My VCAP5-DCD certification experience 2

After about a week of checking my online VMware certification transcript every day, I was very pleased to see that the VCAP5-DCD certification was posted to my account this morning!  Now that it is ‘official’, I figured I would share what I could about the exam.

For me, the VCAP5-DCD exam was the most difficult technical certification exam I have ever taken thus far in my career.  Thinking back, I feel that there are a few different factors that really challenge a test taker.  I will try to break them down for you here.

Preparation

While preparing for the VCAP5-DCD exam, I of course started with the exam blueprints found on VMware’s certification web site.  As expected, the exam covers a very broad range of skills and materials.  The pain point here is the sheer fact that there is so much knowledge to absorb that it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  My advice to you — stay calm!  Trust in your own skills and attempt to pinpoint the areas that you feel you are the weakest in or have the least amount of experience with.  Be honest with yourself and it will take you a long ways.

It is my perspective that if you are taking the VCAP5-DCD exam you should probably have a few years of relevant, hands-on experience under your belt to begin with.  There is no substitute for knowledge gained in the field.

Personally, I found this list of study resources put together by Gregg Robertson very valuable (found by clicking here).    Gregg does a very nice job of listing out links to external knowledge sources, as well as links to the first-hand accounts from those who have sat the exam before.  I highly recommend you check them out!

The night before the exam

Remember all of those exam taking tips your educational counselors would give you back in your high school / early college days?  Things like get a good night’s sleep, and eat a good breakfast before a difficult exam?  Well guess what…  Those things really do help!

If you work in a position that requires on-call duties, try to arrange an extra window for yourself so that you can avoid having to wake up at 3am, staying with a problem all morning until 7am, then have to take your exam at 8am.  This very scenario happened to me.  I did, however, get VERY lucky, as my exam center closed the morning of my exam due to a horrible blizzard that had moved through the area.  After dodging that bullet, I made sure to schedule extra time to be “off-duty” for my re-scheduled exam period.  After all, you WILL be unavailable for roughly 4 hours anyways while you are in the testing center as it is!

The exam itself

After waking up with a 8 hour rest under my belt, I ate a breakfast with lots of carbohydrates, then set out for the exam center.  Follow the directions in your e-mail and make sure to arrive 15 minutes early with two forms of ID.  Once you are seated the real fun begins!

The exam itself is littered with many multiple choice questions covering a wide range of topics, as well as some matching and design questions.  Time management is of the essence.  I made it a point to try to get through the multiple choice questions quickly but carefully, as the exam interface DOES NOT allow you to go back and change an answer once you click the next button to move on to the next question.  After reviewing other people’s exam experiences, it sounds like the “one answer” policy was a change VMware introduced not all that long ago.  It definitely makes the exam a more challenging adventure.

Read every question carefully.  You must be able to pick out relevant parts of each question to figure out what is being asked of you and how it applies to the given scenario.  The matching questions can be especially difficult, as there are times where each item is to be used more than once.

VMware recommends you spend at least 15 minutes time on each of the design questions.  I personally felt that this was a little bit too long, as I did not use all 15 minutes per design question.  This is possibly a recommendation for those candidates who have not taken the time to play with the mock user interface found on VMware’s certification site.  I highly recommend you play with it beforehand.  The tool used to lay out the components for the design questions can be seen as clunky, however, with a little experience with it before you take the exam you should be just fine.  Some features I found useful during the exam were the trash can and the scissors icons.  You can drag and drop items to these to either remove connections or delete items that you may have mistakenly placed or no longer need.

The “End Exam” button

When you finally get to that point at the end of your 4 hour window and are presented with that little blue “End Exam” button, you will find some reluctance to click it.  Thoughts of all of the time and effort you have put in just to make it to this point flood your mind.  You start to second guess a few of the answers you have selected (that you are not allowed to go back and change!)  As you hold your breath, gain the courage, and click the button, you are presented with your score.

If you did not pass, do not fret.  Use it as a positive learning experience and try, try again!

If you did pass, congratulations!  This is the moment you have worked so hard for.  Give yourself a pat on the back!

Conclusion

In the end, I passed with a score of 355 (a score of 300 is required to pass).  I was very pleased with the outcome of the exam.  Now that I have obtained the VCAP5-DCD and VCAP5-DCA, I have all of the requirements I need to pursue the VCDX5-DCV!  I plan on taking a little bit of time to refresh myself, then get my design together and submitted before the July deadline.  Ideally, I would like to defend my design at the 2013 VMworld conference in San Francisco.

The VCAP exams have both taught me to believe in myself and my own abilities.  They have also taught me how to identify weaknesses within my skill set and how to re-educate myself in those areas.

I hope that someone out there finds my exam experience helpful!  If you have any questions that I can answer without violating my exam’s NDA, please feel free to ask away in the comments section!