MCSA Certification

The MCSA is a certification that is used by individuals in the field of information technology to prove their knowledge. This Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certificate is required before one can earn an expert-level certification. Seven different paths are available, covering topics in servers, operating systems, and software, though each generally focuses on configuring and troubleshooting.

MCSA certifications are highly sought after, as they greatly increase one’s chances of being hired for any relevant job. Essentially, it serves as undeniable proof of a person’s skill in whichever area their certificate is for. The tests are reasonably difficult and highly secure, ensuring employers that anyone who succeeds earned it through fair play and hard work.


MCSA: Choosing a Path – Server and SQL

Note that the Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 paths can be upgraded to their respective 2012 counterparts. Aside from being useful to keep current with the world of technology, this is also useful when moving on after the MCSA Certification. Only three paths will be covered in detail.


Windows Server 2008

The first exam in this path is number 640: “Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring”. This exam entails configuring DNS servers, the infrastructure of the active directory along with its services, customizing backup and recovery services, and dealing with offline maintenance, among others.

Second is the “Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring” exam (number 642). Participates will be tested on information regarding a variety of network related subjects such as IPv4 and IPv6 configuration, DHCP, advanced firewall configuration, domain name systems, file services, network monitoring and more.

Finally, the third test relates to server administration. 646: “Windows Server 2008, Server Administration” covers topics relating to the physical operation of a server, including but not limited to storage availability, implementing high availability, server backups and restoring, server maintenance and monitoring, and configuring permissions.


Windows Server 2012

Although it shares the same name as its 2008 counterpart, this Certification is very different. The three exams associated with it are:


Many of the same topics are covered here, such as the physical managing of a server, high availability, and DNS/DHCP/IP related configuration. Some differences include setting and executing disaster recovery plans, and dealing with virtual machines and virtual networks.

SQL Server 2012

With the SQL Server 2014 update approaching, the SQL Server 2008 path is about to be very outdated. It is no longer listed on Microsoft’s website. The details of the 2014 exam are yet to be known, but it should be published soon.

The first exam in the 2012 version’s list of three is called “Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012” and involves exactly what the name implies – interacting with a SQL server. Expect to see subjects such as the design, creation, and interactivity of database objects; working with and modifying data on a SQL server; troubleshooting the server; and optimizing the server’s functionality after analysis of statistics and logs.

Next in line is the “Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases” test. Taking this test will prove one’s ability to install, configure, maintain and optimize SQL databases while also ensuring that they remain operational to their fullest capacity. The security of the server is also an important topic, as well as the implementation of high availability.

Finally in the sequence is a test on “Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012”. This will gauge one’s capability to complete tasks such as planning and implementing a data warehouse; managing, configuring, and working with the data; creating and implementing solutions which ensure the quality of data; and working with SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services).

MCSA: Choosing a Path – Windows 7 & 8


Windows 7

For this MCSA path, two exams are required. The first is exam 680, titled “Windows 7, Configuring”. As can be deferred from the name, this covers topics on the configuration of the Windows 7 Operating System, such as: installing or upgrading the system to Windows 7, installing and troubleshooting drivers, setting up proper network access, various facets of the Windows recovery system, and maintaining a machine running Windows 7.

Although the 70-680 exam is required, you have a choice between the 70-685 and 70-686 as the second exam to complete the certification.

When taking the other exam (number 685), “Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician”, the test taker can expect to mainly deal with troubleshooting. Some examples of specific topics covered are: discerning the cause of why a program crashed or failed to start and fixing it; identifying the root of various network issues (connecting, logging in, accessing printers, etc.); keeping a system secure and fixing problems that arise from viruses or other sources; and the general maintenance of computers running Windows 7 Enterprise Edition.

If you decide to take 70-686, “Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator”, you will be focusing more on deployment and packing in a server/client environment. This exam will deliver more knowledge and skillsets that will help you complete an MCSE if you choose to continue education with server 2012. This exam will expect you to become an expert in creating and designing images, designing automated Windows 7 client deployments, creating and designing application packages and troubleshooting and resolving deployment configuration issues.

If you are interested in pursuing any of the Server 2012 exams, we recommend you visit our free study guides for one of the best free resources on the internet.

70-680 study guide
70-685 study guide
70-686 study guide


Windows 8

Unlike the previous set of similar exams, the Windows 8 path is actually quite similar to the Windows 7 path. The two tests are:

  • – Configuring Windows 8.1
  • – Supporting Windows 8.1

The first of these follows almost exactly the same routine as the test for Windows 7. The second, while organized differently, is also quite similar. It does deal with some Windows 8 specifics however such as cloud storage and applications as well as interactivity with Windows 8 Phones.


Office 365

Finally, this MCSA Certification is fairly new. It only requires two exams, the first of which is called “Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements”. Before taking this test, one should be have in-depth knowledge of Sharepoint, Lync, Exchange, Azure Active Directory, and Office 365 ProPlus.

The last exam in this list is “Enabling Office 365 Services”, which tests on configuring and managing Office 365 in various settings, implementing Sharepoint, Exchange, and Lync,dealing with general upkeep (especially concerning malware).


Starting with MTA Certifications

If you have limited experience working with Microsoft technologies, it is recommended that you begin with MTA certifications. These are the fundamental building blocks that you should know before proceeding with MCSA or equivalent tier 2 certs. If you have a few years experience in an IT role, you are likely more than qualified to skip tier 1 certifications and go right to tier 2.

For more information on certification tiers or certification paths click here


How to Become Certified

Each test costs $150. You must take each exam listed under the path of your choice to become certified. To sign up for a test, visit the respective test’s page on Microsoft’s website and sign up. You will take the test in person at an on-site location as close to you as possible (though be aware that you will most likely have to travel a fair distance if you do not live in a major city). Be sure not to miss your test date, as you will forfeit your money.


Certification Validity

Good news! Most of your certifications will stay valid as long as Microsoft is supporting the technology. Eventually, your certifications will fall into a “legacy” status. These will still show on your Microsoft transcript and can still hold value to employers.


Upgrading Certifications

Most certifications support an upgrade path to future generations certs. The upgrade path has typically been a single upgrade exam that will transfer your certification to the next gen.

You can find more information on upgrade exams here