Last week I had my second attempt at the VMware Certified Advanced Professional Exam for Datacenter Design (VCAP-DCD).
Here are my exam tips and experience.
My exam was due to start at 9:45 in Dublin. As per my previous post HERE I took this exam recently at VMworld and got close to a pass. I took at VMworld for two reasons:
- 75% discount
- The chance to use the experience for the future, Win, Lose or Draw.
I knew I wasn’t fully ready and as I mentioned before, the closer you get to a test the more the competitive instinct kicks in, and the less you want to fail. Doing it once makes you realise the pressure you are under for the duration of the exam. You need to focus for a full 3 hrs 45 minutes and make sure not to lose your momentum. Calm is the name of the game.
The last time I used my buddy Paul McSharry’s official VMware press guide which is excellent, and packs a lot in a small space, as well as the #vBrownbag videos. I also used Scott Lowes Trainsignal (now Pluralsight) course. I felt that left me a little light, so this time I added a few extra resources.
I added the excellent vSphere Design Guide by Scott Lowe and Forbes Guthrie. That’s a book that takes a long time to read, but I believe every vSphere Architect should have that in their locker.
I like the idea of going to the book shelf and picking these books up in your hand. Personally, a Kindle iPad App is just not the same. I had intended to, but never got time to revisit Duncan and Frank’s Deep Dive, due to time constraints.
I read all the documents in the DCD blueprint. The first time round I didn’t have time. I would highly recommend this to anyone doing DCD but also those who are considering moving forward to VCDX. If you don’t do this I suspect you’re missing a step in the process.
When you start your VCDX application, you should notice huge overlap between the kind of decisions you need to study in DCD, and ones you will actually make in your VCDX Design. Everything you need to complete a design is in DCD blueprint. In particular I recommended reading the Glasshouse documents which serve as very useful reminders of how to approach things correctly.
I also think a real difference that was made were two things that I always go back to:
- The official VMware documentation (Best Practices). This is of fundamental importance !!!.
- My lab.
AND SO TO THE EXAM
I couldn’t have studied harder, but I feel having taken DCD at VMworld, I think it made me feel a bit more nervous knowing what was ahead.
I still don’t understand why VMware have a survey at the start of the exam…it just distracts and serves no purpose in my opinion, unless they are using it to grade you?
For those of you not familiar, the format of the exam is roughly like this:
- Design questions: These are scenario-based and require use of a custom design tool. You typically need 10-15 minutes to read, reread a couple of times, and then complete these questions. There are 6 in total. When you know your stuff these shouldn’t present a problem even though they are the most intimidating thing you hear of when you consider VCAP-DCD.
- Multiple Answer questions: In these ones you have to drag the correct combinations together. There could be somewhere between 10-20 of these…These are good opportunities to score.
- Multiple Choice: These can include a large amount of text which you need to evaluate, and then select either one or more answers. There are at least 70 of these.
Considering the fact you have 215 minutes for the exam…here are some basic maths around planning your time.
- Design questions: Allow 75-90 minutes (That’s a VMware recommendation).
- That leaves 125 minutes to complete 94 questions…. So worst case, you have 1.5 minutes to answer each question, although some questions you might answer in 10 seconds, which tilts it back in your favour
Some of the low-scoring multiple choice questions have a lot of text to read. That’s what makes the DCD exam a very honest assessment of your VMware Design knowledge, and why it is so much of a challenge. Jumping to the answer and trying to guess it, in most cases, WILL NOT WORK.
Conceptual, Logical and Physical Design
While the DCD is a design exam, it is very technical as well, so your best strategy here is good prep work and also being a designer in your day job.
That allows you to speed read the question, pick out the key requirement, and from there, select the answer using gut feel. Gut feel will normally be right if you’ve studied and have hands-on experience. I think this is where going back to the lab and targeting the critical design decision points and how they are implemented in the flesh in the GUI can assist too.
VMware state that the design questions are worth between 25-40 marks, whereas a single question might be worth 4, and a multiple choice question something greater than that. They make no secret of the fact that the design questions deserve maximum focus.
The other 94 questions, while by no means a distraction, are questions you need to treat very carefully, but pace yourself through.
I believe for the design questions you need to relax and just imagine you’re at a whiteboard mapping out a logical design. It’s the kind of thing most of us love doing. The key is taking your time and reading the questions carefully. All the information you need to score well is in the text, in an easy to comprehend format. So don’t worry about these questions.
One final point on these. When you drag objects together, sometimes they need to “stick”. An example is if you’re dropping a virtual machine on top of a container of some type. So kind of like grouping objects together in Visio.
If you move the group of objects, I think they should move together. Sometimes they don’t, and I’m not sure how the Design tool scores this – is it purely based on location of objects, or whether they move together. I was paranoid and went back and made sure they did stick together. I have raised this with some of the senior Certification drivers so we’ll see what happens.
It also matters where you drop objects, if you want them to stick to associated components.
To do well on these design tool questions, I suggest you need to understand the prerequisites and preconditions that must exist, either physically, and the configuration settings you must select, when building a vSphere logical design.
I am not a morning person and now I’m sure.
When I clicked Start, within 3-4 questions I could not get my brain to kick into gear. I can be a a slow starter and typically learn by doing, not by reading. I ended up being undecided on a couple of questions near the start and burned 10-15 minutes. These were short questions and instead of giving up after 3 minutes I kept thinking about them. It was really being just a bit to perfectionist – I should have just skipped them in the interest of keeping a good pace.
WHY? I believe because I am not a morning person my brain wasn’t in gear when I started. Apart from knowing your stuff, a key requirement with DCD is to hit the ground running. I didn’t do that, and it cost me time. I know I prepped really hard, but in my head I was thinking I’d blown it by being straight away behind where I needed to be.
I then hit the first design question which was one of the longest. Overall I was much happier with the design questions and had prepared accordingly. I knew a lot of the conditions that have to exist before you can attach A to B, or implement C.
So I suggest you should ask yourself when you operate at full capacity – If it’s not the morning, take the exam in the afternoon if you can, like I did at VMworld. In that case time management was not a problem.
Design Tool Problems
On three of the design questions, I had fully completed the questions, and the tool started acting up. I couldn’t connect further objects together. I had to start over. I lost at least 15 minutes here. I reported this to the proctor who rang VMware during the exam and they extended my time.
Just before this happened, the exam environment crashed and the proctor had to restart it. It wasn’t a big deal really. So by that stage, in relation to positivity/momentum, I was watching the clock. In terms of Time Management, I let it get away from me due to the issues mentioned above.
I got to the last 10-15 questions, and even after the time was extended I was (again) running out of time. I was all over the place and annoyed that the environmental issues had compounded my own inability to get going…
So I just went with gut instinct on these questions. I hit Next the last time, thinking I’d blown it…..
And then I saw the text C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S !!!! You passed.
The sense of relief was fantastic. I went straight to Kehoe’s Pub in Dublin for some lunch and a pint of Guinness to celebrate:
So why did I pass ?
Despite the above, I believe I passed due to more focused prep with proper targetting of the Blueprint, executing well on the Design questions, and being better at speed reading questions and looking for the salient information. I was not entirely happy with my score but I think despite a not-great experience, I still did enough to pass. Remember that passing requires 60% so that in itself is a pretty good achievement.
As part of my study I have collected and collated Best Practices from many VMware documents, and will be posting that document in the next week or two. It’s a useful reference and distills the content of many documents into one place.
I would also suggest you bookmark this link – this is the landing page for all VMware white papers and is a brilliant resource.
I hope you find this guide useful, I encourage you to take the challenge – it is a formidable one – but the sense of achievement is well worth it.
I would also love to hear feedback and engage in conversation, so please comment if you have any further suggestions.