On Saturday the 12th December 2020, the Dynamics and Power Platform Community came together to present the Certification Saturday event. The event was organised by 2 Microsoft MVPs, Julian Sharp and Neil Parkhurst.
Both Julian and Neil are very active in the Dynamics and Power Platform Community, and regularly create content that helps others to pass Microsoft certifications. Julian additionally regularly runs study groups, and as a consequence of attending these study groups, I have passed at least 5 Microsoft certifications. Neil has also helped me pass exams, by virtue of his excellent blogs and the webinars he has run in conjunction with Microsoft. When Julian mentioned that he and Neil were organising this event, I felt it was the very least I could do to help out!
Having spoken to Julian about which subject I should cover, we decided upon the PL-900 Power Platform Fundamentals certification. As a relatively new career switcher into the Dynamics and Power Platform technologies, I had taken the PL-900 as a result of attending one of Julians study groups and it had been one of my first certifications. I felt really comfortable talking about the subject, and from experience, I knew it would be a great first step for anyone hoping to get into Dynamics or the Power Platform technologies. Since taking that exam I have gone on to pass many of the Customer Engagement functional associate exams, and the D365 & Power Platform Solution Architect certification.
My aim for the session was not just to signpost learners to the learning material, as although that is important, it is relatively easy to find at Microsoft Learn or via a quick Google search (other search engines are available). I thought that as this exam is the entry point for many of those who are new to Microsoft certifications, it would be helpful to provide some information relating to the exam process and also some tips and tricks on how set yourself up for learning success, and I will outline these below.
Find your why ...
It’s really important not to underestimate how difficult it is to learn, particularly if you are already working or if you have family commitments. With so many things calling on your time, and energy, it’s not always easy to prioritise learning over more immediate pressures. For this reason, it helps to be very clear in your mind about why you are taking a particular exam, and why it is worth investing in the study. As Steven Covey suggests in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ it helps to “start with the end in mind”. It could be that you are hoping for a new career, or for a promotion, or maybe to build your confidence within a particular area of technology. If you are clear about your goal, it will help to provide motivation when times get tough or when life gets in the way!
Go at your own pace
We are typically surrounded by social media posts from people who are passing the exams we are studying for and gaining the certifications we would like to gain. It might be tempting to try to rush through the learning content to get to the exam quicker, but I would heartily recommend against this. It’s not a race, go at your own pace … if you need to read something again to understand it, that’s fine. Although I’ve taken and passed a lot of certifications, I’m definitely more of a tortoise than a hare, I like to prepare well and have confidence that I really understand something – and this is really important when studying for the fundamentals exams, as they are the foundation for everything that comes afterwards. Additionally, don’t be swayed by the estimates provided on Microsoft Learn for how long something should take to learn … I typically multiply those estimates by 3 and round them up!
Use a variety of materials and methods
I don’t know about you, but when I recall things that I’ve learned, sometimes I can hear myself saying them, sometimes I visualise things on a page, and sometimes I remember the steps I took to solve a problem. I need a combination of methods to aid my learning, so I tend to look for different types of learning content. While Microsoft Learn is currently very text based, there are often webinars and study groups running for many of the Fundamentals exams so it is worth looking out for those, and YouTube is a great source of material for anyone who likes to learn audio visually. It is also worth looking at things such as mind maps to help provide structure and context around different areas of learning, and flash cards where there might be a lot of technological terminology to learn – such as for the Azure Fundamentals.
Create a trial and practice practice practice!
Benjamin Franklin famously said “tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” … this is very true for many of us, and certainly for me. If I can practice something I find it improves my understanding, and therefore my learning, exponentially. We are lucky within D365 and the Power Platform, as Microsoft allow us to take out trial versions of technologies for evaluation and learning purposes. To find out more, visit https://trials.dynamics.com
Don't be afraid to fail
Failure is part of the learning process, in fact I prefer to think that rather than having ‘failed’ something, I just haven’t passed it yet, as there is no question that I will give up until I have succeeded. While you might have to wait a couple of weeks between exam retries, there is no limit to the number of times you can take an exam. So if you do happen not to pass an exam, just pay attention to the transcript, which will highlight any gaps in your knowledge, and make sure to focus on those before you take the exam again!
Teach what you learn to someone else
I often find that when I need to explain something to someone else, it really helps my understanding of the subject. This is called the ‘protege’ effect, and can be very useful when trying to learn something. If you don’t have an actual person to hand, try explaining a difficult concept to an inanimate object, to help make it clearer in your mind. In the world of software engineering, this trick is routinely used to debug code that otherwise seems too difficult to break down or explain, and is called is called ‘plastic platypus’ or ‘rubber duck’ debugging. I have 2 rubber ducks sitting on my computer, and I must say while they can be very slow learners sometimes, they are always very patient!
Become familiar with the exam process
There is a considerable amount of information on Microsoft Learn in addition to the learning materials for any particular subject. Some of this additional information relates to the exam process itself and it is essential that you become familiar with this if you are new to Microsoft certifications. This information can generally be found under the ‘Exam Resources‘ section at the bottom of the pages relating to the specific exams or certifications. It is worth paying particular attention to the information provided on exam question types, so that you know what to expect when you begin your exam.
Book the exam!
This is my number one tip, and I really can’t take credit for it. This is something that Julian Sharp drills into his students. Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline, and if you are a master procrastinator like me, deadlines are absolutely essential.
I hope you have found this information in some way useful, if you are considering taking a certification any time soon, and I can be of any help, please reach out using the contact form on this site.