Recently I got Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification. In this article, I want to clarify what it covers, share some tips and recommend preparation resources. It is based on my recent experience, so feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Your most recent information about the certification you can find on the vendor site. Long story short: it requires you to pass 2 exams: AZ-303 (focused on implementing Azure solutions) and AZ-304 (focused on designing Azure solutions).
Where to start?
There is another certification: Azure Fundamentals. It requires you to pass only AZ-900. In the exam, you can validate basic knowledge about cloud technologies in general and Azure in particular. I could recommend trying to pass this exam before trying AZ-303/AZ-304 considering the following reasons:
- you can try it for free (the regular price in Ukraine $55)
- you can find your weak areas (if any)
- you will be more familiar with the certification process if it's new for you
Do you want to try AZ-900 (or another exam from the fundamental series) at no cost? Just participate in Microsoft Virtual Training Days. 5 days after participation you will be eligible to schedule your exam for free.
Structure of AZ-303 and AZ-304 exams
Usually, the exam contains ~60 questions. You will have 2h 10 min to answer them. There are 3 parts (their order is random):
- ~5 questions where you should decide if a particular solution will work for a particular problem. The tricky thing here: you cannot return back and change your answer.
- ~5 questions in case studies. It contains a description of a problem and a set of requirements for a solution. You should answer the question considering that it should fit all requirements. You can switch between the questions while you working on case studies. When you finish case studies - you can't return to it.
- ~40 random questions: some have a single answer, some multiple, some want you to select the right items and put them in the correct order. You can switch between questions during the exam.
AZ-303: How deep should I dive into Azure?
All objectives of the exam are covered in depth so you'll be ready for any question on the exam.
This quote from the exam description page might be a bit confusing. I would say you should know how each parameter used for the creation of each Azure resource (covered in the exam) affects its work.
For instance, to cover a storage account you should know:
- difference between redundancy options (LRS vs ZRS vs GRS vs ...), how many copies of data available on each option
- difference between access tiers (hot vs cold vs archive)
- how to initiate failover
- queue vs table vs blob vs file share
- page blob vs block blob
- how Azure charges for using the storage account (but not prices)
- configuring access to resources
Also, a candidate should be familiar with the purpose of various additional monitoring and security services.
AZ-303 vs AZ-304
In general, exams are similar and some questions are even duplicated in both. However, AZ-303 focused on steps for setup and configuring resources, monitoring, and data flows. AZ-304 will challenge you to choose an appropriate Azure service for specific requirements.
On AZ-303 you should expect questions like what steps are required to set up a VPN with an on-premise network. However, on AZ-304 you may be asked whether you need a VPN or ExpressRoute connection to meet specific requirements.
Next example: in AZ-303 you might be asked how to configure Azure AD B2C, but on AZ-304 you should focus on a business case when you should use Azure AD B2C.
I cannot emphasize enough how good this service is. Just visit the solution architect role page to find modules for the role. You will have the opportunity to try Azure services and practice configuring them. Microsoft Learn will provide you with sandboxes to complete some module assignments. You can create up to 10 sandboxes per 24 hours, each sandbox could live up to 4 hours.
There are 2 main books for preparation:
- Exam Ref AZ-303 Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies by Mike Pfeiffer, Derek Schauland, Nicole Stevens, Gurvinder Singh. It covers only AZ-303 skills but contains useful tips about specific topics that you require to know to pass the exam.
- Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies and Design Complete Study Guide: Exams AZ-303 and AZ-304 by Benjamin Perkins, William Panek. It covers knowledge for both exams.
Pluralsight's certification learning paths are good enough to be the main source of knowledge for exam preparation. Their videos are designed for exam preparation, so you will dive as much deep as required. Links to learning paths you can find below or easily find them on Pluralsight by typing the exam code.
If you have a premium account (or its 10 days trial) you will have the opportunity to try to practice tests at no additional charge. See the detailed description in the section below.
Practice tests are able to boost your confidence, define weak areas and understand what a real exam looks like. There are few vendors.
Mindhub - Microsoft Official Practise Tests Provider. This is the most accurate test and people often confirm that questions on a real exam are very similar. They even provide you Test-Pass guarantee. Good thing, but big price: 30 days of access to practice tests cost you the exam price. However, there are different promotions and bundles and you could find a good deal considering it will save you preparation time and boost your confidence.
If you owner of a Pluralsight premium subscription you can enjoy unlimited access to practice exams provided by Kaplan (Cyber Vista) service. If you buy these tests directly from the vendor it will cost you around $149 per exam, so a premium Pluralsight account sounds like a good deal ($29/month) (moreover you can take advantage of free 10 days trial 😉). These tests are good to evaluate your weak areas and identify gaps. However, I could say, that the real exam was a bit simpler and not focused on the details covered in these practice tests.
Many cloud architect position requires you to have a vendor certification or state that this is a big plus. This certification is a good thing when you want to ensure that know Azure well enough to make architectural decisions. I recommend you start with the AZ-900 exam (try it for free) and watch Pluralsight videos designed to cover all aspects of the exams.