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Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Certification | 0 comments

How to crash-and-burn on the VCAP5-DCD exam – an in-depth guide

So I sat for the VCAP5-DCD exam yesterday and managed to fail it by just a few points. I want to document my exam experience here to hopefully help anyone else attempting  this certification.

First off, just to summarize – this test is composed of 100 questions. Most of these will be multiple choice, there will be several drag-drop questions, and between 5-8 design questions (where you have to read a case study and use the in-exam design tool to create a Visio-like design). Each of the design questions took me about 15-20 minutes each. I had 6 of them on this exam.

The exam is about 4 hours, and unless you have had a lot of experience with these types of exams, or maybe you are a 10-year-old Asian prodigy with a Stephen Hawking IQ, every one of those minutes is going to be precious to you. I had 30 seconds left on the clock when I hit “Submit” for the final time.

You are given a laminated board and dry-erase pen for notes. Use it. There is no small amount of math on this exam, and while an on-screen calculator is provided, you will still need to copy down your results as you will need to make multiple calculations for most of these questions. However you are not given anything to clean if off with, so use your space on the board wisely. By the end of the exam my hands were black and the board looked like a  Jackson Pollock painting.

The material I used to prepare for this exam I have documented in another blog post here. In addition I also purchased Scott Lowe and Forbes Guthrie’s 2nd edition of the VMware vSphere Design book (which now covers 5.1). Before the day of the exam I spent a lot of time going over my course notes from the design workshop as recommended to me by Gregg Roberson over at TheSaffaGeek.

I have completed some self-reflection and I think I can highlight my major mistakes and what I can do to correct them. (Aside from studying some more – obviously).

I did poorly with time management. I actually knew time management was key going in. Every other DCD5 exam prep blog post on the internet says this. The problem is on a few of the questions, I just spent too much time double-checking my calculations. Before I knew it, the clock was winding down. I had 10 questions left and only about 20 minutes on the clock. And I still had one design question and of course most of the last 10 were the longer drag-and-drop items. I am certain that I lost points on that last design item because I had to rush. My new rule of thumb is that I am going to give each multiple-choice question no more than 2 minutes if they require calculations. I am just going to make the best guess based off of my initial quick-math and move on. I am not certain how the test scoring is weighted, but I would not be surprised if the design questions are worth half or more of your score, so time is better spent on those. I was confident in probably 90% of the multiple choice items, so my assumption is that my major issues were in the design problems.

I didn’t keep track of how many design questions I had left. I thought I was done with all the design items when the last one popped up. Use the white board. At the beginning of the exam you are told how many of the questions will be design items. Every time you get one of those, make a tick mark on the white board. Keep a running tally. This will help you plan out your time. You WILL need between 15-20 minutes for each of these. At least I did.

I didn’t take a break. I actually didn’t know this was possible until after the test was over and I had to pee like Seabiscuit. But if you raise your hand, a test administrator will come in and pause the exam and let you take a bathroom break. Let me tell you, 4 hours is a long time to sit for an exam. When you roll into hour 3, and you hit “next” and find a whole new 3-page case study you need to read through, things start getting a little blurry. Numerous times I found that I would be 4 or 5 paragraphs into a section of text and realize I had no idea what I just read. I had to go back and re-read it. It was just mental fatigue. A short little two-minute break would have helped me get my head back into the game. Of course you will need to go through the Pearson Vue pat-down again and get cleared to re-enter the room, but it will be worth it.

I screwed up with the design engine. This design engine is a beast. Visio it certainly is not. I had two instances where I had to wipe the entire design and start over from scratch because I moved an element that had connectors attached, and the connectors basically “exploded” all over the screen. This wasted a ton of my time. Make sure you use the “scissors” icon to remove connectors before you move elements that are attached. Or better yet, plan out your design real-estate properly beforehand so you don’t need to move elements later on.

So that’s about it. You are required to wait 14-days before re-trying the exam. I am going to pull in some additional resources mentioned in Gregg Roberson‘s blog post here before I re-sit this exam, as well as go over a few of the items that I feel I was not 100% comfortable with.

All-in-all my impression of this exam is that is is very fair. Sure I have some issues with the design tool usability, but my failure on this exam was completely my fault not because of anything in the exam itself. The exam did a very good job of following the blueprint, and there were no topics on the exam that surprised me.

I am confident that any one who has successfully completed this exam certainly has proven a strong proficiency in planning and designing virtual infrastructures. This is not at all like a Microsoft test where you can get clear through to MCSE without ever installing Windows Server. In my view you really have to have a sufficient level of design experience to successfully complete this exam.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.




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