VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Datacenter Design for vSphere 5.x(VCAP5-DCD) has the toughest exam I have ever attempted… and I’ve taken many exams until now. So after sharing my VCAP5-DCA exam experience in my previous post, I will also share here the VCAP5-DCD experience, even though I passed this exam in August 2013. Posting about my exam experiences is my giveback to the VMware community in general. It has been really useful for me to read on the blogs about the experience of others, their tips, exam strategies, what they used to prepare and what was useful or not. On all my exams I first read the official certification information (exam format, blueprint, available time, retake policy, etc..) and then I read the experience of others whom shared it on their blogs. usually the first 2 pages of a Google search result list. This really helps me in setting up the most efficient exam preparation plan and brings in a bit more confidence.
- URL: http://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=30484&ui=www_cert
- Time available: 3 hours and 45 minutes + 30 minutes if you take the exam in a non-English speaking country.
- Number of questions: 100
- 6 Design scenarios (you have to “sketch” a design <storage, network
- About 15-20 drag and drop
- The rest to 100 are VCP like single/multi-choice ones.
- Passing score: 300 points (out of total 500 points)
- Retake policy: 14 calendar days
I first attempted the VCAP5-DCD exam at VMworld 2012 in Barcelona and suffered a painful fail, even though I was very well prepared and very confident. The exam is very tough on your brain, so having a clear mind to focus is essential. At VMworld you get to absorb so much information(you can read here about my VMworld 2013 experience), you have 12 hours per day of new and exciting stuff which is cool, but is also very tiring. On top of that you loose almost a full day from the amazing VMworld experience, so I do not recommend taking any exam during the event.
Besides fatigue, the other reason for failing was the wrong exam strategy. I have read lots of tips on how to tackle the exam, but unfortunately for me, I chose the strategy in which you leave(mark for later review) all the design scenarios for the end. That did not work out well for me because after getting through 95 question in 3.5 hours I remained only with 45 minutes for 5 design scenarios, that’s not enough! The “design” tool on the exam ads also to the frustration because it’s sooo sluggish.
In August 2013 I’ve attempted it again and I am proud to say that I passed it successfully. I have not prepared much since the previous attempt, because I realized that the previous failure was not due to knowledge gap, but due to wrong strategy. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not blaming the ones which are recommending to leave the design scenarios for the end, maybe for some this will be the winning approach, but this just didn’t work for me; not being a native English speaker and spending so much mental effort on tackling the first 95 questions (which are very long and written mostly in “business language”, not the familiar technical language) leaves you with very limited brain potential for the demanding design scenarios… plus the fatigue from 3 days of VMworld on top of that for me. So I knew that if I want to pass I needed to change my approach; I realized that the design scenarios are the core of the exam, they take the longest portion of the exam to complete and also they are the highest scored: around 40 points per scenario, which for all 6 of the scenarios is almost half of the total exam points. I was cruising through the other questions and keeping my energy for the scenarios, so for most of the “simple” single/multi-choice I was just skipping words, reading through very fast until the last sentence and trying an educated guess based on the available answers. This strategy worked well for me, I finished all the questions and pressed the “End Exam” button within the last minute of the allocated time and I was very surprised when saw my score, much higher than I was expecting.
How to prepare
These are the resources I recommend for preparation:
- Read the official exam resources (cert guide, program overview, blueprint… you can find all here: http://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=30484&ui=www_cert)
- Read the exam experience of others, especially if this your first time attempting it.
- Read the “VMware vSphere Design” book, by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe, Kendrick Coleman. This is a great resource, especially if you are not very experienced with designing vSphere infrastructures.
- If you’re company is a VMware partner and you are registered to “Partner Central” I strongly advise to go through the “VMware Virtualization Design and Deploy Service Kit R1.0“, ideally you would follow the kit to create your own fictional design , but even just browsing through the docs will help you greatly.
- Work on your “diagramming” skills, this is essential for the design scenarios, so practice as much as you can on visio and grab as many diagrams from your colleagues just to get familiar with different styles. You can/should also practice using the “mock” exam (Interactive Exam Simulation), which reproduces the exact exam interface.
- [Optional]: Attend the VMware Design Workshop class. I’ve put it as optional because of the high cost associated with this course, but otherwise it is a great help for the exam.
Exam tips and Strategy
I will try to summarize the lessons learnt from taking the exam twice and share them as tips, these worked well for me, hope it will helpful:
- Take the exam well rested.
- Focus on the design scenarios, these are the key of the exam.
- For the single/multi choice questions fast-forward to the last sentence and just try an educated guess based on the available answers.
- Use the whiteboard to summarize information when the scenarios/questions are too long to hold in your mind.
- Do not attempt to draw pretty diagrams in the design tool, they are evaluated by software, so they should be correct, not pretty.