The choice of choosing which certification to obtain can be a tricky one, especially if you’ve never studied for or taken a Microsoft Certification exam before. It can also be daunting if you don’t know anyone else who has done it either. You shouldn’t let this discourage you. It may be a bit confusing, but it’s actually not all that complicated. This article outlines some of the specifics in what certification you might want to target for your specific skills or interest, as well as some tips to help on your way to getting Microsoft Certified in Microsoft Azure.

What Azure Certifications are there?

Microsoft recently announced a complete revamp of the Microsoft Certified Professional program creating 5 new MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert) certifications. While these MCSD and MCSE are the “big” certifications that require passing multiple exams to obtain, there are some alternatives that only require passing 1 or 2 exams.

Here’s a list of the specific Microsoft Certifications that include 1 or more exams that cover Microsoft Azure. The list starts with the “easier” certifications that only require 1 exam to get, then it moves to certifications that require 2 or more exams to get.

The certifications above really to work on a progression where they build on each other. You take 1 exam, possibly get one of the MS certifications, then take a second exam to get an MCSA, then take the third exam to build up to an MCSE or MCSD! The additive nature of the new certification structure is awesome!

The additive nature of the new Microsoft Certification structure is awesome!

There are also a few MCSA certifications that provide foundations for the bigger MCSE and MCSD certifications that don’t specifically cover an Azure exam that are worth noting. These let you target a specific specialty, while build an MCSD or MCSE on top of them by passing a more Azure focused exam.

  • 2 Exams Required
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Web App
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Universal Windows Platform
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows Server 2016
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows Server 2012
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL Server 2012 / 2014
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL 2016 Database Development
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL 2016 Database Administration
    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL 2016 BI Development

The new certification landscape has the Microsoft Azure cloud focused exams much more interwoven within the various Microsoft Certifications. There is now a pretty diverse set of Microsoft Certifications that include Microsoft Azure skills.. You no longer have just 2 choices (an MS or MCSD) when getting a certification that includes Microsoft Azure skills.

Microsoft Certification Roadmap

At first read the above list of certifications can be a bit confusing or even overwhelming. An image to lay out the specifics can really help out, so the below image provides a nice visual representation.


Each horizontal track in the image is a very specific expertise category / area. Most of these areas offer multiple options of MCSA (2 exam certifications) to start with. Then each one has a single exam path in order to build on from the MCSA certification into either an MCSD or MCSE, depending on the specific skills area.

One note about the image that will help in reading it is to look at the white dots along the colored tracks. Each dot represents a single exam, then the star represents an MCSA certification that is achieved after passing those exams. Finally, after passing a chosen elective exam the MCSA is built on to obtain a full MCSE or MCSD certification.

Attribution: This roadmap image was originally posted on the Born to Learn site.

Certification Renewals

It takes a lot of work and can take a significant amount of time to pass certain Microsoft certification exams. The amount of time and work all varies depending on the individual. Once you do finally achieve that Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) or Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification it doesn’t stay “active” forever.

Just as your technical expertise and skills evolve over time, the Microsoft Certifications are setup to evolve along with you. For this reason, the MCSD and MCSE certifications stay active for 1 year after achieving them. Then, you are required to take 1 elective exam each year to keep your certification current and active.

Instead of taking one “renewal” exam that include topics from multiple exams with update content, or requiring you to take multiple separate exams to earn a new MCSD or MCSE, the new certification structure allows you to take just 1 Elective Exam to renew and stay current. As your skills evolve over time and flow along with the pulse of the industry, you can take your choice of elective exam that fits what you need. You not only tailor your MCSD or MCSE more personally to you, but when you renew the certification each year you still have the option to keep your certification personalized to your skills.

You not only tailor your MCSD or MCSE more personally to you, but when you renew the certification each year you still have the option to keep your certification personalized to your skills.

As an example, when you’ve obtained the MCSE or MCSD certifications you have a list of up to 10 elective exams (depending on the particular MCSD or MCSE) to choose from when renewing your certification. This is a tremendous different from only a single choice of renewal exam that old MCSE or MCSD certifications have offered in the past.

Where are Study Materials?

There are many videos, articles, books and other materials available to use for studying for Microsoft certification exams. The details page for each specific exam on the Microsoft Learning site contains the list of objectives covered on the exam as well as links to books and practice exams that can be used to study.

Before I give you a big list of study materials, first here’s a list of blog posts I’ve previously published outlining the various study materials I’ve personally used to study for a couple of the Microsoft Azure Certification exams:

Here’s a list of some generally useful resources that can be used to study for certification exams and generally learn about Microsoft Azure. These resources are ALL FREE!

Here are some Exam Reference books from Microsoft Press that specifically target objectives for individual exams:

In addition to videos, articles, books, etc., it can be very useful to utilize Practice Exams. There are a couple different practice exam vendors that offer these. A couple of these vendors are MeasureUp and MindHub. Personally, I’ve used MeasureUp, but I’ve seen MindHub linked to from the Microsoft Certification site as well.

Speaking of Practice Exams; here’s a link to a Free, Open Source project I created while studying for the Azure developer exam that contains many practice test questions on the exam objectives for the Microsoft Azure developer (70-532) exam:

An important study note to be aware of is to stay clear of “brain dumps.” As I’ve outlined previous, brain dumps are cheating and violate the terms you agree to in order to take a Microsoft Certification exam.

In addition to all the free resources available and the exam reference books are training courses from online course providers too. Here’s a couple of the vendors that offer paid Azure video training courses:

There are many more vendors and resources available. The above lists are hardly encompassing, but hopefully the give you plenty of places to start.

How to take an exam?

Once you’ve studied and feel you’re ready to take a certification exam, you must then register for the exam. The exam information pages on the Microsoft Certification site for each of the exams offered contains a “Schedule exam” button. Just click this button and it’ll take you through the process of picking a date and time to take the exam.

Currently, each Microsoft Certification exam costs $165 USD to take; whether you pass or not.

There are 2 options for taking Microsoft certification exams. The main on is to physically take it at a testing center. However, if you have an isolated space you can elect to take certification exams from home (or really anywhere else) as well, or Online Proctored.

The online proctored delivery method of taking Microsoft Certification exams may not be available for all exams offered. When available it can offer a much higher level of convenience; especially if you live a considerable distance from the closest testing center. The below link contains requirements and other information necessary about the online proctored exam deliver option:

Exam Retakes!

microsoft_certification_boosterpackEveryone fails an exam from time to time. There can be many reasons, from not studying enough, not being quite ready enough, to just taking the exam to see if you can pass without first studying. There are MANY reasons you may fail an exam. Don’t let this discourage you from studying more and trying again!

Since it’s common for people to fail a Microsoft Certification exam from time to time, you are allowed to retake the exam again. However, you do need to pay the exam fee again for each time you attempt an exam. For this reason, Microsoft offers Booster Packs that give you a discount on exam retakes. A couple of the Booster Pack options even include a Practice Test to help studying!

Please post your own Microsoft Certification experiences in the comments. Also, don’t be afraid to post questions too. I’m always happy to help!

Happy studying!

5 thoughts on “Azure Certification: Where to Start? 2016 Edition

  1. Hi All,
    All the above information is right.
    It took me 7 months of training and on the third attempt to pass my Exam Ref 70-533 Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions exam. The exams are tough and don’t take your exam until you are very comfortable with your powershell cmdlets. A lot of study of 15 hours a day.
    At the end it all pays off. Looking forward to book my second exam.
    Any help needed please email me.


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