Over the past 20 years, I have taken many Microsoft certification exams. Although I can’t say I am ever excited about taking an exam, I have done well. I have developed a method for taking exams over the years and have always passed more than I have failed. As I thought about it, I realized that I have never failed any exam for which I have followed the process I am describing herein. This approach is not mandatory, but it is a good idea to have. It is possible to retake a Microsoft certification exam by taking it “cold”.

Step 1: Learn what you need to know.
Microsoft certification exams can be very difficult. They are not always very enjoyable to take. Exams can be very boring and ask questions that even experts can’t answer. Each question is a trick question, so they can be difficult to guess at.
How do you know what the exam will look like? The terrifying truth is that you cannot, or at least not all, predict what will be on the exam. No matter how much you study, it is likely that you will encounter questions on which you have never read any material. You can breathe a sigh relief, because there is one place you can go to learn about most topics that will be on your exam.
Microsoft publishes exam descriptions pages for every exam they administer. Here is an example exam description for AZ104: Azure Administrator Associate.

This is where I go first when studying for an exam. The screen shot shows the objectives broken down into sub-objectives. Each sub-objective is a list of skills that are listed in paragraph form. Every skill I list is broken down into an Excel spreadsheet or table in OneNote. This is my study guide. I ensure I fully understand each skill on the list. This can be a lot of work, but it is better that not knowing what to study. Although you may be asked questions about skills not listed on the page, I have never failed an exam that I was confident with.

Step 2: Look for good material.
To be able to learn, you need to have really good material.
As a Microsoft Certified Trainer, my experience includes assessing and collecting the best resources for learners. Here are my top three recommendations for Microsoft study materials:

Microsoft Certified Curriculum (MOC),: As a Certified Trainer, I have access the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC), and can therefore shed light on its great value in exam preparation. Official Microsoft courses use MOC content. It is written by experts in the field, and it tends to align with exam objectives. Although exam questions are not written exactly from the MOC content, most concepts covered in the MOC course content will be covered. Students have claimed that they didn’t understand a concept covered on the exam in the MOC course content, only to find out later that they did. A list of skills can be very useful. The skills list is a guide for content.

Publisher Study Guides: If a Microsoft official course is not available, there are many books that can be used as study guides. Make sure you only purchase a legitimate study guide. Major publishers such as MS Press, APress and Sams have study guides for most exams. MS Press has guides for all exams, while APress and Sams have guides for the most popular ones. Many exam candidates also use unapproved “brain dumps”. Although I won’t go into details, I strongly recommend against using them. These sites are in violation of Microsoft Intellectual Property Rights. Microsoft may impose severe penalties if you are caught using them.

Online Resources: Microsoft Support (or MSDN) is a valuable study resource for Microsoft exams. Microsoft publishes a lot.

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