You've likely already seen the flood of LinkedIn posts that look something like this:

Now, I have a confession to make: I am a compulsive exam-taker. I take all that I can. Why? There's a distinct level of satisfaction and achievement in collecting those badges. They're just plain gratifying. If you have not yet taken the plunge, I'm going to tell you how to get in on this fun in this blog post.

If you are reading this post, chances are you have either already made the decision to take a Microsoft Certification exam (or someone has decided for you).

What are Microsoft Certification Exams?

Let's be real. We already know that obtaining certifications does not necessarily mean that one is a grandmaster, and it's not the be-all end-all. Now what Microsoft Certifications do provide, is evidence to the industry of one's technical skills. Moreover, they demonstrate an individual's willingness to embrace new technology and adapt to the rapid pace of change we are seeing in this industry.

 

How can I prepare?

1. Choose a certification

You want to get certified-- great! If you don't know where to start, browse the available certifications here. From here, you can find your target certification based off of product, level, and even role. For this scenario, let's say I'm a consultant that wants to be put on an upcoming Dynamics 365 Customer Service implementation project. I'm going to target Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Customer Service Functional Consultant Associate.

2. Determine which exams are required

Each certification will have a roadmap with required exams one must pass to attain it. If I take a look at the page for my target certification, Microsoft Certified: Dynamics 365 Customer Service Functional Consultant Associate, I can see that I need to pass both Microsoft Power Platform Functional Consultant and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service. Good thing I've already passed the former in this scenario, so let's focus on the Customer Service exam and jump over to its page

3. Review Skills Measured

Here's a hint: The scope of the content covered on each exam is outlined for you! It does require you to scroll down, so this is often missed. This can help you tailor your study plan to start with areas that make up the largest % of the exam. For example, knowing that Omnichannel makes up 30-35% of the exam, I would spend more time in this area and not as much on managing analytics.

Right on the exam page, there also is a downloadable PDF that includes an outline of objectives that the exam covers.

Knowing that I need to spend time on "Implement Omnichannel for Customer Service," I can then see in the pdf version of the skills outline, what the specific points are that I need to target:

4. Check out Microsoft Learn

Our documentation has come a long way. In addition to the exam page having a skills outline, there are also recommended learning paths to get you started. These are self-guided modules that often include exercises for you to test your knowledge. Critically, the exam material does have a tendency to align with the recommended learning paths :)

5. Just book it!

By this time, you've (hopefully) been able to come up with some sort of a game plan. We've chosen a certification, targeted a specific exam, have reviewed the skills outline and gone through the Microsoft Learn content. Although you may not feel quite ready yet and, perhaps you've identified specific target areas to study, I'd encourage you to book the exam. This puts an exact date and time that you should have learned the material by, which will be its own motivator. You'll then be more motivated to study given that you're now accountable.

6. Get hands-on experience

I am a huge advocate of learning by breaking things (just not in production… oops!) You can go through documentation all day long but you are not going to internalize that information until you get hands on. In this scenario, I've established that I need to understand how to implement Omni-channel. Looks like I should spin up a trial, which can be done from here.

Exam day

1. Prepare your space

The day has arrived! It's time to get ready to take that exam. Given the current state of public spaces, I'm going to assume that you are taking this remotely from a home office (or rather, home "office"). Now, there is a bit of a catch when taking these exams from home. Please take time to review About online exams with Pearson VUE | Microsoft Docs. There are some guidelines you'll need to follow such as, there must be a door, screens must be covered, no one can enter, etc. Now, this has meant that there have been times where I have taken exams in the bathroom. (If you end up doing that, you will have to remove the toilet paper roll.)

2. During the exam

  • Read the entire question. Then read the entire question again, slowly… Look for key words. Remember word problems in grade school? Mentally filter out the unnecessary information.
  • Don't make assumptions.
  • Answer the actual question based off of the information provided.
  • Use the process of elimination.
  • Remember that you can skip and go back to questions if you need to! I personally always start with the questions I know, skip those I'm unsure of, narrowing my scope until the questions that have been most challenging for me are the only ones left. Oftentimes you may learn something in other questions that may help you in those that you are stuck on.

 

Don't forget to breathe

I was going to put this under the during the exam section, but this deserves its own. Does even thinking about exams stress you out? Breathe. It's going to be okay. Are you shallow breathing from your chest? Take a nice deep inhale through your belly and slowly exhale it out. You've got this.

 

Now what?

Maybe you're already a Dynamics professional. Maybe you already have a significant number of Dynamics certifications under your belt or have been implementing for the past twelve years! If this makes you apprehensive or are questioning why obtain the newer certifications, consider this:

Given the reboot of the exam structure and new material, all others in the industry are starting with this same content. Critically, you are starting at the same point and consuming the same material that your customers and colleagues are. Plus, now you get badges which is quite nifty!

Skylar Shonblom