I finally took the plunge, and sat the VDCA550 exam yesterday. The VCAP5-DCA certification has been on my todo list way to long, and I’m glad I can now tick that box and move on.
The VDCA550 exam is held in a live lab environment, with approximately 23 lab activities, which is the subsequently scored after the exam is finished. This means that you do not get an immediate pass/fail summary at the end of the exam, but you’ll be feverishly checking your email until the score report is sent to you from VMware.
Hands-on experience. There is no substitute for real experience when it comes to this exam. It’s a lab and you need to be able to perform the tasks presented to you. No amount of reading will prepare you for that, unless it’s also accompanied by actually working with the products.
VCAP5-DCA Official Cert Guide: VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5- Data Center Administration. I’ll be writing a more detailed review of the study guide later, but this book was invaluable for my preparation. Even if the book is mainly focused on the older VDCA510 exam, it also contains a chapter highlighting the changes in the blueprints between the 510 and 550 exams which was really helpful. The best part of the study guide is** Chapter 10: Scenarios** which goes through the certification blueprint and hands you specific tasks for each section. Get the book and do those, practicing will save you valuable time on exam day.
Read the official vSphere documentation. End to end. Familiarize yourself enough with it, to the point that you know what keywords to search for if you get stuck on the labs.
Time management. You get your allocated minutes, and that’s it. I was forcefully logged out of the lab environment as soon as the time ran out, and I had 4 labs left to complete at that time. Don’t get stuck on particular labs for disproportional amounts of time. If you get stuck on something, cut your losses and move on. You can always return to a lab later if you have time for it. It’s better to score a few points extra by completing other labs, rather than losing points on a lab you end up not finishing anyway.
Open up the documentation and the knowledgebase in the lab browser. That speeds up searches, and if you know your way around those resources before you sit the exam, they can be a real lifesaver.
As with «traditional» multiple choice exams, read the lab descriptions carefully. Some lab descriptions are very clear on what is the expected outcome, others are more subtle. Make sure you understand the task at hand before starting on it.
I really enjoyed it. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. This is the most fun I’ve ever had while actually working on obtaining a certification. The fact that you get to do real world administrative tasks, without multiple choice memory games was a refreshing experience. You still need to know your stuff, but since you have the vSphere documentation and VMware Knowledgebase available to you during the exam, you can look it up if needed. See Bullet #3 above.
Working with the lab setup was a bit sluggish at times, especially when scrolling, something that require frequent screen updates, but not as bad as I thought it would be. I was really lucky, as the turn-around time for scoring of my exam was just shy of 30 minutes after finishing the exam, something that saved me a lot of agonising about my poor exam time management skills.
One last thing: I really hope VMware Education opens the door for more test centers in Norway. I had to fly to Oslo from Bergen to sit the exam, something that drives the cost obtaining it dramatically higher. We have local test centers in Bergen, but they are not allowed to offer the advanced level exams from VMware. If I had the ability to sit this exam locally, Bergen is Norway’s second largest city after all, I probably would have done this a long time ago. I almost missed my exam when my morning plane was cancelled, and when I finally got to Oslo my taxi driver had problems finding the test center. I got there just in time though, but if I had got there much later, I would have set my employer back the exam fee, the plane tickets, a taxi bill AND a day of lost productivity. Of course, I could have flown in the day before, but that would have added hotel bills to the cost equation as well.