selecting topics. After that, all you have to do is visit each page or topic you want to print/export and select it by clicking on + Add This Topic on the gray bar on top of the page. Once you add the topic you want, you can remove it by clicking – Remove This Topic if you do not want to export it.

4. When you have finished selecting all the topics you want to print, click Collection (x Topic(s)) where x is number of topics you have selected. On the Manage Collection page you can choose to export your collection to PDF or HTML, rename and rearrange collections, add more chapters or choose from Advanced options to refine and tune your selection.

5. Click Generate to export/print the topics.  If you aren’t already signed in, you will be asked to sign in to generate the page and print.

Taking Your Exam

I have to admit: I did not study for my first exam, only because I had a lot of hands-on experience and I passed it relatively easily. That does not mean that the exam was easy, but I had a good working knowledge of the product, and that helped me a lot.

After getting a few exams on my transcript, and passing all on the first try, I failed an exam. What a shock! I could not believe that I could’ve failed an exam, and was furious. After passing the exam on my second attempt, I realized that being overconfident and acting as if I was in some kind of race did not help at all. If I had read the questions more carefully and took all the time I had on the exam, I knew I would pass. And I did.

I would say, even if you know a product by heart, take your time to read questions carefully and be sure you understand what the question is about. If you are unsure about the answer don’t be afraid to mark the question so you can return to it later.