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Tips to prepare for your Microsoft Azure certification exam

Eric Pulsifer
Eric Pulsifer

So you’re looking to prepare for a Microsoft Azure certification exam? Good call! As Microsoft continues to see Azure adoption rise and cloud skills remain in high demand, there’s never been a better time to pick up Azure skills and get cloud certified. 

Certifications can play a role in your quest to find a cloud job. But where do you start? And how do you prepare for an Azure certification? Here are a few Microsoft Azure certification tips to ensure you’re ready to ace your exam.

Azure Certification exam FAQs

Which Microsoft Azure certification should I get?

Start by considering your goals. That will guide you in determining which Microsoft Azure certification is right for you.

Microsoft offers a boatload of certifications, but if you’re looking for an Azure-focused certification for a career in cloud, you can most likely narrow your focus to a dozen-or-so certifications. These are the role-based, specialty, and fundamental-level Azure-focused certifications. (Check out this post for a good breakdown of these.) 

Azure’s role-based certifications align with real-world job positions and responsibilities for folks working in cloud. Find the position or skillset you want to end up with and reverse engineer a path from where you are today.

How do I get started with Azure certification?

Take an online course, set up a free Azure account and experiment, poke around on Microsoft Learn, or ask your friends and colleagues. Once you’ve learned what you need schedule your certification exam and then . . . profit?

Don’t worry if you’re new to it. When getting started with your first cloud certification, it can feel like a lot. Many people with no experience begin with the Azure Fundamentals Certification, which you receive after you pass the AZ-900 Exam. Don’t get deterred by jargon and how confusing Azure exam names can be. Pick the Azure certification you want to study for, find material that works for you, and stay the course. 

It’s a bit like the cliché bit of wisdom/dad joke: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” (Translation for vegetarians or others not keen on devouring Dumbo: You’ve got to start somewhere. Just start and don’t stop.)


Cloud Adventure

Azure cert exam? You shall pass! ACG can help you master Azure skills and advance your cloud career.


What can I do to study for an Azure certification?

If you feel you may already have the skills needed for your exam, review Microsoft’s “certification skills outline” for your cert to see roughly what’s on the exam.

If you’re not ready to test, the right Azure training can help you build the skills you need to prepare for your certification. Explore your training and study options and find ones that seem to work best with the way you like to learn. For many, a mix of tools can be the best bet. A Cloud Guru has a wide selection of Azure training, including a rotating line-up of free courses, and Microsoft Learn also offers some great material. 

Whatever route you go, your studies should include hands-on time with Azure. You can set up a free Azure account (more on this below) or find a training provider that offers a cloud sandbox service and hands-on labs (cough, cough, A Cloud Guru) to experiment without the risk of a surprise bill. 

Which Azure certification is best for beginners?

If you’re new to cloud or Azure, the answer is simple: the AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals certification. The AZ-900 is a sound first step into the world of Azure that will set you up with the foundational knowledge needed to go places in your cloud career.

Just earning this entry-level certification isn’t necessarily going to land you a new cloud job or promotion (though it is one of the top-paying Azure certifications, that’s likely because the certification is held by many who hold a handful of other certifications and it’s often sought by leadership and management looking to better understand cloud) but it can be a key part of your efforts to jump-start your cloud career

How hard is the AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals exam?

The AZ-900 recently received an update. But how challenging is the new AZ-900? As far as cloud certification exams go, it’s about as easy as it gets. But don’t get cocky. Its relative ease doesn’t mean you (assuming “you” in this scenario are brand new to Azure) can just skim the Azure Wikipedia page, edit the Wiki to link to that disturbing 4k remaster of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and then get back on task and schedule your online certification exam. To pass the AZ-900 you’ll need a high-level understanding of all the services Azure has to offer.

How long do I need to prepare for an Azure certification exam?

The super helpful answer is: it depends! (Oh, you want a better answer? On it!) Many of the higher-level certs have a prerequisite of a couple of years spent working in Azure. While Microsoft isn’t going to phone your boss or check your LinkedIn profile to ensure you’ve put in the time, you’ll likely be biting off more than you can chew by taking on these tests before you’re ready.

The key to preparing for almost all certifications is understanding; memorization isn’t enough to get by. To succeed, you need to get hands-on with cloud.

How long do I need to prepare for the AZ-900?

If you dedicate a few hours a week for two months, you should have no problem getting up to speed. While the AZ-900 isn’t in-depth, it is a broad overview of (almost) everything in Azure. In general, you need to know all the services and topic areas.

Whatever approach you take to prepare for the AZ-900, do that and get a sense of what Azure is — then repeat. You’ll know you’re ready when you feel comfortable with explaining what a service does. (Don’t worry about how to use it or implement it just yet.)

How can I get hands-on practice with Microsoft Azure for free?

Create a free Azure account on Microsoft’s site. This gives you some services free for a year, a $200 credit to play around with for 30 days, and a couple of dozen “always free” services. This setup isn’t going to have you mining Bitcoin or anything — if that was your plan, sorry to send you back to the drawing board — but it gives you plenty to play with and learn on. 

Remember that even in services with free tiers, it’s possible to go over limits and get hit with a bill. Before you get too lost in the cloud, ensure you set up Azure budget and billing alerts. Future you thanks you.


Level up your Azure Skills with A Cloud Guru’s Learning Paths

Azure Data Engineer Certification Path

Azure DevOps Certification Path

Azure Security Certification Path

Azure Development Path

How do Azure certification online exams work?

Most major cloud providers are now offering online exams, and Microsoft is no expectation. We’ve got an in-depth set of online cert exam FAQs. TL;DR? Basically, you have to be in a quiet room with no other people or distractions and nothing to drink while a stranger called a “proctor” watches you take a test via your webcam. (It feels both weirdly intimate and isolating. Very 2021.)

Want a better idea of how it plays out? Check out this post for a first-hand account what we learned taking an online exam

Is Azure certification easier than AWS?

That’s debatable. While Microsoft’s exam names have the elegance of a barcode, many people find its services’ names to feel less like the results of marketing shenanigans or a random-name generator. (For our opening and closing argument, see exhibit A: AWS Elastic Beanstalk.) 

Azure loyalists will point out that Azure’s names just make more sense. Want to create a virtual machine? You create a “Virtual Machine.” Need storage? It’s called “Storage.” Sure, Azure does have services like Cosmos DB, but there are expectations to most rules. (Except for the five-second rule. Just let those curly fries go, friend.)

However, if you have Amazon Web Services (AWS) experience, it can be easy to transition into the Azure ecosystem once you mentally connect the two and learn what Azure calls AWS tools.

Is it possible to get an Azure job as someone new to cloud?

They put a man on the moon! But you’re looking to get a cloud job, not become an astronaut. (Though if being an astronaut is somehow an option for you, you should probably at least seriously consider that offer.)

ACG Azure instructor extraordinaire Lars Klint offers some thoughts on landing a cloud job as a graduate. “In my opinion, I think employers look at personality and eagerness as much as they look at skills when you’re a graduate. Displaying effort and ambition can be as important as ability. Part of that effort could be doing a certification course or earning all the badges on Microsoft Learn.”

Justin Brodley, VP of Cloud Operations at Intercontinental Exchange had a similar response. “The big things I look for are ownership and curiosity. You’re looking for that desire to learn, be flexible, and think differently about how you approach service and technology and how you look at these things in 2021.”

Skills are needed and experience is hard to beat, but even Microsoft itself hires people fresh out of school for Azure roles through learning programs and other initiatives.


Conclusion

While certification exams can be challenging even for experienced cloud gurus, remember: Microsoft wants you to pass as much as you want to pass. They want you to get into the ecosystem and start using their services. Satya Nadella’s money-making plan isn’t for you to have to pay to take Azure certification exams over and over again.

Don’t get discouraged if you have to take a certification exam multiple times. Keep at it and find a community of others working toward the same goal. Good luck!

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