What to expect on a Microsoft certification exam

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A few weeks past, I got the opportunity to take the 70-346  (Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements) exam. Unfortunately, I was not able to purchase a book from Amazon on this particular exam, because the Microsoft Press book for this exam was not released when I took the exam. I understand it is available now. I was able to use the Skills Measured section on the Microsoft 70-346 exam page to specifically know what is on the exam.

Microsoft's exam objectives can help you prepare for your next exam.

I could see at a glance what objectives Microsoft was going to test me on. I have run into many people who may know a lot about a given subject, but have taken a Microsoft certification exam on that subject without actually knowing what was going to be asked on the exam. Years ago, I took this approach on a SQL Server exam. It did not go well. Sometime Microsoft may include objectives that you may think are trivial to your job, but other users of the software may perform these tasks on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. As I found out a long time ago, the difference between passing and failing an exam can just be a single question.

It’s best to go through every objective and perform the task. Microsoft has always stated that they emphasize hands-on knowledge on their exams. Reading about an objective in a book is great, but actually taking the time to get your hands dirty can help you understand the objective better, and can be the difference in getting a question correct on an exam. For example, I got a question on an 70-346 objective of “Setting up AADSync tool” and none of the choices made any sense. I was able to answer the question based on my experience with the AADSync tool, not with what I have read on TechNet or any other online reference.

For the most part, the questions that I saw on my exam fell into the percentage breakdowns listed under the Skills Measured section on the Microsoft 70-346 exam page. As I mentioned, Microsoft does emphasize hands-on knowledge. If you have not taken a Microsoft certification exam in the past few years, then are in for a shock. Microsoft has added different question types to their exam to emphasize hands-on knowledge.  There are several types of questions that you may see on the 70-346 exam or another Microsoft certification exam.

Choose the Correct Code: This type of question has candidates pick the correct code within a scenario. You may have a pull down list for your choices or you may have to match up letters. Here is an example:

Knowing what kinds of questions to expect on a cert exam is important.

Build List and Reorder: This question type is used to test whether a candidate knows the correct or appropriate steps that are needed to perform a task, as well as the the order in which they should be performed. This type of question tests whether a candidate has had experience to know which steps to perform a task. This kind of question made quite a few appearances on the 70-346 exam and the last few Microsoft exams that I have taken. Here’s an example:

Some cert exam questions require you to correctly list the steps of an IT process.

Drag and Drop: You may recognize this question as a basic matching question. This question type allows a candidate to be tested on multiple concepts. It also appears on other vendor certification exams such as CompTIA, Novell and others. Microsoft typically uses this in a scenario based question instead of a strict definition based question that you would see from CompTIA exam. For example, something like the following:

Another question type that's common on Microsoft exams is drag-and-drop.

Multiple Choice: You have seen this question type zillions of times — I believe it was invented in 1,000,000 B.C. by cavemen. This item type presents a scenario, a question, and a minimum of four answer options. A prompt within the item stem (or sometimes at the end of the question) will indicate the number of possible correct answers. Microsoft sometimes throws in the “Choose all that apply” qualifier, and you have to determine how many correct answers are available

Best Answer: The Windows NT server exams from the 1990s often included this type of question, but I have also seen them pop up in recent exams. It is a standard multiple choice question that may have one or more correct answers, but exam candidates must pick the BEST answer. Whether it be in sports, in politics or even IT, people will always argue what constitutes the BEST answer. I believe the debate will continue if Microsoft continues with this item type on tests.

Repeated Answer Choices: These questions are sometimes referred to as “extended matching.” These types of questions appear in sequence, and each question in the series has the exact same answer options as the previous question. Each question is worded slightly differently, however, so the answer could be different for each question — or it could be the same correct answer across all questions in the series.

Active Screen: These questions have a screen shot of GUI tool where you have to fill out the screen by choosing options on the screen. Microsoft likes to use Active Screen questions because answering them correctly ensures that the exam candidate has hands-on knowledge of a given scenario.  I have seen an Active Screen question or two on practically every Microsoft exam I have ever taken — the 70-346 exam was no exception.

Hot Area: This question is similar to an Active Screen, but instead of clicking a series of check boxes or radio buttons, you move your mouse over the screen and choose an option. For example, you may be asked to choose a group policy setting based on a specific scenario in a question.

On the 70-346 exam, there were a lot questions that showed screenshots from Office 365 that you had to answer a question based on a information presented in a scenario.

Simulations: These types of questions actually first appeared in Microsoft Vista exams, and also appeared on SQL Server 2005 exams. The Simulation question type ensures that a candidate has knowledge of navigating to the problem and choosing the correct answer. This type of question tests the candidate more than an Active Screen or Hot Area question,  because the candidate has to navigate the software or OS to find the screen or page that contains the correct choice. If you do not know how to get to the right set of options, you will not be able to answer the question.

With any problem, there is probably more than one way to solve it. With the Simulation question type, you are only testing the candidate on one way to solve the problem.  There may be a way to solve the problem with another GUI tool, or using a PowerShell cmdlet. A Simulation question type cannot test the candidate on any other ways to solve the problem. I have not seen this particular question type on a Microsoft certification exam in a few years.

Short Answer Code: This type of question will force a candidate to actually type the correct answer into a text box or blank line. This type of question will test your knowledge of the correct code use, the proper order of the code and syntax of the code. I have experienced this type of question in the 70-461 SQL server exam. I did not see any of these questions on my 70-346 exam. Considering the amount of PowerShell cmdlets that you need to know for Office 365, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and Windows Server administration, however, it would not surprise me to see Microsoft use this type question on future exams like they did in the 70-461 exam.

Some Microsoft exam questions require the test take to manually enter a short command or code.

With this type of question you will need to know exact syntax. Yikes!

Case Studies: Case studies allow a candidate to be tested based on different real-life business scenarios. Microsoft used case studies in the past with the Windows 2000 server certification exams. You can also expect to see cases studies with current exams on SQL Server and Exchange. You will need a high level of reading comprehension to extract the information required to answer the questions presented in the case study. Case studies have a lot of text and if you do not read rapidly enough, you may run out of time. In the past, each case study was timed separately. Microsoft has addressed this issue by no longer timing each case study separately from the rest of the exam questions.

You only get one clock for the whole exam so you have to practice good time management skills when encountering case studies. You will have to spend more  time reading through the case study than you would with other questions.. I did not see any case studies on the 70-346 exam, but that does not mean that they could not implement case studies into this exam at any time.

You can now take a Microsoft certification exam in your own home instead of driving to a test center. The online tests are proctored, and you have to have a camera for the proctor to monitor while you take the exam. Several people I know have taken online exams. They have all reported that if you move around too much, the proctor will give you warning.  I know that I am a pretty restless test taker. I fidget around and rock back and forth while taking exam.  I thought about taking the 70-346 exam online at home, but I have five cats in my house, so I took the exam at a nearby Pearson-Vue center. I could not risk one of the cats walking across the screen. If I locked them in a room, they could start howling and my attention would be pulled away from the exam.

Something I’ve learned recently after taking an exam, is that you can submit an exam challenge if you saw something wrong on the exam. While I did not see anything erroneous on my 70-346 exam, I have seen a few questions on past Microsoft, CompTIA, Novell and Cisco exams that had some wrong information. I do remember a question on an exam in the past where the question displayed the wrong graphic, and another one where the graphic did not display so it was impossible to answer the question.

In the past, if you encountered such a question, there was really nothing you could do about it. Now you have the opportunity to submit a challenge to the exam.  You can download a form, submit your reason for challenging the question, and submit it by email within three days of taking the exam. If your challenge is accepted, your exam be rescored, or you may get a free retake.  You can read more about exam challenges here.

And speaking of free retakes, from now until Jan. 12, you can get a second chance at taking a Microsoft exam if you fail with the “Second Shot” Promotion. Microsoft has offered “Second Shot” in the past. Second Shot worked out well for me plenty of times when I failed the first time. Each exam costs $150, so getting a free attempt at passing an exam pays off. If you plan on taking a Microsoft exam in the near future, set a date to take your exam, make a plan to ensure you can get hands-on experience, and study the objectives for the exam. Good luck!

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George Monsalvatge


George Monsalvatge is a course developer and trainer who has developed training and study materials for many Microsoft exams, and also for CompTIA, Oracle and Cisco certifications. George has been a content developer and instructor for more than 23 years and has trained more than 1,000 individuals. He lives in the Atlanta, Ga., area and is passionate about golf and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

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