VMware certification: The road to VCAP-DCA 550 (VDCA550)

Nowadays It almost seems like a tradition among bloggers to share VCAP-DCA exam experiences. So I will follow this tradition and give a short write-up of my preparation and exam experience. I did my exam on the 12th of january 2016.

Exam preparation

The VCAP-DCA has been lingering in my mind for quiet some time. I started my preparation by just reading the blueprint and all the documentation listed in the blueprint. The first thing I would like to point out: reading does not suffice to pass this exam. You need to spend time in your lab… a lot of time.

To study for this exam I built my own lab environment on my laptop (it is a dual core Macbook pro with 16GB of RAM) using autolab. I recommend everybody that has no access to a lab environment (that you can break without bothering anybody else) to deploy autolab on your laptop.

In the next section I will give a quick overview of my used study materials.

Used material

  • The official blueprint of course. You need to know each section because each section is a potential exam question. If you read a section, ask yourself how this can be tested and try it in your lab.
  • Jason Nash pluralsight training course videos. These are very, very good. It goes over every part of the blueprint and combines theory and lab exercises. The course is based on the previous version of the VCAP-DCA exam but is valuable for the VCAP-DCA 550 exam as well.
    Note: Pluralsight access is not free.
    The course consists of following parts:

    • VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Storage & Networking
    • VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Performance & High Availability
    • VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Monitoring & Automation
  • The unofficial study guide from Paul Grevink:
    I used this guide when doing lab exercises. The videos from Jason Nash are very good but it can be a bit difficult to find something if you are stuck during a lab. This is where the guide from Paul Grevink comes in as you can search the PDF. It is very interesting to read through and use as a reference while doing labs.
  • Test Track by Joshua Andrews. Joshua did a great job in building a vSphere environment closely mimicking the real exam setup and questions. And the best part is you can get a score on each question! I think that everybody that wants to do the exam should try to do the test track at least one time. It gives a great idea of how the exam environment is built up and how the questions are asked. A real must!
  • It is also worth looking at this blog and do the labs (with explanation!) included: http://blog.mwpreston.net/8-weeks-of-vcap/
  • I tracked my overall progress via the study sheet from Chris Wahl
  • Another great way of preparing yourself is by completing following scenarios in your lab environment:
  • Last but not least, go to the VMware community forums. These are full of experiences from other people that also passed or attempted the exam. I think I have read almost every recent post concerning the exam before I gave it a shot myself. For my own exam, I used a strategy listed in one of the community posts. More on that later.

Some of the materials are for the previous version of the VCAP-DCA exam that had other requirements. I suggest you look at the differences between the two exams and find additional resources with the vSphere 5.5 specific features if needed.

The exam

My strategy

I based my “battle plan” for the exam on one for the posts on the VMware community forums (I do not remember which one unfortunately).

When you are at the exam center, you have a short period of time to prepare yourself before the exam timer starts to run. Use this time to create a table on your piece of paper (or I my case a small erasable whiteboard) with 4 columns (question number, completed, not completed, skipped) and 23 rows (one for each task). Start with question 1 (obviously) and work your down to the last one.

Several other blogs mention that time management (non-native English speakers get 30 minutes extra which is nice) is crucial. They are right. Read the question, complete the question if you know the answer, if you have doubts the first time you read the question, skip it (put X in the skipped column of the corresponding question). Keep in mind that you do not waste too much time on one specific question.

When you start a question but you can not finish it, or a task takes a lot of time (vMotion for example), mark it as not completed and go to the next question.

Normally you should advance rather quickly through the questions for a first time (if you had enough lab time of course).

When you reach question 23 and you completed it, it is time to do the rest of the questions that you marked as not completed or skipped.

Do not go back to question 1 immediately, instead go back in reverse order. The exam does not allow you to jump back to the first question with one click. You need to press back each question. So to save time, work your way back in reverse order.

Question number Completed Not completed Skipped
1 X
2 X
3 X
23 X

This tactic worked for me and hopefully it will work for you too.

Exam day

I did my exam in Belgium where AZERTY keyboard layouts are standard. I prefer QWERTY myself so before I did the exam, I mailed Global Knowledge (the exam center) to reserve a QWERTY workstation because I did not want to lose time changing keyboard layouts or adapt to AZERTY. Every little thing that can save you time on the exam is welcome…

The exam itself was everything I expected it to be. The time pressure is constant, the questions contain some hidden pitfalls and it are three (and a half) very exhausting hours that pass by in an instant.

Thanks to Test Track and the study guides I felt prepared for the exam and everything went reasonably smooth. Some blogs and forum posts mention the slow exam environment. True, it is not very fast but I would not call it very slow either (at least in my case).

Be sure to read the questions thoroughly, watch every little detail and keep time management at the back of your head.

The result

I passed my first attempt at the exam with a score of 420/500. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort but in the end it was worth it.

Next up: VCAP-DCD

Lastly, I would like to give a special thanks to Tom Arentsen and Marco van Baggum for giving me additional tips and helping me through this exam and Joshua Andrews for giving access to Test Track.