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Preparing for the Next Wave of Microsoft Certification Exams

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Microsoft is in the process of releasing a number of new products and upgrades, including Windows 8, SharePoint, Microsoft Lync, and Windows Phone 8. And with new products come new certification exams. In this article, Brien Posey examines the new and upgraded certification exams, in preparation for Microsoft’s rollout of new products.

2012 has been a big year for Microsoft. Not only is Microsoft releasing Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, but there are new editions of many other Microsoft products that will also be released either later this year or in early 2013. Some of these new products include things like Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Exchange Server, Microsoft Lync, and Windows Phone 8. Needless to say, there are sure to be a lot of new Microsoft certification exams to go along with these new products. The big question is what is the best way to begin preparing for those new certification exams?

Eventually, anyone who wants to pass a certification exam for any of the new Microsoft products will be able to prepare for the exam using traditional study methods. For example, there will probably be classroom training, e-learning, and various study guides. For right now, though, none of these study resources exist. The new products have yet to be publicly released (at least as of the time that this article was written) and the study resources—and even the exams themselves—are probably still in development as well.

As we all know though, the economy is tough right now and the IT field is fiercely competitive. Many IT professionals want to be ready for the new certification exams as soon as they are released (or shortly thereafter). Although being able to pass a certification exam almost immediately after it’s made available might seem like a pipe dream, it is not as unrealistic as you might think. Consider, for example, the Microsoft beta exams. Although it is tough to get Microsoft to allow you to take a beta exam, Microsoft does have a beta program for every new exam that they offer. Each time a beta exam is made available, there are always people who manage to pass the beta exam—and earn the associated certification—even though there are no official study resources available.

How do they do it? Unfortunately there is not one single, simple secret to being able to pass a brand-new Microsoft certification exam. Anyone who has ever taken a Microsoft certification exam knows that there is a lot of hard work that goes into preparing for the exam. The amount of effort required is compounded when no official study resources are available.

The first trick to being ready is to anticipate the types of things that Microsoft might cover on the exam. Normally, Microsoft will post the stated objectives for an exam at least a couple of months before the exam is actually made available, but it is possible to take some educated guesses about the test material even before the exam objectives are made public.

In the case of this latest release cycle of Microsoft products, one of the big areas that you can expect to be covered on almost all of the Microsoft certification exams is PowerShell. Starting with Windows Server 2012, Microsoft’s preferred deployment method is Server Core. When you also consider that Microsoft has created thousands of new PowerShell cmdlets, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the exams will probably be very PowerShell heavy. Of course this doesn’t just apply to Windows Server 2012. All of the new Microsoft server products can be managed through PowerShell.

Without a doubt, the most important thing that you can do to begin preparing for the new Microsoft certification exams is to gain experience with the various products. Even though none of the products have been publicly released yet, Microsoft has made the betas public at this point. I highly recommend setting up a lab environment and spending a lot of time working with the various products.

When I say that you should spend time working with the new products, that isn’t a generalization. Microsoft has done something relatively unprecedented with the development of the new product line (which has come to be known as the wave 15 release). All of the products mentioned at the beginning of this article have been developed simultaneously. With this means is that there is going to be a higher degree of interaction between the various products than ever before.

That’s why I said that you should spend time working with all of the various new products. Even if you plan on taking a SharePoint exam, you can probably expect to see some questions on that exam related to Exchange Server, Lync Server, and possibly even Microsoft Office. Over the last couple of years Microsoft has gotten into the habit of asking questions about some of their other products on certification exams. For example, the System Center Data Protection Manager 2010 exam has questions about Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server. Of course this is just one example. There are many other Microsoft certification exams that also do cross product testing. As such, if you are planning to take an exam on any of the wave 15 products then it makes sense to spend some time getting to know how the various products in this release interact with one another.

Another thing to keep in mind as you prepare for the next round of certification exams is that spending time getting to know the products will only get you so far. Exam questions are often related to things like system requirements, advanced configurations, and best practices. You can’t really get that information by playing with a beta.

That being the case, you should spend some time on TechNet reading the books online for the product that you are attempting to learn. Microsoft usually releases the TechNet documentation for a product well in advance of the product itself. This documentation will provide you with information that is sure to be on the exams. Often times exam questions are based directly on TechNet documentation.

Ultimately, there is no easy way to prepare for an exam ahead of time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do so. The key is to make use of the resources that Microsoft makes available to you.

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