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Microsoft's Unstated Exam Prerequisites

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Although Microsoft clearly states the prerequisites for their certification exams, they also assume that candidates will have a solid background in networking prior to taking the exam. This article discusses Microsoft’s unofficial exam prerequisites and what you need to know before taking your first exam.

Traditionally, this website has focused on providing profiles of Microsoft exams and tips for passing those exams. Soon we will be introducing a new type of article, which will focus on specific topics that you are likely to encounter on Microsoft exams. These articles are intended to act as a refresher on a specific topic, while also telling you what you need to know about that topic in order to do well on a Microsoft exam.

In the spirit of this new article series, I wanted to kick things off by talking about some of Microsoft's unstated exam prerequisites. The basic idea behind this article is that for any Microsoft exam, Microsoft lists a series of prerequisites that you will need to have met in order to pass that exam. At the same time though, these prerequisites are not all-encompassing. Microsoft assumes a basic level of knowledge that is not explicitly stated within the prerequisites (although it may fall into the real-world experience portion of the prerequisites). With that in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about some of the unofficial prerequisites that come into play on many of the Microsoft certification exams.

Active Directory

Almost all of the Microsoft server exams deal with products that are designed to function in an Active Directory environment. As such, it stands to reason that you will need a basic understanding of the Active Directory before taking such an exam.

Virtually every one of the Microsoft server exams requires you to have a good working knowledge of the basic Active Directory structure. In other words, you need to know about forests, domains, sites, and organizational units.

Because many of the exams deal with group policies, it's a good idea to make sure that you know how group policies work. Most importantly, make sure you know how the group policy hierarchy works and how group policy objects are combined to form a resultant policy.

While I’m on the subject of the Active Directory, make sure you know the difference between the various administrative groups. Microsoft often asks questions pertaining to the Schema Admin, Enterprise Admin, and Domain Admin groups.

DNS

DNS is another huge topic on Microsoft certification exams. In fact, DNS plays such a big role in most of the exams that there is already an article on this site discussing what you need to know about DNS in order to pass Microsoft exams.

Obviously, that article covers more material than I ever could a piece like this. I will tell you, however, that in addition to knowing what DNS is and what it does, you will need to have some basic DNS knowledge. For example, make sure that you know what a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) is. You should also make sure that you know what the most common types of DNS records are. For instance, you should know the difference between a Host (A) record and a Mail Exchanger (MX) record.

Basic Networking

All of the Microsoft server exams require you to have some basic networking knowledge. Unless you are taking a networking technology-specific exam, you won't be expected to know how to subnet an IP address. Aside from that though, you should at least have a basic understanding of how TCP/IP works.

Although most exams don't waste time on questions specific to IP addressing (Microsoft assumes that you already know how IP addressing works), you do need to know about port numbers. Every Microsoft server exam that I can think of has had several questions that deal with various TCP and UDP ports. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know which ports are most commonly used for various functions. For example, you need to know that HTTP traffic typically flows through TCP port 80, and that SSL traffic uses port 443. Of course these are just a couple of examples. In all, there are probably about a dozen port numbers that you need to be aware of in addition to any ports that are specific to the product on which you are being tested.

PowerShell

Another technology that you need to understand for many of the Microsoft server exams is Windows PowerShell. Microsoft seems to be making a gradual transition away from the GUI with the goal of making Windows PowerShell the primary management interface for their server products. As such, you can expect to see a good number of PowerShell-related questions on most of the Microsoft server exams.

There is already an article on this site that explains what you need to know about PowerShell in order to pass a Microsoft exam. I don't want to try to rehash that entire article, but I will tell you that you need to be aware of the basic command syntax used by PowerShell. You also need to know how to install PowerShell and you should be aware of any PowerShell cmdlets that are specific to the product on which you are being tested. In most cases it is not necessary to know the full syntax of a PowerShell command (although there are exceptions), but you do need to know which command to use to accomplish various tasks.

IIS

Many Microsoft server products such as Exchange Server and SharePoint offer web interface that allow you to provide services to mobile users. That being the case, Microsoft expects you to have a good understanding of the Internet Information Services (IIS). More importantly though, you need to have a basic understanding of digital certificates.

The primary method used to secure the various Web services is to use SSL encryption. In order to enable SSL encryption, the IIS server must be provided with an X.509 certificate. Of course, assigning a certificate to the server isn't enough. The client devices must also trust the certificate authority that issued the certificate. If the certificate came from a well-known commercial certificate authority then the trust may be built-in. Otherwise, you will need to provide the client devices with a certificate that allows them to trust the certificate authority that issued the server certificate.

The Event Viewer

Finally, almost all of the Microsoft server exams deal with troubleshooting on at least some level. Very often, troubleshooting involves looking for specific events in the event viewer. Even though the events that you will need to know about are usually exams-specific, you should take a few minutes to make sure that you know how to interact with the Event Viewer. That's because exams sometimes include simulation questions that involve locating events within the Event Viewer.

Conclusion

The prerequisites that I have discussed in this article are in no way official Microsoft prerequisites. They are simply basic knowledge that you should have before you take a Microsoft server exam. Even so, these topics come up time and time again on the Microsoft certification exams, so it would be a good idea to have a strong understanding of them.

As time goes on, look for more articles that deal with these topics (and more) in further detail, with an emphasis on what you need to know about them before taking a Microsoft certification exam.

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