When did you last sit an official industry exam? For me, it’s been more years than I care to count! But recently, a group of staff at my local Microsoft office planned to sit the AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals exam with an official test proctor coming into the office. As I was going to be in the country at the time, I had no reason to miss this opportunity. So I cracked open OneNote and started studying.
Microsoft Azure Fundamentals is the first of the Azure certification exams, earning you the Microsoft Certified Fundamentals achievement. You’ll need to understand the foundational aspects and benefits of Microsoft’s Cloud – like how subscriptions work, what support plans are available, the difference between Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service, and which services you would use when. “What to use when” is actually a common theme in this exam, across some but not all of the Azure products. There are also some “systems administration” concepts like enforcing Policies and using Role Based Access Control (RBAC), which are applicable across your Azure tenancy regardless of which services you are using. IT Pros may be more familiar with this content, but software developers would also benefit from learning the architecture of and controls available in Microsoft’s Cloud.
The exam is 60 minutes long but contains no simulated lab scenarios. Instead, there are multi-choice questions with one or more correct answers and some ‘multi-part’ questions. Here you are given one main premise, and a few multi choice questions that relate to that same scenario.
The areas of focus for this exam are:
- Understanding Cloud Concepts (15-20%)
- Understanding Core Azure Services (30-35%)
- Understanding Security, Privacy, Compliance and Trust (25-30%)
- Understanding Azure Pricing and Support (25-30%)
The percentages are how much that area contributes to the final score of the exam, with room for Microsoft to adjust the content mix within those percentage boundaries.
At the end of the exam, you will immediately be given your score and you will see if you have passed. AZ-900 requires a score of 700 or above to pass. Don’t get hung up on comparing your final score to other people’s though. You’ve been presented with a random subset of questions and the exams are fine tuned on an ongoing basis, so you aren’t comparing exactly the same test. There are no prizes for the top score here.
Studying for the exam
Microsoft spells out in the exam objectives exactly which topics you are expected to understand. That is key to sitting any Azure exam. It’s a pretty big platform, and you don’t want to get distracted trying to remember details of products that are not even included. I’ll link to those objectives at the bottom of this post.
Microsoft OneNote is my go-to for keeping all of my study notes. I start by copying those exam objectives to a Page, then I research and build a list of useful study resources. These include pages at docs.microsoft.com and modules on Microsoft Learn. Check out the end of this article for some study resources to get you started.
To study, I only have three windows open at a time: A browser for those study resources, my OneNote notebook, and a browser with the Azure Portal. This way I can read the documentation, paste any key text, tables or images into OneNote along with my own typed notes, and play around under my own Azure subscription at the same time. What I don’t have open is all the things that would usually distract me! Outlook, Twitter, Microsoft Teams all get closed and Windows 10 is put into Focus Assist mode – Alarms only. My mobile phone goes face down on my desk too!
I’ve recently read “The first 20 hours (How to learn anything fast)” by John Kaufman. John talks about “deliberate practice” and then applies it to learning a few different and varied skills from scratch, to a decent level of competence. This mix of using the right resources combined with trying things yourself in the Portal is a good example of deliberate practice and will help your knowledge retention more than just reading or just taking notes. It helps to bridge the gap between remembering something versus really understanding it, when you can see it in action.
Specifically for AZ-900, I found it easy to reproduce any documented steps in the Azure Portal. They required no pre-configuration or scripting knowledge. If you don’t have access to an Azure subscription, create a free trial here.
You’ll need to understand the products available in each of these categories, and when you would use one instead of another:
- Compute – Virtual machines, virtual machine scale sets, app services
- Networking – virtual networks, load balancer, VPN gateway, application gateway, content delivery network
- Storage – Blog, disk, file, archive storage and Azure Files
- Databases – Cosmos DB, SQL Database, database migration service, SQL Data Warehouse
- IoT – IoT Central, IoT Hub
- Big Data – HDInsight, Data Lake Analytics
- AI – Azure Machine Learning Service, Azure Machine Learning Studio
- Serverless – Azure Functions, Logic Apps
- Identity services – identity concepts, Azure Active Directory, Multi Factor Authentication concepts
- Security products – including both the Azure Security Center, Information Protection, Advanced Threat Protection and security features in the product groups above, like Network Security Groups
- Governance – including Policy and Role Based Access Control, but also compliance and privacy concepts.
- Monitoring – Azure Monitor and Service Health
- Azure tools – like Azure Resource Manager, Azure CLI, Cloud Shell and PowerShell
Remember, this is not an in-depth exam.. While you may be asked to choose the best product or select the correct features, you won’t be asked to create or configure any services. Stay focused on understanding what each product can do and what it can’t do, so you can choose between them or correctly identify their features.
A word about exam brain dumps
It can be tempting to go and look for exam brain dumps on the internet, where people have compiled a list of actual questions from the exam. While that may help you pass, memorising answers will not help you improve your understanding of the topics. Microsoft has a very clear policy on this:
“If Microsoft learns that a candidate used a “brain dump” site to prepare for an exam, this candidate will be permanently banned or prohibited from taking any future Microsoft Certification exams and may be decertified from the Microsoft Certification Program. In addition, test scores and certifications, if applicable, may be revoked. These actions may be taken even if the candidate did not intend to defraud the Microsoft Certification Program.“
For more information, visit https://www.microsoft.com/learning/certification-exam-policies.aspx
Taking the exam
I’ve been in the tech industry for over 20 years and I still get nervous about taking exams. That was not helped by being a Cloud Advocate and someone saying “hey you are in training videos!” when I walked into the exam room. No pressure at all. Here are my tips:
Grab a blank paper and pen (if provided/allowed in the exam environment) and write down anything you’ve tried to memorise. Then you don’t have to keep it in your brain any longer and you can refer to it during the exam.
Then, run through every question in order, choosing your best guess at an answer. If you are unsure, pick something and mark the question with a star so you can review it later. You can even write down if you are undecided between say two of the four answers, so come review time you’ll know which answer choices you were debating. Even without a lab, time is still an important factor. This way you get all the questions completed, then you can use the remaining time to review only the starred questions that will need more thought. And you wont risk double-guessing yourself on the ones you were confident about, potentially changing a correct answer.
Read the questions very carefully. It sounds obvious, but I flunked a few questions in the practice tests from misreading them slightly. The wording is very important. So is the wording of the answers. Sometimes you can eliminate obvious incorrect answer choices based on how they are worded.
Take a breath before you hit the Finish button. If this attempt is not a pass, the world will continue to spin and the sun will rise again tomorrow. It does suck to fail, but some perspective is also good – this will not mean the end of your career. You’ll be able to see the areas you fell short on, so you can study some more and retake the exam in the future. As a kid, you were really good at failing your way to success when learning to walk or ride a bike and look at where you are now!
Exam prep used to mean one week in a classroom on an official Microsoft course. While that’s still an option, there are a ton of online resources to help you study at your own pace.
Microsoft Learn – Azure Fundamentals: https://docs.microsoft.com/learn/paths/azure-fundamentals/
Third party resources
Online training courses – You’ll find Azure training courses relevant to AZ-900 at a number of online training providers.
Often people who have already sat the exam are happy to share their thoughts and resources, including many of our Microsoft MVP community. They might write a blog with a specific list of docs.microsoft.com page links that were helpful, and you’ll also find discussion groups on various social media platforms. Note that Microsoft has no control over these resource or how up to date they are kept.
Now get studying!
I hope I’ve inspired you to take the plunge and try the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals exam. Leave me a comment when you pass! If you’ve already taken the exam and have some other advice to offer, add that to the comments too. Did the exam meet your expectations?