Having passed AZ-900: Azure Fundamentals exam in February and finishing off an MSc final project in March, I thought I would target sitting the AZ-204: Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure exam. I normally give myself 2 to 3 months to work towards Microsoft exams, but the company I work for get exam credits and access to Microsoft's Enterprise Skills Initiative so I thought why not have a focused four weeks of study and try sitting the exam. This article details the resources I used, my previous background and my experience sitting the exam.
For full transparency, I have over 20 years experience working in software, primarily with a Microsoft .NET background and around 4 years on/off experience working with Azure. I sat my first Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exam in February 2002, a VB6 exam over 20 years ago. I sat the first .NET exam the following year, building up to Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) which I've upgraded all the way up to MCSD being retired for the newer Azure certification paths. The last exam I did to keep my MCSD certification current was the 70-532: Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions exam back in 2018. Since then I've been doing a Masters postgraduate degree in Computer Science which has just finished so I'm now getting back into the Microsoft certs.
Shortly after I passed 70-532, they split that exam down into two exams (AZ-200 and AZ-201) which were then merged back together into one exam (AZ-203) which was subsequently replaced by the current AZ-204 exam. Long story short, I passed an exam 4 years ago that largely covers the topics covered by AZ-204. Although Azure resources and services have evolved over the last 4 years the core concepts and functionality have remained the same.
Scheduling the Exam
The first thing I do when I start studying for a Microsoft exam is get it scheduled in by following the link from the AZ-204 exam page. I used to go to a local test centre to sit Microsoft exams but now I just do them proctored at home. The reason I schedule them when I start to study is it gives me a date to aim for and motivates me to consistently study in the time leading up to the exam. I can always re-schedule up to 24 hours before the exam if I really don't feel ready to sit the exam as the date gets closer.
Understand the Topics Covered
The very first thing I do is read through the skills covered by the exam from the AZ-204 exam page. This can change so it's worth keeping an eye on the page. I sat the exam on the 22nd April 2022 and, on the morning of the day I was sitting the exam, visited the page to see a notification that the exam content had been updated on the 19th April (3 days before I was sitting the exam). Fortunately the changes were quite minor on this occasion, so the resources I used weren't too far out of date.
My first port of call is alway a Udemy course. I find Udemy better for courses around Microsoft certification than Pluralsight, but there are some decent courses on Pluralsight that will help towards passing AZ-204. Another decent alternative is Whizlabs. I use Udemy though as you pay once for the courses, generally at a reduced price of between £12 to £20 and you have the course for life... if the exam changes, the authors generally update the content. I find Scott Duffy to be a reliable Udemy author so for this exam I used Scott's Udemy course for AZ-204. It took me around 2 weeks to watch the 10 hours of videos included in this course.
Microsoft Azure Facebook Group
Scott also runs an unofficial Microsoft Azure User Group Facebook group which is very active with discussions around Microsoft Azure exams. I find it useful to keep an eye on this page for discussions around the exam I'm working towards. Exam updates get discussed and people talk about topics that surprised them in the exam, as well as areas they wished they had spent more time studying. It's a good place to ask questions and get a bit of community support.
I normally use the official Microsoft books for their exams but, given I was targeting 4 weeks of study, I didn't on this occasion. Another reason is I read the book for the 70-532 exam when I did that a couple of years ago and I assume the book for AZ-204 is an updated version of that. I'd definitely recommend anybody approaching AZ-204 anew to get the official Microsoft book for the AZ-204 exam.
As part of my company's access to Microsoft's Enterprise Skills Initiative I get access to the official MeasureUp practice tests for the AZ-204 exam. I find MeasureUp to be an invaluable resource for these exams. They are good to get experience of what the actual exam will be like and gauge exam readiness, but of most value is the detail they give around why answers are right or wrong. I normally hammer practice tests and in the 3rd and 4th week I did a MeasureUp practice test almost every day, reading the detailed answers to the questions I got wrong. In that time the marks I was getting for each practice test went from about 40% to about 90%.
Whenever I had some free time around studying, I went into the Azure Portal and had a play around. Creating resources, playing around with them, wiring them up together, setting permissions them tearing them down. I normally go for the free or low cost tiers, but being a part-time student studying towards an MSc, I signed up for the free Azure credits for students which helps in terms of access to Azure resources to study. Hands on experience helps to triangulate the online courses and practice tests for me. Nothing beats clicking around the drop downs when creating a resource and seeing the different options available to help understand Azure resources and what you can do with them.
Sitting the Exam
I'd scheduled the exam to be a proctored exam which I just log into from home. My home setup is in a little room with bookshelves, monitor, printer, pens, post-it notes etc within easy reach of my office desk. The exam was scheduled for 9am, so I started at 8am clearing everything within reach out of my little office. At 8:30 I started checkin which included taking photos of the room from various angles, sharing a photo of my driving license for facial recognition identification, and then showing an employee from Microsoft around the room via a webcam to ensure I couldn't cheat. The only thing I had on my desk or within reach, other than my laptop, was a glass of water. The exam itself had 42 questions and took me around 90 minutes. I passed with a mark of 834 (passmark is 700). Whilst it isn't an exact percentage, I view this as a passmark of around 70% and my final mark being around 83%.
Topics to Focus On
Both during my studying and in the actual exam, some topics that stood out as worth getting more familiar with were:
- APIM - registering an API, along with inbound and outbound policies.
- Storage Lifecycle Tiers - hot, cool and archive, along with how the lifecycle works.
- Partitions - Cosmos DB partition keys, along with how logical and physical partitions work.
- KeyVault - keeping keys and secrets secure.
- Azure AD - how to set up a tenant, register an application and enable single sign-on.
- Managed Identities - how to set them up and set permissions to allow Azure resources to talk to each other.
I passed the exam with a score of 834 after studying for 4 weeks, mainly comprised of 2 weeks of watching Scott Duffy's Udemy course for AZ-204 followed by 2 weeks of the official MeasureUp practice tests for the AZ-204 exam. I also spent some time randomly playing around with Azure resources. I do have a background of both working with Azure and sitting Microsoft exams, which undoubtedly helped me.
If you have read this far you are probably considering sitting the AZ-204 exam yourself, so good luck and I hope some of the resources and information in this article are useful to you!