taking a free microsoft cert for fun

Microsoft did a promotion this year where you could take a certification exam for free. I took the PL-400: Power Platform Developer exam. My goal was not to pass the exam (and I didn’t). I had three goals

  • Gain a cursory understanding of Power Platform
  • See how Microsoft does certifications
  • Take an exam in an exam center (the last exam I took was an “at home” one so it has been two years since I’ve been in an exam center.). And related: practice taking an exam in an exam setting (the last exam I took was last year; since the next exam I take is likely to be the Java 21 cert, good to practice test taking skills).

I met all of my goals.

How I (didn’t) study

The Microsoft Learn Cloud Skills Challenge had you do a bunch of online modules. I skimmed each one and watched a few of the videos. I did not do any labs. Each module ends with 3-4 multiple choice review questions. I got 0-4 correct on each. I did not take notes. (Remember the goal was a cursory understanding.) I then went on vacation and gave two presentations on completely unrelated topics. So anything that stuck in my head from this was subconscious.

The morning of the exam, I took two 50 question free practice exams from Microsoft….

Free practice tests

I think you can take as many as you want although at some point, you will run out of unique questions. On my second practice test, I was able to identify 20 questions I saw in the first practice test and 28 questions that were new to me. (Yes, I know this doesn’t add up to 50; the other two I don’t remember if I saw.) That’s a pretty good question pool for free.

You can choose whether to check your answer after each question of the practice test. Either way, you get to see all the questions and answers at the end. I choose to check after each one as the purpose of the practice test for me was to load/re-load some info into my head. I did notice that report at the end showing all the questions you answered was not in the same order as I got the questions. (I forgot to check the answers for two and wrote down their numbers to check at the end.)

I got 44% on the first attempt and 54% on the second. (Most, if not all, of my improvement was remembering the answers to the questions both practice exams had in common)

There’s a major caveat with the practice tests. All of them are multiple choice questions. Some are radio buttons and some choose two/three. But none are the “specialized” question types that features heavily on the actual exam.

The exam center

I had been to this exam center before (pre-2020). There’s no drama. You sign some stuff, they take your picture and you putt your stuff in a locker. They hold the key, but let you keep your id/charge card. (I don’t bring my phone with me; so there’s nothing valuable in the locker; just a little cash). I don’t think I’d like this arrangement if I had to bring my phone. But I can walk to the center, so no need for a phone.

Today, I was offered earplugs because there is some construction in the building. I declined; I’m used to noise where I live. The construction was audible, but not loud. They also have headphones which you can use. I didn’t use those either, but they were in arms reach if I changed my mind.

I had to move the monitor closer to me. It started about twice arms length. Too far to read. This was a self service operation.

After the exam, I was handed a printout with my score and other info. In theory, it showed my performance on each section, but that part didn’t print. I was also able to see my score on the computer when I submitted my final answers.

The agreement

You agree to a bunch of the usual stuff about not cheating. You also explicitly agree not to use AI to cheat. I wonder how one would. You already can’t use other windows/devices.

The actual exam

The exam started with 10 survey questions. Six were about your skill level with each of the exam objectives. I wrote novice for all of them. They also asked why you were taking the cert.

Then my real exam began. I was given 100 minutes across all sections. It was divided into three sections. i didn’t know in advance that was going to happen. You can’t switch between sections. Once you submit a section, the answers are locked in.

The first section was a five question case study. There was a lot of reading and switching of tabs for the case study. The idea is you got requirements and constraints and then answered questions in that context. You could switch between the case study text and questions as much as you wanted before submitting the section. While I did not know this format existed on the exam, I enjoyed it.

The second section was a seven question case study. Again a lot of reading. Same idea, different scenario.

The third question was 42 “multiple choice” questions. Of those questions, the last three described a short example and you had to say yes/no for whether each of the three questions gave a solution. For these three questions, you could not mark them as for review/go back and forth. They were single look and done. You could review the other 39 questions as much as you wanted; even after doing the special three.

The practice tests were not representative of the format of the real exam. (The sandbox you can look at is closer so make sure to try that!). Of my 39 “multiple choice” questions, I had

  • 12 single answer/radio button questions
  • 3 multiple answer checkbox questions with two correct answers
  • 2 multiple answer checkbox questions with three correct answers
  • 8 drag and drop questions – you got a few items and had to place them in boxes answering questions; each item could be used zero, one or more time
  • 6 algorithm type questions where you chose the right steps from a list *and* ordered them
  • 8 questions were there were multiple parts to answer – either yes/no or a pull down with three options for each one

Note that not all questions have the same weight! For the checkboxes with 2-3 answers, each correct answer is worth one point; same as the radio buttons.

Why I did better than I expected

I think there were three causes

  • Testing taking strategy – I suspect some strategy on the “more than one point” questions raised my score.
  • Some questions you could answer (or at least narrow the pool of correct answers) from knowledge of other systems. For example, I know when to use a queue, webhook, etc
  • It’s not a percentage. It’s a scaled score based on factors unknown :).

Even with all of that, i’m surprised how close I got to 700.

My thoughts

I like how Microsoft did the exam. it was a fun format and the questions didn’t feel theoretical. I think they did a good job testing knowledge of the topic.

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