Exciting update for Microsoft certification exams

Exciting update for Microsoft certification exams

For the last month, I’ve been working my way through the study materials for the Designing and Implementing Cloud-Native Applications Using Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB (DP-420) Microsoft Certification exam.

After logging into the test software and accepting the terms of the exam, I was surprised to find a new button at the bottom of the screen that said MS Learn.

I sent a chat to the proctor (who never responded) to confirm what this was, since I’d never seen it before. I gave it a click and was brought to the live MS Learn website. I could search and browse the site…this was unexpected.

A screenshot of the testing software with the new MS Learn side-panel

I’ve had 23 Microsoft certifications over the years, with 15 currently active and some Expert level. Having access to documentation during the exam has never been a thing. In fact, it felt unnatural to be searching the site.

I completed the exam (and passed, yay, that makes 16 active certs!), and there were a few questions where I leveraged the integrated browsing capability.

Afterward, I learned from this post that it wasn’t a mistake, this is a new resource that is available when taking role-based exams.

A bit more about what’s changing

MS Learn can be accessed via the testing application, not via a separate web browser. The latter is still grounds for immediate failure of the exam. Gotta stay inside the sandbox.

The MS Learn resource is only available for “role-based exams” , but not the 900 level “Fundamental” exams. This makes sense to me, since the Fundamentals exams focus on conceptual understanding, not the specific detail of planning, provisioning, architecting, securing, or managing a solution.

Though the site is exposed through an integrated browser, only the MS Learn site is accessible. I didn’t test this, but apparently it’ll block things like outbound links to GitHub.

The change took effect on August 22, 2023. It was apparently dumb luck that I scheduled this exam for that very day. I almost took it the week before and I wouldn't have even known this was a thing.

One thing that’s not changing is the time-allowed for each exam. To me, this puts a premium on the skills of effectively searching MS Learn. Hands-on experience in working with products often leads to this very site, so chalk that up as a benefit for those of us who do a lot of docs searching.

Why I like the change

Even though I’ve taken a lot of exams “the old fashioned way” where I didn’t get this aid, I’m stoked that this is being modernized. A few of the main reasons include the following.

Less penalization for unawareness of obscure facts

In my DP-420, I got a couple of questions that involved some specific details about particular parameters when working with Kafka streams. This kind of detail is not in the critical path of working with Cosmos DB. It’s very-specific and only occasionally relevant (when you happen to be working with Kafka).

Because I had Microsoft Learn available, I could find the specific parameter I needed in order to answer the question. The exam mimicked reality, since when these things come up in the course of a project, I look at the documentation for the current guidance.

Rewards solid understanding of concepts

Despite having Learn available, there’s little chance that I could get through the exam without having a solid grasp of the concepts. This is because many of the good test questions combine multiple concepts. It’s typically not simply regurgitating facts.

As someone who has regularly made use of the “Leave Feedback” feature in the exam software, I’d guess that 2/3 of my feedback were railing about questions that are about fact memorization and regurgitation.

If I thought I could rely on Learn in lieu of studying, I would have been out of luck. This exam was 57 questions and I had under 2 hours to complete the exam. As it was I ended the exam with about a minute remaining, and I’d spent probably 10 minutes referencing the Learn site.

Reduces test anxiety

I’m in the fortunate camp, where I don’t get particularly stressed about tests. Still, there are plenty of peers who are not so fortunate. A big contributor is a fear that they’ll forget some key detail in too many questions.

This level of concern isn’t helpful if your true goal is having a body of knowledge to apply to real-world situations.

Adding the Learn button as an additional test resource can be a helpful accommodation, helping this without negatively impacting other test takers or compromising the exam.

Final thoughts

I do have a minor concern. This is around the test questions being up to date. I’ve been frustrated in the past when I know that a question is outdated (because of the pace of innovation), and there was “skill” involved in knowing what the right answer used-to-be. The exams need to reflect current reality. I’ve seen less of this in recent years, but it hasn’t been perfect, so this is an area to continue improving.

I’m not anticipating much in the way of changes to how I personally prepare for exams. The point of them is to build and demonstrate a solid understanding of the material. The best way to get there is still through prep materials on MS Learn, the labs, and the exam guide.

On the other hand… I am excited that I don’t need to keep a “cram list” of factoids that I can review immediately before starting a test. It’s been a long-standing practice in an attempt not to forget those little wiggly details.