Content Breakdown

Throughout my many MANY hours of Microsoft exam preparation, I began to develop a study formula that can be applied to basically every certification I have written. The formula starts with understanding how Microsoft tests your knowledge and what areas need to be covered. Below is a rough breakdown of what type of content Microsoft expects you to know for exams.

Test Breakdown






This covers both powershell and Windows commandlets. Microsoft has 3-4 ways to do pretty much everything and you are expected to know them all. For instance to configure an IP address you need to know the GUI, sconfig, netsh and powershell.

Commandlets and Powershell are one of the most challenging areas for most people when sitting down for an exam. No study material seems to covers commands in depth and unless you have alot of experience, it can be difficult to study. In the study guides im developing, i am hoping focus a great deal of attention on this section to fill the gap that other study materials leave.


This covers the overall understanding of how things work. This is the theory section if you will. CBTnuggets, practice exams and exam books are a great way to provide this information. Technet can provide some theoretical understanding as well, but delivers it in a less effective way. I also recommend a lab environment if you are a hands on learner.


Microsoft loves to make sure you know your menus. If you are a server admin, you may have a strong understanding of how to properly utilize Windows and configure services. Unless you are making a conscience effort to memorize menus, remember where settings are, and remember what individual settings do, then you are going to need to do some review.

It is best to approach this section with a “hands on” approach”. If you have an environment at work, you can utilize that existing environment to become familiar with menus and settings. However, if you don’t have that luxury, I strongly recommend creating your own Hyper-V lab at home. I have found labs online and in exam books that help walk you through setting up services and applications. What I find these labs fail to do is walk you through menus and settings so you have a strong understanding of each service. In the study guides I’m developing, I will be adding detailed labs for each exam section which focuses on key features and settings that Microsoft may test you on.


This seems to be the biggest complaint I have read in regards to any Microsoft exam. Sometimes they just throw a question at you that seems like pure trivia. You wouldn’t know the answer unless you specifically read it somewhere.

Microsoft is proud of their OS and application improvements and want to make sure you know about them. Alot of this “trivia” can be found on Technet I also recommend CBTnuggets videos as well as exam books as they both provide many “hints” that will help with exam questions.

My Studying Lifecycle

Do not make the mistake of thinking you can read one exam book and pass the test without issue. Sure, if you are extremely experienced and have previous certifications, this may be a viable option. However, for the majority of us, multiple resources will be needed to ensure you are knowledgeable in all of the areas listed above.

I have approached every exam with a system I like to call “The Power of Five.” This includes a Primary Resource, a secondary resource, a knowledge tester, a lab and a study guide. Some people may call this overkill, however, with this system I have passed every exam on the first round through. I try to approach each exam with the attention of achieving 100% (which hasn’t happened yet) rather than scraping by with 70%.

Each resource I consider a different phase in my studying lifecycle.

Phase 1 – Study Guide: Your plans, notes, mindmaps, flash cards etc. that will help bring all of your information together at the end of your studying lifecycle. If you do not create a study guide, it will be difficult to go back and review all the material you have covered. I was never the “study guide” type of guy, but the amount of content in these exams can be overwhelming and having an attack plan is very beneficial. You can view my study guides here.

Phase 2 – Primary Resource: Your main resource which will give a large overview and cover the majority of the topics. I usually prefer a video resource such as CBTNuggets or Pluralsight as a primary resource. However, if you prefer reading an exam book can offer a solid foundation as well. You can view my reviews of primary resources here.

Phase 3 – Secondary Resource: While going through your primary resource, you will find certain objectives that will require a deeper level of understanding. This is where the secondary resource comes in. I recommend Technet as it is free and is an outstanding source for referencing objectives. Exam books can also act as a good secondary resource.

Phase 4 – Labs: Once you have a good understanding of the objective concepts, it is time to take it to the lab and get some hands on experience. It is also beneficial to follow along with videos or chapters in your primary resource with your labs. I find this hands-on method helps me retain information much easier than just watching a video. My study guides will offer very in-depth labs that will cover installations, menus and settings that you will need to know. It may also be effective to create your own labs if you are familiar with the objectives.

Phase 5 – Knowledge Tester: Practice exams can be expensive, but believe me, they are worth it. Not only do they offer great explanations, but they give you an idea as to whether or not you are prepared for the real exam. Don’t begin to use this resource until you are done with your Primary, Secondary and Labs. It can be beneficial to do practice exams by objectives as you complete them in your studies. You can see some of my practice exam reviews here.

Planning a Lab

If you plan on purchasing a computer for your home lab, i would recommend planning for something relatively powerful to fulfill the requirements in the MCSE tier. I recommend a system that can easily support 5 VMs in a powered on state. You do not need a highend gaming computer, or performance server. I purchased both desktops for my Lab environments from Amazon for roughly $800-$1000. However, you can likely find something well priced with similar specs from your local Bestbuy/Futureshop.

My recommendation for a robust lab environment is the following:
RAM: 12 GB: Minimum 16 GB: Recommended
Processor: Anything in the I7 family should be sufficient
Harddrive: 500 GB of Storage should be sufficient, two hard-drives is recommended to split VMs, a SSD drive is optimal if it is in your budget.

You do not need to purchase a valid license for your lab environment. Microsoft will allow you to download an “evaluation” version of all OS’s that allow for a 180 day license.

In my study guides I will give specific lab setup requirements for each course. If you chose to develop your own lab plans, the above specs should be enough to support your needs.

Time Management

As i stated before, getting certified is not a race. Pace yourself. Depending on your experience, it may take a week to prepare or it may take 3+ months. The important thing is you learn, build confidence and eventually pass the exam.

This BorntoLearn blog recommends to book your exam in advance. They claim this will give yo motivation to study by forcing an exam date on you. I completely disagree with this approach. I don’t know about you, but I dont consider $150 pocket change. If your exam date comes and you are not prepared, you just threw $150 out the window. Not to mention the additional stress you put on yourself by cramming for a deadline. Yikes!

Study for the exam at your own pace and when you feel you are ready, book the exam and write it.

Study Multiple Exams at Once or One at a Time?

This is a question that is often brought up regarding the MCSA certifications. Personally, i find studying all three courses at once to be quite overwhelming. There is a lot of small details and commandlets you have to know for each exam. Some you will memorize just for the test and then likely forget a few weeks later. If you add all three exams at once, your brain may turn into chicken noodle soup trying to remember everything.

That being said, I have personally witnessed exam questions that were out of the scope of the current objectives. I marked these questions for comment and let Microsoft know my displeasure.

Microsoft may throw 1-2 questions at you that are objectives in another exam. I personally take my chances, and if i see questions out of scope, I answer them to the best of my ability. It do not feel it is worth studying another entire course just to get 1-2 more marks.