10 Hints on Studying for a VCP-Level Exam

calvin_hobbes_one_lifeOne of the most common questions I hear is: how to study for the VCP-<insert version/topic> exam? What book I buy or what class should I take? I figured it may be worthwhile to post what I usually tell people who come up to me and ask these questions.

A lot of people I know aren’t fond of our class requirements for certifications but as someone who has met a few MCSEs who had never used Windows NT Server (!?). To me, the VCP is a good technical starting certification. I know that they have, at the least, taking a week’s worth of training to learn how to use the product. What the goal is to avoid “paper VCPs”. To be honest (from my view), people who use products that “have all the questions” usually have the wrong answers and it doesn’t do anything for you, really. You end up cheating yourself in the short and long run. VMware Certification has gotten better and better at having a variety of questions available and a pool to draw on for variety sake.

So let’s look at how one should study for a VCP-level exam.

  1. Download the Blueprint for the exam. Every one of the certifications has their own blueprint. It includes resources (such as documents used to create questions with) and detail topic info. The first “trick” is ensure that you know all of the topics on the Blueprint. This isn’t just saying “Oh, I’ve used vMotion. I know it”. More importantly, can you describe the whole process and the why it works the way it does to someone who’s never heard of it. If you can do that, then cross it off the Blueprint. Anything you cannot do that with highlight as a point to study. It’s important to be really, really honest with yourself with this.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Arriving at the testing center hung-over, exhausted, tired or otherwise distracted can lessen your ability to read questions accurately. And that could mean choosing the wrong answer (definitely not a good thing!).
  3. Avoid too much caffeine or sugary drinks. You have limited time (depending on which exam you’ll have between 90-120 minutes with 10 minutes for survey; if you’re taking the exam in a non-english country, then an additional 30 minutes is added) to answer questions. Running to the bathroom during that time doesn’t stop the clock (!!). You also want to avoid those heavy meals (no turkey or pasta before the exam) before exams so you don’t fall asleep.
  4. Read the question carefully. When I used to teach at the college level in Canada, I would tell students to read the question 3 times. The reason is that our minds sometimes put in words or interprets a question different when we quickly read it. So when reading it more than once means that you’ll likely actually read the question as written. I can attest that VMware Certification tries to avoid double-negative questions or questions that are exercises in language interpretation.
  5. Do not assume “what ifs”. It’s hard to do, especially if you have a fair amount of experience. For example (and I know this isn’t a question on any exam), what the maximum number of virtual desktops I can fit onto an ESXi host? By itself, my normal response is “it depends” since it will depend on the size of VMs, how much memory, etc. is on the hosts and VMs. The questions are written to avoid these kinds of situations so adding it in because of existing experience could cause you some challenges.
  6. Classes are about how to use a product, not how or what specifically to study for a certification. I think this is the thing that catches most people since a lot of technical training is geared towards specific certifications rather than pure knowledge of individuals. If you’re an experience vSphere administrator wanting to take the VCP-DCV, you do not have to take the Install, Configure, Manage class. You can take one of the “advanced” courses such as vSphere Troubleshooting or Optimize and Scale. This provides more appropriate training for an experienced person while providing the necessary class requirement.
  7. Spaced practice is better than massed practice. Cramming the night before doesn’t cause retained knowledge. Plan in advance and over time to prepare properly and to allow knowledge to be learned.
  8. Study groups are awesome! Even if only online, these can help you study and keep you motivated. Additionally, preparing for the exam with colleagues and/or peers allows you to bounce questions off each other and clarify concepts.
  9. Schedule during your peak time. Everyone is different as to when their brain really runs at it’s peak but for most people it’s between 10am and 2pm local time. This allows for a little bit of extra review time before the exam (not studying for first time review but concept review).
  10. Eliminate the obvious. When doing the VCP level exams the questions are all multiple-“guess”. You’ll either have to choose one, two or three answers (multiple answer questions are identified so watch for that as part of the question!). Some answers will be obvious to eliminate.

And above all, take a deep breath. Never panic during the exam. On the day of the exam arrive 10-15 minutes early with a copy of registration receipt and your official ID (must have photo). You can take the exam first and then the class if you want but if you do that, make sure you let certification@vmware.com know that you did that. You won’t get the certification until you have the combination of the two (and remember, it must be a VMware class). If you’re not sure whether the class you want to take is a valid class, leave me a note and I cantell you.

Good luck!

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