All you need to know about Microsoft Exams

Published Nov 05 2020 12:01 AM 8,712 Views

Taking any exam can be a stressful experience which requires a lot of preparation and planning. 

Back in October 2011, I sat my first Microsoft exam, which was the Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Administrator exam.  I remember wanting to sit a Microsoft exam before then but being hesitant about it because it was an unknown scenario to me and worried it wouldn’t be something I’d enjoy doing.


Since then however, I have sat 20 different Microsoft exams ranging from Exchange 2010 to Azure Data Fundamentals.  And I wanted to share some of my experience with you all to help you plan your approach to sitting an exam and explain how some of the exam process works.


Available Exams


There is a plethora of exams available for you to choose from.  Exams are dialled into technology and then job roles after that.  There are fundamentals exams for those just starting on their journey or expert level exams for the more experienced.  You can sit the exams in any order that suits your purpose or journey, I think I sat some expert level exams before attempting the fundamental ones. So, there is no right or wrong way, just the way that works for you.

Certifications and ExamsCertifications and Exams


Exam objectives and study material


Each exam has set objectives which help guide you in not only selecting which exams are relevant to your experience or career objectives but they are also there to help you with your studying.  Each exam has a small “Skills Measured” section which gives you a percentage breakdown of how much of the exam will be focussed on that topic and there is also a larger document that breaks down each section into more detail so you can really dial down your studying plan.


Exam SkillsExam Skills



Each exam also helps point you to some learning materials as well that help you find things to read or use as your study material.  You’ll have seen information to Free online training at Microsoft Learn and also some information for any in person instructor led training if it is available for the exam you are focusing on.  Books and official Microsoft documentation is also resources you should check out as part of your study material and also trying to get some hands on experience with the technologies that the exam is testing on.


Booking an exam


Booking an exam is key to this whole process if you ask me, when I start my journey to gaining a certification, I start with booking the exam.  If it’s booked, I have a deadline set and I have the motivation to study!  Booking the exam can be done straight from the exam page itself, it will show the exam provider for your region and give you the relevant link to the place you can go to book the exam.  One tip I would mention here is to watch what time you book the exam for; be sure you aren’t booking those 1am slots, unless you really want that slot. ;)


Sitting an exam at home


With the current situation in the world getting to a dedicated test centre to sit the exam is hard for a lot of people right now.  The opportunity to sit an exam still exists though, you can sit the exams at home.  


When sitting an exam at home there are certain rules that you need to adhere to and those can be quite daunting if it’s your first time.  When I sit an exam at a test centre I often make use of the reusable white board they give me to make notes or do drawings of the question to help me visualise what I am being asked.  However, at home you aren’t allowed any bits of paper for note taking.  The other things to consider when sitting an exam at home are:

  • No one else is allowed in the room with you and if someone comes in it could mean you fail the exam
  • You can’t read the questions out loud or speak during the exam
  • You can’t cover your face or go out with the webcam view
  • You can’t use two screens
  • Your desk must be tidy
  • Your phone can’t be within reach of you

There are a lot of other rules as well, so you should pay attention to them before you book an exam to make sure you can accommodate them.  If Pearson VUE are the testing provider for your region then you can find more information at taking online exams with them here, if PSI are your testing provider for your region you can find more information about taking online exams with them here.


What happens if I don’t pass first time?


Sometimes even though you’ve put a ton of work in and are confident you won’t pass first time, I’ve been there, I remember the first time I failed a Microsoft exam, I walked out of the test centre and went straight to my favourite coffee shop to get cake and a big latte to commiserate, it’s never a great feeling.  However, all is not lost, you can sit the exam again.  You must await at least 24 hours before retaking the exam again and you can sit the exam up to five times per year (12months) if needed.  You can find more details on the exam retake policy here.


Beta Exams


Occasionally you’ll see exam pop up as Beta exams, these are new exams that Microsoft has released.  There are often a limited number of slots for people to try out the exam at a discounted price, however you won’t get your exam results back straight away.  You’ll have to wait until the exam is released fully and sometimes you have to wait a number of weeks after the exam is live before you will receive the results.  My colleague Liberty wrote a great article explaining more about the beta exam process here.


Good luck


Good luck on your journey to studying, sitting, and passing a Microsoft exam, please do let us know how you get on with your journey!

Senior Member

I'd really like the Exam Ref books were better than they are: I don't want to criticize anyone, but I think they're not so useful as the ones in the old "Training Kit" series.
I've studied for MCTS exams using the Training Kit books and I've found them more well organized and rich of information than the Exam Ref books, which I've used for MCSA and MCSE exams.

New Contributor

I preferred writing the Training Kits as well, but they were retired back around 2012 for a variety of reasons that I could tell you about if you asked me at a conference. There were some experiments with deeper format books (Training Guide series). The idea originally was that Exam Refs were going to be paired with Training Guides allowing people to pick and choose their material. I wrote the Training Guides paired for the WS 2012 / WS 2012 R2 exams - but further changes (with MS Press moving to Pearson) eventually meant only the Exam Refs continued. Today other books (such as the Inside Out series) provide deeper coverage and are not beholden to exam objectives (where they exist).2021-02-07 21.12.37-1.jpg  

New Contributor

Of course the TKs were so good that the nerds on Big Bang Theory must have purchased them when taking their cert exams (they were part of the set dressing for Seasons 1-3) (The blue ones are multiple copies of my Windows Vista and SQL 2005 TKs)


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