Greetings True Believers,

So here we are in week 2 of the Challenge to get the MCSE: Private Cloud certification. Last week, I introduced you to the challenge and there was good discussion on twitter from people joining the challenge, as well as comments and feedback through the blog comments. Keep it coming! As with anything, all of us can benefit from each other’s shared knowledge.

Many of you are hard-at-work building a study plan, and that is good to hear. 60 days is not a lot of time especially if you are looking at knocking out all 5 certification exams needed for the certification. So I want to spend some time talking about how I create a study plan, and then I’ll talk about my plan.

Mike’s General rules of Certification Studying and Testing

1.       You can’t possibly know everything so rely on your strengths and focus on your weaknesses. For example, Peter has mad AD skills due to his role as an AD admin for a large company, so he’s identified areas such as AD LDS and AD CS that are not part of his daily work and is making sure to get up to speed on that.

2.       You will be tested on stuff you may never have, and may never use. All IT certifications include areas that are often new or only used by larger organizations so you need to be prepared to cover all of the items listed in the Skills Measured area of the exam information. Based on my own experience gained from taking a broad range of IT certification exams, several vendors also include some under-utilized new technologies in their exams. One thing I would like to see from Microsoft Learning is improving the Skills Measured information. The information currently available on Microsoft Learning’s site leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can be quite broad. I would really like to see them deliver a blueprint for their certifications that can serve as an excellent study tool for candidates to create detailed study notes for themselves.

3.       Develop a solid test-taking strategy. From my experience, I have been able to pass many exams without stressing since I know how to use what I know to answer questions about what I may not know. We’ll talk about test taking strategies in a later post, but what I’m talking about is using the information you know to be true to weed out answers on a topic you may not be familiar with. With a solid strategy, you should be able to get down to a 50/50 chance on multiple choice (single answer) questions.

4.       You need hands-on experience…PERIOD! Since the point of a certification is not the piece of paper, but the knowledge, you need to have hands-on experience with the technology.  So you will need some sort of test lab. In the next post, I will be detailing my lab setup for the Private Cloud certification. If you are looking for a great lab server that could also run a small company, check out Jeff’s great rig at I built this same server spec for spec.

5.       If your work/home life will allow, carve out time every day to study & practice.  For me, I have a ton of material to learn in a short amount of time.  I can’t afford to take a day off nor will I be successful in learning the material long-term if I try to cram it in.

6.       Reward yourself when you hit your goals.  Think of some things that would be fun rewards like a new video game, or a dinner out, something of value that helps make the achievement of your goals additionally rewarding. 

7.       Take time off when you need it.  All work and no play makes us all dull so make sure to take some time away for friends, family, and fun. 

So how should you start building a plan?  Well, get out the calendar.  I use Outlook for EVERYTHING!  I print out a copy (In month view) of the timeframe I am working with.  As I go through the creation process, I can visual see how things stack up.  It’s also very helpful to have work & family calendars available because the last thing you want to do is schedule an exam on the Friday afternoon when you are leaving for a holiday.

1.       Set your Goal.  In my case, my goal is to complete 3 exams (70-646, 70-247, and 70-246) and earn my MCSE: Private Cloud by the time I step on the bus at Microsoft TechEd to go to the Attendee party.  So that leaves me with approximately 52 days to accomplish my goal.

2.       Gather your study materials.  It may seem like you could do this after setting your goal and identifying the exams, but the Private Cloud certification exams are brand new, so there are very few books and traditional exam-taking tools available.  So you are going to need to rely on various training options from Microsoft, as well as their documentation.  Since there is a good amount of online training available, you’ll want to build your plan based on how fast you can consume and process the content.  While I like online trainings for bite-size learning, two full days of SC 2012 training is going to take me a while to digest!

3.       Set Exam Milestones.  Unless you are an Uber geek and a wiz-kid, you probably will not be taking 5 exams during the same week.  So you want to layout a path that allows you to complete the exams you need with enough time should you falter at some point.  Typical of any project, if you do not build in slack time, failing an exam will have dire consequences.  Since most exams require 24-48hrs before you can reschedule, scheduling all of your exams on Wednesday and Thursday at TechEd could cause for some problems.  Since I only have one exam (70-646) that I don’t plan on taking at TechEd, I have scheduled that exam for May 23rd.  Once the Prometric scheduling opens up on the TechEd site, I will probably schedule 70-647 just so I have a date to shoot for.

4.       Fill training into your calendar.  Once you have your exam dates locked in, you know what you need to be prepared for and when.  Now is the time to begin filling in your training calendar.  If you are starting with the MCSA: Windows Server 2008, then it may be easiest to take it one exam at a time.  Each exam will build a foundation for the next one as you move through the exams.  Recommended path is 70-640 to 70-642 to 70-646.

For me, it is a little bit different.  I have a strong background in Windows Server and Virtualization, I teach the course work surrounding much of the material on a regular basis, and I am a complete newbie to System Center (of any flavor).  So even though I am taking 70-646 first, I am starting my prep with System Center since I have a ton to learn.  Also, I can’t get the exam schedule in a location convenient for me until May 23rd so I’ll carve out time the week before to “cram” for the exam.

5.       Get to work.  With the other responsibilities I am juggling, it is just a matter of fitting everything in over the next 7 weeks.  Below you find my proposed plan.


Study Activities

Week 7

·         Continuing building test lab using Evaluation Guide (Ch 3)

·         Finish reading Private Cloud Defined White Paper

·         Read Unified Installer Guide

·         Download all content I need for studying including videos, whitepapers documentation etc.

Week 6

·         Run through 2-day Private Cloud Jump Start series from back in March.

·         Continuing building test lab using Evaluation Guide (Ch 4)

Week 5

·         Continuing building test lab using Evaluation Guide (Ch 4,5)

·         Make my way through documents listed in 70-247 blog document

Week 4

·         Make my way through remainder of documents listed in 70-247 blog document

·         Begin Prep for 70-646 Exam

Week 3

·         Take Exam 70-646 (5/23)

·         Celebrate passing exam with a new book (TBD)

·         Make my way through documents listed in 70-246 blog document

Week 2

·         Make my way through remainder of documents listed in 70-246 blog document

·         View Microsoft Virtual Academy track on Configuring and Deploying Microsoft’s Private Cloud


Week 1

·         Run through Guided Labs

·         This will be a tough week as I have a VMware vSphere 5 ICM Train the Trainer class all week.  I’ll need to fit studying in at night and during travel time to TechEd.

Week 0

·         Last minute exam prep

·         Complete as many HOLs at TechEd as possible

·         Sit in on broad SC 2012 sessions and hopefully test prep sessions

·         Take Exam 70-247 (Tuesday/Wednesday)

·         Take Exam 70-246 (Thursday)

·         Celebrate Certification with a future Windows 8 Tablet!


So that’s my  plan…What’s your plan?  Let us know on twitter using the hashtag of #60days2MCSE or better yet, sign up for the #60days2MCSE challenge group on  I’ve included some links to Blogged Plans of #60days2MCSE Challengers that I know of at the time of writing this post.


Peter Gray -

Matt Griffin -

@guidovbrakel -


So our next post will discuss building a test lab, checking in on the plan, and anything else new.

Until we talk again…Mike