A thing or two on taking your MCSA certification exams...

Michael Bender

 Greetings True Believers!

So it's been a while since I've checked in via a blog post. It's great to see many of you joining the conversation on twitter as well as on the Server Certification Group forums on Born to learn.

So what have I been up to? Well, I passed the 70-410 exam and had begun my path towards 70-411 when I got a curve ball. Between work and family, I had to reschedule my exam. Unfortunately, my options for test taking are limited, and the only available date for the exam was after my scheduled 70-412 exam. So I am in the process of re-working my plan so that I can study for both exams in tandem. I hope to have this available to share with you in the near future.

One helpful thing for my studies will be the recent release of the 70-411 and 70-412 by TrainSignal. If you haven’t signed up for the free video training from TrainSignal, check it out here. Along with the TrainSignal videos, I am using the 70-417 Exam Prep book by J.C. Mackin to prepare. While the book is designed for MCSA's upgrading from 2008 to 2012, all of the chapters map to the exam objectives for 410, 411, and 412. So I would recommend checking it out along with the wiki resources for each exam.

So the focus of today’s post will be exam taking strategies. I reached out to folks at MS Learning and TrainSignal, and they provide me with some resources to help you prepare for your exams.

  1. Ask The Certification Experts: This is a great series of videos by the Microsoft’s certification team. While they don’t give you exam specific information, you will get some great insight into the exam framework.
  2. Next is a great blog post by Ashraf Al-Dabbas on the different exam question types. This will provide you good insight into the type of questions you will see throughout your exams.

A little something on My Test Taking Strategy….

As a veteran of multiple certification exams and an MCT responsible for helping students with their exams skills, I want to share my test day strategy. Hopefully, you can take some tips from it to improve your test day results!

  1. I always schedule my exams for a 12:30-1:30 start time. That is normally the time of day when I’m “on my game” mentally. Also, this leaves me the morning to do some last minute preparation and I’m not rushed.
  2. I make sure to get a good night’s sleep. If you prepared properly, should not have to do a late night cram session for your exam.
  3. Make sure I have two forms of ID and any other requirements per exam. As a college instructor, I can take the academic versions of the exams. These require a college ID so I make sure I have that as well.
  4. I find a quiet coffee shop (or noise cancelling head phones), and review my materials. I like to run through the areas that are my sticking points. Also, I will run through 10-20 practice questions at the end of my review session to get me in the test-taking mode.
  5. Have a light lunch and try to relax. Depending on your caffeine tolerance, you may or may not wish the forgo caffeine prior to the exam.
  6. I arrive to the test location 15 minutes early so I can check in and use the bathroom (or water closet for those across the pondJ). You won’t be able to use the restroom during your exam so keep that in mind with lunch as well. The exam reminder recommends 30 minutes, but my test site is never busy so I’ve never had a problem with 15 before. When I have arrived 30 prior, I’ve always started early.
  7. Unless I bring a coat or a bag, I leave my cell phone in the car. You won’t be able to bring it into the exam room. At my last exam, they included watches and any items in your pockets. I did sneak in a piece of gum though:)
  8. You'll recieve a laminated writing page with a dry-erase pen. Use this to write down any important information prior to the exam and as you go through it. For example, 70-410 covers subnetting so I wrote down all the common CIDR blocks as a reference for any subnetting-related questions that might have been on the exam.
  9. Once into the exam, I have a specific strategy for each question that I will explain below.
  10. The length of the exam should be posted with the exam information. If so, you know how much time you have for each question. Use this time as part of your preparation. Most practice exams allow you to input the time limit and # of questions. Simulate the exam day experience during your study and it will help you be more comfortable on exam day.
    1. If I have 2 minutes per question, I set a limit of 2 minutes I will take on a question before moving to the next question
  11. Once I have completed all questions and run through my review, the moment of truth is here. You are a few clicks away from success or failure. This can be nerve-wracking the first couple of times you take an exam as you wait for the system to tell you whether you passed or failed.
  12. Once you complete your exam, you’ll be provided a copy of your exam report with your score.

Mike’s Exam Question Strategy

Here’s my strategy for each Question

  1. Read the entire question end to end without going down to the answers. You need to familiarize yourself with what the question is looking for.
  2. Review the answers provided but try not to answer the question unless you are 110% positive you know the answer. At this point, many test takers get into trouble. We have been taught that we should go with our “first Impression”. While this is often a correct method, it can lead you into an incorrect answer. The reason is that exam questions are designed to be a bit tricky. You will have answers provided that may be correct for some situations, but not the one you are dealing with in the question. We want to get rid of these answers.
    1. I will mark my “first impression” answer at this time just in case I hit my time limit and need to move onto the next question. An answered question has a possibility of being right but an unanswered question is always wrong.
  3. Now run through the question again. This time you know the provided answers and can match those answers to the information provided in the question.
    1. Often times, there is information in a scenario that is not necessary, so use your knowledge of the subject matter to weed out this information.
  4. Based on the information gleaned through the second pass through of the question and using the information that is relevant, I try to weed out some of the answers.
    1. For example, if the question is asking for you to export DNS zones from AD and they provide you different command line tools to do it, you should be able to get rid of utilities you know cannot perform the task.
    2. The goal is to get down to 2 answers to choose from. But even if you only get rid of one answer out of four, that’s changing your odds to 1:3. I’d take those in Vegas in a heartbeat!
    3. If you are unable to come up with a definitive, go with your first impression answer or your “best” answer based on the question, and move on to the next question
    4. If you are not definitive on the question, mark it for review and comeback to it after going through all of the questions. In regards to marking questions for review, I mark all questions that I am not 100% on, and I want to go back to them
  5. After running through the questions the first time, I go to the review section which allows you to go through just the questions marked for review. This is helpful since it will only give you the questions you want to go over again
    1. During this pass, I repeat the same process as above. One thing I make sure to do is count up the number of reviewed questions and determines how much time I have left based on the exam countdown clock.
  6. That’s it! By the end of step 6, I am ready click the submit button!

The key to successfully completing a certification exam is providing answers to ALL questions to the best of your ability. That’s why we use the review option to comeback to questions you are unsure of. I can guarantee there are questions you could spend 10-15 minutes on, and you would still not have an answer. In that same time period, you may be able to cover 5-7 questions you do know the answers to. You need to get to the “low hanging fruit” questions and come back to the ones requiring more time. But always…ALWAYS…enter an answer for the question before moving to the next question. This ensures you have an answer for every question should your time run out.

Until next time…Excelsior!



  • Bahman
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  • gbeleevic.outlook.com
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    This is first comment as regards this forum and I am so happy with Mike brilliant comment, I still believe when writing any of the Microsoft Exams you need the Testking latest stuff to keep you alert and updated plus a thorough memorizing to concentration for the examination this is gateway to success thanks