So I took the VMware VCAP5-DCA exam last week. I studied rigorously for this one, especially in the final weeks leading up the exam. I had to reschedule a couple times due to scheduling conflicts with work projects, but I managed to get this in before the end of the year (and thus still be able to use the promo code I had from VMworld). I used all the great study resources that most people have referenced and added another resource to the list I shared in my previous post. Mike Preston’s, “8 Weeks of #VCAP” offered some great overviews on the those more obscure skills that many of us don’t use every day, like vSphere AutoDeploy and Image Builder. That helped to fill in some of the gaps.
My experience was somewhat similar to many others in that I ran out of time. I knew going into this exam it would be unlike any other that I had taken. The sheer magnitude of material was enormous, and the ability to readily pull from that knowledge to quickly execute tasks would really be tested. What I did not realize was how quickly that time would fly by when engaged in these tasks. That 3.5 hours was the fastest 3.5 hours ever! Oh, how I wish I could have extended the time just another 15 minutes to squeeze in a couple more questions. I believe I hurt myself early in the exam by not hitting the ground running from the start. I started with an approach that Tim Antonowicz shared on his post about testing strategy during the exam. I won’t go into the details here, but essentially, this amounted to reviewing each question in order to create a good outline of the exam and then using that outline to take a strategic approach in answering the questions. It seems like a great approach and apparently has worked for him and others. I, however, ended up spending too much time on this review, time that could very easily have been spent completing one or two more questions. Now… that said, one great benefit I got from applying this approach was that it did put me at ease early in the exam. I was confident I knew how to complete all of the scenarios that I just reviewed. There was nothing that I saw that was beyond what I had prepared.
So… after reviewing the exam I settled into my first question and was surprised when I saw that almost 30 minutes had ticked off the clock after completing that first question. I knew I had to work faster, but I really didn’t find my groove until the second half of the exam. In the end, I left a number of questions on the table unanswered. I finally understood what everyone means when they say that time is not your friend on this exam. I truly believe it takes first hand experience to fully understand what is required on an exam like this. This included getting good at maneuvering between the testing window, the various Remote Desktop windows, the Putty session window, and the vSphere Client windows, all on one screen. And of course dealing with the notorious lag that everyone mentions. Although thankfully, this wasn’t quite as bad for me as many have shared nor did I have any lockups that some have experienced.
I can share my recommendations, but it will be like most others – practice, practice, practice until you know the skills on the DCA blueprint cold. I would add to that, attempt all skills on one screen. During the test, I would recommend scribbling key configuration details from the exam scenarios on the dry erase pad to avoid having to switch back and forth between the testing window and the lab environment. I believe that alone consumed too much of my time. Another huge recommendation that has been shared numerous time is to not wait for certain processes like an installation to complete. Any waiting time should be spent working on the next question or task. Of course, keeping track of what questions have been completed and which ones have not becomes critical.
In the end, I agree that the exam is very fair regarding the content. There are no surprises if you know the blueprint. The only surprise that came for me was the time element. If you get good at that, you’ll be good at the exam. I don’t know yet if I passed, but if I did not, at least I will be armed with the understanding and full appreciation of the level of time management and sheer focus and adeptness that is required to successfully knock this one off.
Update (Jan 7, 2013): I passed!!! My exam results came one day after posting this piece.