AZ-900: Preparation tips and exam experience
AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals is a beginners exam which validates entry level skills for Microsoft Azure. Becoming Microsoft certified in Azure Fundamentals, as the name suggests, will demonstrate that you’ve mastered the basics. Despite not being a prerequisite for the advanced, specialized certifications, it will help you get your foot in the door to the world of cloud technologies. In the following sections, I will share my own experience and some tips on my journey to certification.
About the exam
For the latest topics that need to be covered in order to pass the AZ-900, Microsoft’s exam skills outline is the most relevant source.
The full price is 99$ or you could earn a 100% discount on the exam if you attend a Microsoft Virtual Day training. For the latest available time slots for the training, check the training days schedule.
Expiry date for the discounted exam is best checked by logging into the Certification Dashboard after the discount was claimed. There is a comprehensive video from Microsoft on the claiming process itself.
You can find out more about the exam format in Microsoft certifications in general on their website, as exam durations are given in ranges and not all of the listed question types are used in all the exams.
Scheduling and online proctored exam
The exam can be taken online or at a test centre. If you’ve chosen to use the discounted exam, when scheduling via Pearson Vue, they also offer the option to choose how to sit for the exam.
My own experience was with the online proctored version from home and it went great. I have to congratulate Microsoft and Pearson Vue on finding a way to protect exam takers during a pandemic, without making them jump through hoops while upholding the credibility of the certification.
What was needed from my side:
- A completely clean desk with only my laptop and the charger
- Stable internet connection
- A quiet room with a solid, closed door. They don’t seem to mind your furniture as long as there are no other electronics present (beside your phone) or notebooks laying around. For more detailed info, you can also check out this review.
There is the fact that you’re being continually monitored by a proctor via your camera and microphone, so you need to be ok with sacrificing a bit of privacy and also downloading a rather invasive Pearson Vue proctoring software which delivers you the exam.
If you go down this online path, it’s important to take into account that you must do a system check of your workstation that will be used for the exam day to make sure it complies with the requirements of the software.
Time and Resources
My prep time took about 6 weeks, with an average of 1–1.30 hours per day, with a day job as a Helpdesk engineer. Therefore, I had some basic, limited exposure to Azure and the Azure portal with my work (checking Azure AD for info, doing MFA resets). Also, the length of my prep time was due to multiple factors. I was combining 3 study resources, one by one and trying to avoid feeling overwhelmed by spending more than 10 hours in front of a screen per day.
My picks were the following resources:
- PluralSight course (I took advantage of the April free month, but Plural sight has a couple of free courses each week; also a 10 day trial is available which should be enough to watch their AZ-900 learning path)
- A free alternative to the PluralSight course that matches the exam objectives, could be the one offered by Coursera, who teamed up with Microsoft as part of the Universal Digital Skilling campaign.
Additionally, I created my own study guide by using Microsoft’s Learning path as the main source and then added extra info from the book or the course on certain topics. I also plan to use it as a refresher of my knowledge in the future.
For the visual learners, another interesting approach could be using an existing mind map or making your own mind map of the material, similar to what this Azure fundamentals certified engineer did.
And last, but not least important is to create a free Azure account to play a bit with all those features you learn about on the Azure portal, especially important if you have never used it before at all. You can read more of what and how long is available to you in this free tier on Microsoft’s official page.
Exam day (online-proctored experience)
Consider that the exam starts 30 min before the scheduled time. These 30 min do not count towards the actual exam duration, it’s reserved time to start the check in process, which consist of:
- Downloading the Pearson Vue software
- Taking photos of your workspace and ID
- Waiting for the proctor to approve
This is also explained in the process of scheduling and email scheduling confirmation. And no worries, there is sufficient time to answer all questions.
After you finish (and fingers crossed, pass) the exam, it’s advisable to remove the Pearson Vue proctoring program. Some users have noticed on Reddit, including myself, that it doesn’t show up in Add/Remove Programs. In that case:
- Search %appdata% in your File explorer path field and delete the OnVue folder
- Take a screenshot before you install the software so that you can revert some of the Firewall settings it may have adjusted and
- Delete their firewall rules
Bottom-line, this exam experience is well worth the “trouble”, especially if this is the first time you’re going after certifications. Learning about Azure fundamentals is time well spent by itself, but also the process is beneficial to create a new type of study habits and to build up some confidence.