Microsoft Azure AZ-301 Exam Preparation

Introduction

In this blog I will provide you with an overview of the resources I used to pass exam AZ-301 – Microsoft Azure Architect Design and tips on the exam. I hope it will be of use to you.

Exam AZ-301 is for the Azure Architect role and if passed along with exam AZ-300 this exam will provide for the Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification.

Before I started to prepare for this exam I already was quite proficient in Azure. Despite my previous knowledge it took around one or two hours per day for a period of eight weeks to prepare for this exam. I passed with a score of 853 (a minimum of 700 is required).

In this blog I have collected the most important sources of information I used to pass Azure exam AZ-301 in March 2020. Personally I prefer learning from a physical book but since I did the previous exam AZ-300 without a book I decided to do this one using online resources only as well.

Preparation

I followed the free online course from Microsoft. This course can be found on the official Exam AZ-301: Microsoft Azure Architect Design page from Microsoft Learning. Scroll a little down this page to the Two ways to prepare section to find a complete online and free course for AZ-301.

After reading though most of the Microsoft course I watched the 55 hours of videos available on PluralSight path Microsoft Azure Architect Design (AZ-301). This course was free at the time I was preparing for the exam but otherwise PluralSight uses a monthly subscription model well worth the content they are providing.

On a regular basis I used one other fine source with tips for the exam and links to study resources: navigate to subreddit r/Azure (and to a lesser extend r/AzureCertification and do a search for AZ-301.

More sources

Azure has a trial option so that you can use Azure for a period of one month for free. However, this subscription is coupled to your credit card and you can use a single credit card only once. In that case the Azure Hands on Labs are a great way of practising Azure. These are guided labs so even more useful than doing it on your own.

And one other tip: please take a look at the website of John Saville. John has a great way of explaining things.

Scheduling the exam

When I thought I was kind of ready for my exam (I never am really ready) I booked the exam from the Microsoft Learning website . I choose the option Microsoft Exam Replay with Practice Test which includes one Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification exam voucher + one retake and one Microsoft Official Practice Test from MeasureUp.

Note
You can also book the exam directly though MindHub.

The replay option is a little bit more expensive than just the exam but removed some mental obstacle for me to get on and schedule the exam instead of keeping on learning.

The Microsoft Official Practice Test at MeasureUp was quite helpful. Although the exam questions of MeasureUp are not the same questions as on the actual exam Microsoft guarantees that the stuff that is covered in the MeasureUp exam covers all of the study objectives. This made me feel a little more confident.

Preparations for the Proctored Exam

This time I did not take the exam at a testing center since there were none available due to the Corona-crisis. I called Vue / Microsoft at 0800-0235 323 (Netherlands) and opted for the proctored method which I was able to do at the same day – much to my surprise! Personally I like to do these kinds of exams at a physical testing center but the only other option was waiting for weeks (during which I had to keep on training myself for the exam).

I promptly received an email from Pearson Vue telling me how to prepare for the proctored exam. First of all you have to do a system test to make sure your system is able to run the exam software. The software actually consists of three parts:

  • System diagnostics
    You have to have a mic, a cam and an Internet connection. My mic failed the test but after some fiddling around my mic got recognized and passed the test.
  • Identification
    Take a picture with your phone of your identification document and let the software send it
  • Take pictures of the room
    Take pictures of the room you are planning to do the exam in and let the software send it. Front, back, left and right of the desk.

I was asked to do all this a day before I took the exam so I did. Then you are asked to start the same program 15 minutes before (I did it 30 minutes before) the actual start of the exam. Much to my surprise I had to do all parts again (system scan, identification and photos of the room and desk)!

WARNING
Use Microsoft Edge to start the exam link. I usually use Google Chrome but did not succeed in opening the page where the exam link is located.

The whole procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes and after that a chat box will appear stating that the proctor will contact you soon. Proctor Claire did and tried to set up a connection with my mic and cam but got disconnected. I found that rather stressful but Claire remained her calm and called me on my cell phone.

She asked me to lift my laptop and show my desk with the cam. Everything had to be removed. No food etc. I asked her if I could wear some earplugs but she refused. I did not like that much because there were some family members at home. I had asked them to keep as quiet as possible and they really tried but my concentration was not optimal, hearing every little sound in a quiet house. The main problem is that during the exam you get to be watched and you are not allowed to talk to anybody let alone open the door and ask somebody to be quite.

I was allowed to have a transparent glass with tea on my desk.

I was not allowed multiple monitors. I had to use just my laptop screen.

After all was inspected Claire started the exam and wished me luck.

THE PROCTORED EXAM

The test consisted of different sections. The sections were separate but time counts towards the overall time. There was a total of 61 questions and 150 minutes to answer these.

Exam sections:

  1. The exam started with forty two (42) regular questions. These consisted of multiple choice questions and some drag and drop questions. You are able to mark them for review and return to them any time while in this section. However, there was a special set of four questions at the start of this section. These four questions were part of one scenario. The questions proposed an possible solution and the answers were a simple Yes or No whether the proposed solution solved the issue stated in the scenario. Once answered you could not return to the question.

    When all questions were answered there was an option to review the questions. Once finished the next section began and it was no longer possible to return to the first section.
  2. The second section consisted of a scenario with quite some text. Six scenario questions were presented. It helped me to not read the scenario in depth but scan over it and then start with the questions. For each question I tried to find the relevant section and sometimes this was just one sentence in the overall text.
  3. The next sections consisted of two labs with six and seven questions respectively. In contrast to exam AZ-300 you are not asked to configure Azure components. In this exam you are asked a question like “what is the first thing to do to implement another NIC in this VM?” and you have to look in the portal to find out what the correct answer is. You do not have to actually implement or change anything in the portal.

    One of the advantages of a proctored exam on your own laptop is that the monitor size is better than monitors at some testing locations which helps because you have more screen real estate to see the Azure Portal.

    Again, per lab when all questions were answered there was an option to review the questions. Once finished the next lab began and it was no longer possible to return to the first lab.

During the final lab section the exam got disconnected. But this was promptly solved and all answers were still there!

After I had answered the final question and clicked to end the exam there was no scoring to see. I had to look at my Microsoft Learning Dashboard to see whether I succeeded or not. The result was there quite fast: in about five minutes!

Luckily I passed thereby completing the requirements for the Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification.

I did not find the exam to be particularly difficult to do. In my opinion it was somewhat less difficult than AZ-300.

Good luck in preparing for the exam!

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