08 Sep 2011 by rayheffer
Update: VCAP-DCA4 no. 386 (cool!)
Juggling work, travel, kids, and personal time, whilst trying to study for any exam is no easy feat especially when you have a family that demands your undivided attention. I’m sure many of you are all in the same boat. Despite that I managed to squeeze in a lot of time into my home lab and study for the VCAP-DCA exam, so it is possible (just damn difficult!). So to set the scene, I woke up early in a hotel in Ireland yesterday following an intense but enjoyable week working on Vblock, and I noticed an email from VMware certification on my phone… Opening that email and the attachment with the results seemed to take forever, but what a relief to see that I passed.
I can’t share specific details of the exam as I’d be tracked down and assassinated, but I can share my experience and study tips to help you.
Unlike the majority of IT exams, this is based on a live lab environment which you have access to along with a set of tasks that require you to put your skills and experience to the test. The blueprint states that there are approximately 40 questions / tasks that you are required to complete, I had slightly less, around 34 I think. Some tasks are independant of the others but some must be completed before you are able to perform later tasks. The exam lab environment was very similar to my home lab so I strongly recommend you invest in a home lab setup if you are serious about taking this exam. Unless of course you have access to a lab environment at work.
Tip 1: Don’t underestimate the content of the blueprint, and if it’s on the blueprint then it’s likely to be in the exam! Highlight areas of the blueprint that you are confident with, and those areas you are weak. For me, I hadn’t spent much time with vCenter Orchestrator or PowerCLI so that was my focus. I love the vMA and felt comfortable with that so I was able to spend less time studying this topic.
When you start the exam you’ll first be required to complete the short survey based on your skills and exposure to various technologies. Following that you can start the exam. On the top right hand corner you’ll see the time remaining, and if you are a native English speaker you will have 3 hours 30 minutes (4 hours for non native speakers). On clicking the begin button the PC I was using crashed and I had to get the test centre administrator to get me setup on another PC… which also crashed! After some time waiting for Pearson VUE support to sort out the issue, I lost some valuable time (only a few minutes) so I felt I had to run through the tasks quickly to make up for it. This brings me on to my second tip:
Tip 2: Pick the low hanging fruit first, then go back and tackle the big ones.
By the way you’ll get access to VMware PDF’s, a plastic writing card and a pen. Before starting the exam I recommend you write 1 – 40 on the plastic card so you can quickly mark them off as you progress through the exam. Every minute counts!
Do as many tasks as you can that you are comfortable with, these will give you valuable points. If you think a task is going to require some thinking and more time then make a note and move on. This way when you finish the tasks you can go back and tackle the more difficult ones. I did this and reduced eight outstanding tasks down to two very quickly, but then I ran out of time. I didn’t feel as bad because I knew the remaining two tasks would have taken me another 40 minutes but at least I looked at all of the tasks.
This seems an obvious statement, but you should be comfortable with performing any task on the blueprint. Sure you may not be an expert in every single area, but you should be able to carry out what is required on the blueprint.
Overall I really enjoyed taking this exam, but I’m glad I’ve passed and don’t have to take it again. I spent around 5 hours a day for 5 days leading up to the exam, to practice carrying out tasks in my home lab. I’ve heard comments from others that have taken this exam saying that the environment was very slow and opening the PDF’s took a long time. To be honest I found it was acceptable considering it’s accessing a live vSphere environment somewhere (probably in the US) and it didn’t impact my experience in any negative way.
I only used the PDF’s once to look up a setting to ensure I got the syntax correct, but other than that try not to rely on the PDF’s as it’ll cost you valuable time. Some commands and PowerCLI can easily be typed incorrectly or worse still your mind can go blank. If you’ve got any advanced settings, PowerCLI or vMA commands that you think you may need then write them down on the plastic card before starting the exam. This will save valuable time, and when under pressure you won’t have to worry about forgetting the small details. Is it -n or -d, or both? You get the picture.
If you haven’t taken this exam yet, just remember… don’t panic! What’s the worst thing that can happen? If you fail then you’ve got the exam experience and will be able to focus your study on what you need to pass. It’ll take around 10 business days to get the result (3 weeks for me), but it’s what makes the VMware and the community we all participate in so great.
Oh and if you can get yourself booked on the VMware vSphere Troubleshooting course then it will go a long way to helping you pass this exam. It’s a lab intensive course and very enjoyable. Alternatively check out what’s on offer by TrainSignal.
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