How I passed 70-331

Last week I sat and passed the exam for 70-331 – Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013. After having sat a couple of the prerequisite exams for the SharePoint certification streams it was good to get back to reading and learning about SharePoint and the content for this exam didn’t disappoint – it’s always valuable when the study material for a given exam allows you to learn new things and the content for this one opened my eyes up to some pieces of information I wasn’t previously familiar with. For all of the detractors out there regarding Microsoft certifications, this is probably the most valuable argument for why becoming certified has merit (of course you could read this material without sitting an exam, but for me it really helps to focus areas of study – otherwise there’s just so much information out there to get through!).

My preparation for this exam was quite significant. I had a bit of time up my sleeve so I went down the route of both reading as many relevant TechNet articles as possible and also reading Exam Ref 70-331: Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013. The book started off fairly dry and I was wondering if I’d get any benefit from it but i’m glad I stuck with it, by the end I was very happy with the content I learnt from reading it and it was actually one of the better books I’ve read for learning about SharePoint recently which was somewhat surprising for what I expected would be just a manual to assist with the exam preparation. In the end I probably dedicated about 50h of study time for this one.

Overall I found the exam quite difficult even though I went in fairly confident. I found Alex Dean’s post 70-331 Insights to be a fairly accurate account of my experience also so I figured I’d link to that rather than duplicate it all here.

I mentioned that I read a number of TechNet articles – I primarily used the Born to Learn site’s Server Certification Study Group wiki to determine what to read, however a number of other options exist including Vlad Catrinescu’s Study Guide for Exam 70-331 Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013, Gavin McKay’s Studying for Exam 70-331: Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint 2013 and Becky Bertram’s currently under construction Exam 70-331 Study Guide. To be honest the first 3 I’ve listed are very similar (even to the point where the mistakes are the same!) so I don’t know who should get the ultimate credit but otherwise all will likely serve the purpose. Finding out about the Born to Learn site was a great positive of this process – I feel it’s going to be a heavily visited site for me in the future!

While I didn’t watch any videos this time around there are a number of options out there for those that wish to pursue that way of learning. Some of the options include Pluralsite’s SharePoint Server 2013 Core Solutions (70-331), CBT Nugget’s Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 70-331, Channel 9’s Exam Prep: 70-331 and 70-332 – MCSE: SharePoint (Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013) and TechNet’s SharePoint 2013 training for IT pros.

Another valuable resource you should be aware of is the Microsoft Virtual Academy site. I did find a page for Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013: exame 70-331 however it is in another language so perhaps not so useful for those of us that only speak English! Plus it wouldn’t actually let me access the content. Regardless – I think this is going to be an ever improving and valuable site to keep an eye on for future certification efforts.

So that about covers everything. I enjoyed the content of this exam and the process of studying for it which is always a plus when setting off on the path to gain the overall SharePoint certifications. Next on the list will be 70-332 so I’m hoping that one is similarly well created content wise.

As always, best of luck for passing this exam!

How I passed 70-417

Hot on the heels of writing about How I passed 70-480 I decided to start studying for the exam 70-417 – Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012. This was probably the most difficult exam i’ve approached for quite some time having historically been a SharePoint developer first, a SharePoint administrator second and a Windows administrator a very distant third. So maybe it’s just me, but this exam was hard. It doesn’t help that if you fail any one of the 3 sub-sections to the exam, you’ll fail the lot. I was lucky to scrape by with one of my scores barely making the cut, even if the other 2 scores were much better.

But before I get into the details of how I passed 70-417, I want to comment a little about my overall thoughts of the exam, or more particularly the suitability for it to exist as part of the SharePoint 2013 administration certification stream. Feel free to skip this rant and find the ‘Resources I used for 70-417’ heading to cut to the chase.

My thoughts about 70-417 for a SharePoint certification

So I could only make wild presumptions in regards to why we now have to complete these pre-requisites to gain the overall certification. The cynic in me would suggest its a convenient way to increase the amount of course and exam fees they’ll rake in from this decision. The realist in me would appreciate that for anyone to be certified in SharePoint (and for that certification to mean something) they probably need a broader skillset than the specifics required for the 2007-2010 certification streams. Having pre-requisites are a reasonable way to demonstrate that.

The problem I have though is with the MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010 certification being a valid pre-requisite for 70-417 and then that being the basis for showing the required level of knowledge for a SharePoint Administrator qualification.

Point 1: I wasn’t upgrading my knowledge at all. I was learning the majority of this from scratch. Now I would NOT have been happy if I had to essentially become a certified Windows administrator as a pre-requisite to becoming a certified SharePoint administrator (that is, completing all 3 individual exams which make up 70-417 – costing over $600 just to sit them in the process) but i’m not sure this was the right compromise.

Point 2: I’ve now essentially demonstrated that I know a bit about the new features of Server 2012 and how this has changed from previous Server versions. While this knowledge was interesting, it was not all particularly relevant to being the best SharePoint administrator I could be.

Point 3: I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I feel my study could have been far more productive if it was more specifically focussed on content which was more relevant.

What would I have liked to have seen? I think rather than taking the easy (lazy) option of having us do 70-417, they should have created a SharePoint-specific exam which could truely prove the candidate had the required Windows administrator skillset most relevant to being a SharePoint administrator. This would not necessarily have been upgraded skills, because i’d suggest a number of people would have been in my boat – had the SharePoint knowledge and perhaps experience without ever really having to dive into the Windows administrator world (most teams I’ve been involved in have already had these specific team members).

Anyway that’s probably enough of that, on to the good stuff!

Resources I used for 70-417

It seems every exam I do these days I take a different study path. For this one, because I wasn’t at all confident with the material, I invested a fair amount of time (easily over 40 hours). I watched some study videos again after having some success with that method when I passed 70-668 (although I now have learnt the time-saving capabilities of playing videos at 1.8x speed in VLC player!). The video resources i’m aware of include Pluralsight’s Windows Server category (which includes videos for the individual exams 410, 411 & 412), CBT Nugget’s more targeted 70-417 Upgrading Skills to Server 2012 and Channel 9’s Exam Prep’s for 70-410/70-417, 70-411/70-417 and 70-412/70-417. There are also Jump Start videos at Windows Server 2012 Upgrade Jump Start.

I also for the first time read one of Microsoft Publishing’s exam references Exam Ref 70-417: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012. To be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t had read this book, I probably would have failed. I would perhaps only read them in these circumstances in the future where I wasn’t at all comfortable with the content, but it has definitely opened my eyes to the option.

I also read a tonne of TechNet and other articles relating to topics I still wasn’t particularly comfortable with, however I didn’t do this in my usual structured way – more so via search engines. But that’s not particularly helpful to you, so I’d suggest checking out Enduria’s Preparation resources for the exam 70-417 for individually linked TechNet articles.

The final resources I believe are worth referencing are Vlad Catrinescu’s I passed 70-417, MCSA Windows Server 2012! and Free Windows Server 2012 Learning Material & Resources! Part 1 and Keith Mayer’s “Early Experts” Challenge – Apprentice Quest. All 3 posts are worth reading through and link to some decent resources for this exam.

To wrap things up i’d have to say my overall feeling is one of relief – relief that I passed and can finally put this lot behind me and get back into learning about SharePoint more specifically. My experience wasn’t as negative as Patrick Kremer’s MCSA 2012 upgrade exam experience – MS 70-417 but I can see where he’s come from and to an extent I agree about the value of this certification, if perhaps for different reasons. I wouldn’t say don’t bother though – chances are you want that MSCE SharePoint Certification and this one is a means to an end. It did have some value, but there’s room for improvement. I believe Microsoft have the right idea including a wider range of topics for an overall SharePoint certification, but I hope they change the way they go about certifying it.

Good luck!

How I passed 70-480

Over the course of last year and the beginning of this one I went about studying for and completing the 4 SharePoint 2010 certification exams and blogging how I went about it. It’s been half a year or so since I last targeted a certification so I figured it was about time I got back on the wagon and started attempting to gain the SharePoint 2013 certifications. Considering the ‘How to’ posts for 2010 were some of my most popular it would be remiss of me not to document my journey through the 2013 stream in the same way. Kicking things off was the Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 exam.

It was a little different approaching this exam – on the one hand it isn’t really SharePoint per se so it may seem a little out of our collective comfort zones. For me however, it’s what I’ve been doing for a fair while now so I went in to it with confidence. Before going into the resources I used to pass this I thought it worth noting that while I did very well, it was one of the longest exams I feel I’ve sat for – I think it was important to carefully read the questions and work through the answers more than usual, or maybe that was just me. Just a heads up anyway that it probably paid to be a little more careful than usual.

So on to the resources out there to help you pass. To be honest, there is a lot. I was quite impressed with the range of options available – maybe because this was a more generic topic, the range of people completing it (and blogging about it) was greater. Perhaps it’s just because it’s a pretty interesting topic and enjoyable to comprehensively study for.

I took a couple of different angles at it. Firstly I read the articles linked to by Microsoft themselves in the skills measured section of the page I linked to previously. My first impression was that the content was pretty thin, until I got to the CSS section! In hindsight though I think rather than thin it is actually quite targeted – perhaps not comprehensive enough to guarantee a pass, but it covers enough of the topics that you can expect to come up against. I’d suggest they’re worth reading, which is good to know seeing it was the first time I’ve relied on the links provided by Microsoft for a study plan.

The other resource I used was the training videos created by Jeremy Foster and Michael Palermo – Developing HTML5 Apps Jump Start. I couldn’t recommend these highly enough – they were interesting, fun to watch and weren’t ridiculously long (the jump start training series based on these videos can also be completed here). It helped reinforce that the articles linked to above were actually well targeted, and also touched on a wider spread of content, most of it still particularly relevant. Seeing I had a bit of time after I also read Matthew Hughes’ accompanying blog series to which you can find all the links on Michael’s page HTML5 Apps 70-480. I’d suggest it’s particularly wise to read up further on some of the more complex topics you’ll find in the last post – Matthew does a good job linking to extra resources worth reading.

That’s about did it – I found that was a decent amount of study to target my learning to the exam and pass relatively comfortably. I do have a fair bit of experience in these technologies however, so anyone with less may be interested in delving into the topics further using the resources below.

The first type I tracked down were the blogs which broke down the skills measured and targeted links to quality resources to study for them. There was an abundance of these and considering I didn’t use a particular one, I thought I’d list a few for consideration. You could use Chris Myers’ Microsoft Exam 70-480 Study Guide, Becky Bertram’s Exam 70-480 Study Guide, the post Exam 70-480 Study Material: Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3, Adnan Masood’s Study Notes for 70-480 Programming HTML5 and CSS 3 Exam, Xtian’s Microsoft Exam 70-480 Certification Tips, Martin Bodocky’s 70-480 Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 – Preparation links or the forum post by Robert Kaucher 70-480 – Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3. The list probably goes on and on, like I said there’s a lot of quality resources out there.

If clicking a million links isn’t your thing then Aidan Ryan created a series starting at Microsoft Exam 70-480: Programming in HTML5 With JavaScript and CSS3 where you can follow through reading his own study notes in the one place.

Then there’s always the paid options if you find you’re really stuck – the book Exam Ref 70-480: Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 by Rick Delorme and the nugget series Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 70-480 Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 by Garth Schulte of CBT Nuggets. Unfortunately for these guys, with the amount of free content which is available for this exam i’m not sure how necessary these options would be.

So that about covers it – as you can see there is no shortage of quality resources for this exam, and the content is actually quite interesting and enjoyable to learn so I’d encourage you to dive right into it, play around and complete the exam with a pretty short turn around time. Until next time – good luck!

How I passed 70-668

This post sees the end of my series on working through passing the SharePoint 2010 certification exams. It may be a little delayed, however it hasn’t been too long since I gained the MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010 certification by passing 70-668. It’s a great feeling to have all 4 certifications under my belt now and opens up the door to a range of new challenges to work towards – none more so than exploring everything SharePoint 2013 has to offer (including the certification paths in the future I’m sure!).

But first things first – how I passed 70-668. The title to this post may even be a bit misleading, because I’m going to discuss a number of avenues I could have taken to pass the exam. In reality I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the theory behind a lot of the skills measured and ended up relying on the reading I had already done for 70-667 along with a few study videos to get through. It was interesting to compare the different paths I took for each exam both in terms of knowledge gained and the exam results which followed.

So firstly the path I did take – there are a few study videos available to learn SharePoint 2010 administration and I was keen to try them out, not having done so in the past (not counting the Ignite series). A few examples include LearnSmart’s SharePoint 2010 Administration Video Training, CBT Nuggets’ Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Admin 70-668 and PluralSight’s SharePoint 2010 Administrator Ramp-Up.

Overall I’m undecided on the video route – in terms of targeted knowledge I believe it is the best way to go. In terms of having the information sink in and motivating myself to study, I’d rate them fairly highly. In terms of getting the overall breadth of coverage you get from trawling through copious amounts of TechNet and MSDN study material it wouldn’t quite be up there (not to mention sometimes the answers to questions come directly from that content!). The time you dedicate to it depends on how fast you can read – whereas the videos take a set amount of time, reading articles or a book allow you to skim through sections without fear of missing something important. I’d suggest I would be prepared to go down this route again both to specifically target an exam and get a decent amount of knowledge up front, however I’d prefer not to do it at the expense of reading a book or Microsoft’s documentation in the long run.

So what other options were available? Surprisingly, a great deal. In fact I seemed to find more quality resources for 70-668 than I did for 70-667. First up, Microsoft can always be relied on to provide some decent ‘amalgamation’ pages, especially for the newer versions of the platform. Their SharePoint Server 2010 for IT pros page is a good place to start your deep dive into the content. There’s also the videos and virtual environments they provide which I have previously listed in How I passed 70-667. This was the first time however I’ve stumbled across actual usable learning plans – my memory of these were always a link to a course or paid online training, but it seems like they’ve got some decent content attached these days – something I definitely want to check out in the future.

On top of what Microsoft provide there was also a number of quality blog posts all in different styles which would certainly help preparing for the exam. There is Joel Jeffery’s generic SharePoint Exam Tips and Barry’s SharePoint 2010 70-668 Study Guide links. Scott Jamison wrote a great piece on Preparing for 70-668: PRO: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Administrator and Alex Dean wrote some handy tips on How to Pass 70-668.

Finally, much like for 70-667, Accelerated Ideas has provided some practice exam questions which will help you get a feel for the type of information you’ll need to know to pass the exam.

Overall my 70-668 experience was very good – somewhat surprisingly I actually scored my highest mark in this one out of the lot – it may have had something to do with the fact it was the last one I took and a lot of the information you study for overall is transferable. The one thing to look out for with this exam is the different style of questions you’ll be faced with – it’s no longer simply a matter of taking a 25% stab in the dark for a lot of questions – there are case studies, ‘mega’ multi-choice with 15+ options and perhaps the most difficult style, ordering various steps to achieve a particular task (while ignoring the steps that shouldn’t be there!). If you’ve read up on the links presented on this site however, or perhaps watched some of the videos available, you should be ready for success. Good luck!

How I passed 70-667

Part three of my ‘Certification Series’ delves in to how I recently passed 70-667 – TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuring. It was always going to be a bit of a challenge stepping back up to the administrator certification plate (I had achieved administrator certification in the 2007 stream) after having a heavy focus both in development and also predominantly on the 2007 platform for the past year and a half, however I’m happy to say with the preparation I followed I managed to pass reasonably comfortably.

I took somewhat of a different approach to studying this exam in that, for the first time heading into an exam, I decided to base a large proportion of my preparation time reading a book. Without turning this article into a book review or commentary on what the best book out there for studying for this exam would be, I can say that the book I read, Professional SharePoint 2010 Administration, was a really good read in terms of learning a few things that I previously had not known. Whether it helped achieve the certification in the end i’m not sure (there ended up being a few months difference between finishing the book and sitting the exam) but regardless it was a good read and one I would definitely recommend.

Closer to the examination date I chose to go back to my tried-and-true method of finding a blog post which highlighted all the relevant Technet and MSDN articles on the skills measured for the exam. Not surprisingly, as I did for 70-573, I found that Becky Bertram’s post Exam 70-667 Study Guide covered everything I would need to read for each point and is the site I chose to go through.

I would however suggest that there is an even better resource when it comes to studying for the 667 exam and that is Benjamin Athawes series How I passed SharePoint 2010 exam 70-667 (part 1, 2, 3 and 4). The reason I didn’t use his articles as a guide for my study was simply due to time – I thought I had enough experience and knowledge already to get by without that level of study – however as a starting point for someone without the experience it would definitely be my number 1 suggestion on where to start.

Unfortunately, unlike the Cram Session videos I used for the developer exams which were extremely helpful, I couldn’t find anything similar for the administration stream. What I did find (some of which I had viewed previously) were some decent video content on Technet including Getting started with SharePoint Server 2010 for IT pros and SharePoint 2010 advanced IT pro training.

In the interest of completeness, like I did in my 70-576 post, I thought it would also be useful to highlight some of the training and labs available to help pass this exam, even though I didn’t use it in my own personal study plan. The labs available on TechNet Virtual Labs: SharePoint Products and Technologies are definitely worth exploring for those without enough hands on administrative experience.

Finally there was one pretty cool resource that I stumbled upon and perused briefly, Accelerated Idea’s Free Practice Exam – MCTS: SharePoint 2010, Configuration. It’s a neat little tool to help get you used to the multiple choice format of the Prometric exams and give you a little bit of confidence going into the administration certification (assuming you do well – I wouldn’t be overly concerned if you didn’t, the questions in this practice test are fairly broad and not necessarily indicative of what you’ll face in 70-667).

So that covers it. In the end I actually found the exam a little harder than I expected. I thought I’d blitz it but I’m glad I put the effort in to learn all the content being tested, not only as I picked up a few things I didn’t know but it definitely helped me pass in the end. The final piece to the puzzle will be 70-668 which I hope to attempt some time soon, but until then, all the best achieving 70-667!

How I passed 70-573

Today I sat and passed exam 70-573 – TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Application Development. That means I now officially have the certifications of MCTS: SharePoint 2010, Application Development and MCPD: SharePoint Developer 2010. It may seem a little strange that I did the exams in the wrong order, but there was a method to the madness. Primarily it was to do with the requirement of attaining gold partnership with Microsoft which required the PRO exams to be completed – hence that took priority.

The difference in difficulty between the two developer exams was quite significant – but I guess that’s to be expected. There seemed to be far less ‘gotchya’ questions that needed a sharp eye to weed out the incorrect answers, and more that you just knew. I still ended up putting in a fair amount of study – probably half as much as I did for the 576 exam – but in hindsight I don’t think I even needed that much. Still, the main benefit you get from sitting these exams is solidifying the knowledge you already have and increasing your breadth of knowledge via the study required to pass.

This post will be shorter than my previous one simply because I used less resources. If you want a wider selection of materials you can use to study to pass both exams (including hands-on labs and tutorials) then take a look at my post How I passed 70-576.

Due to the success I had with my previous study method I decided to take the same approach. This involved tracking down a site which would conveniently link me off to all the various MSDN and TechNet resources I would need to read to study each individual element of the exam. It didn’t take long to find one – a quick search for 70-573 delivers you to Becky Bertram’s post SharePoint Exam 70-573 Study Guide with the second result, which was exactly what I was after. While some of the topics linked off to even more, and some of the content could be considered overkill for this exam, it was still a valuable process to undertake.

The second part to my study was re-viewing the exam-cram video series by Ted Pattison and I can’t stress enough how helpful that was. It surprised me a little sitting the exam immediately after watching the 3 parts of the series that were relevant to 70-573 – he literally hands you the answers to a bunch of questions in the exam. In case you don’t feel the need to view my 70-576 post here are the relevant links you’ll need:

Cram Session Part 1
Cram Session Part 2
Cram Session Part 3

And that pretty much sums it up. I’ve been back in the MOSS world for a while now at my current client with minimal exposure to 2010 but still had no troubles with this exam. If you’ve had a bit of experience with 2010, have learnt a bit about the new development features and done a little bit of study on the topics being covered, you should have no troubles at all passing this one.

Once again, Good luck!

How I passed 70-576

I had the good fortune today to sit, and thankfully pass, exam 70-576 – PRO: Designing and Developing Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Applications. Aside from the fact the computer tried to tell me I was a no-show even after turning up half an hour early, it all went rather smoothly.

I’ve had a bit of experience sitting the Microsoft exams in the past. Going back as far as June 2008 sitting the core .NET and Winforms exams and then moving on to 3 of the 4 2007 SharePoint exams in 2009/2010, so I figured I kind of knew what to expect. This is probably the most amount of study I’ve put into a cert as well and as such I’ve learnt more than I ever have before – definitely the main benefit you get out of sitting the exam is the amount of content you learn to pass it.

But anyway, back to the point. I discovered a lot of different valuable resources that assisted me along the way to passing this exam. A few I didn’t end up getting to but i’ll include them anyway for the sake of completeness – they may come in handy.

Blogs: Rather than create these types of posts which was my original intention, I thankfully found some existing blogs that covered off what I wanted – namely breaking down the exam into it’s components and either explaining or linking off to MSDN/Technet content. The most useful I found was Martin Bodocky’s set of posts but beware – it’s definitely not for the short of time. This formed the majority of my study, and while the content could be found on MSDN/Technet directly – his posts saved me a lot of time!

Another blog I read towards the start was Pedro Pinto’s guide to the exam – it covered a reasonable amount of content and would be more attractive to those short on time or allergic to constant link-clicking in MSDN.

Training and Labs: Admittedly I never got to any of this content. I would eventually like to, but time didn’t permit. As it turned out, I didn’t really need it to pass the exam – but i’m sure it would suit those more inclined to hands-on learning rather than reading.

Videos: Now this is where I struck gold. Watched all of these and they were well worth it. The exam-cram series by Ted Pattison is a must see – shout out to my colleague Elliot Wood for tracking them down.

That about covers it. I’ll sign off with a bit of my own advice. Read the questions carefully – very carefully. Use process of elimination – there will be the obvious 1 or 2 incorrect answers but more important to see is (on some occassions) the 1 word in the question that makes all the difference to the answer. If you want advice on how to pass 70-573 then take a look at my post How I passed 70-573.

Good luck!