Passing the Azure 70-535 Exam

As featured in the Mind Over Machines company blog

Prior to 70-535: Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions, I’d never taken a Microsoft Certification exam, nor did I have much experience with Azure. I was definitely out of my wheelhouse. Then I had a senior architect, who works in Azure daily, tell me it took him three tries to pass. Not the most encouraging pep talk.So how did an admitted Azure novice pass on the first go-around? I think it’s because the exam is looking for a wide and general understanding of Azure solutions, rather than a deep knowledge about or ability to implement those solutions.Because this exam can fool the seasoned developer and pass the novice, I’ve outlined my study strategy and flagged some pitfalls to watch out for when attempting to conquer 70-535.

Here is a link to a comprehensive list of items to focus on.

How to study

Since the exam requires breadth over depth, I would get a textbook and start creating flashcards of all the concepts.  If you’re unfamiliar with something, open up the Azure Portal and follow a tutorial online.  Microservices and Azure Service Fabric were particularly new for me hence I built a few Hello World APIs in Visual Studio and deployed them using the given tools until I understood the concepts.

Beyond knowing what the technology does, it’s equally important to know what it does NOT do.  Many Azure tools offer similar services hence it’s key to know which solution is best in a given scenario.  Therefore, knowing Queue Storage is a cost-effective queue tool isn’t enough.  You need to know it doesn’t store data following the first in first out (FIFO) rule and has a 64kb limit.  You don’t need to open the Azure Portal and tinker with it if you understand its purpose.

This exam is trying to pass those who can walk into a client meeting and recommend the proper Azure solution, regardless of if they can actually implement it.

They’ll ask you to demonstrate your understanding by prompting a client scenario where they want a queue tool to store Tweets and it doesn’t matter the message order.  The other option they may give is Azure Service Bus, which does offer FIFO and messages > 64kb, but it would be overkill for storing Tweets especially when order doesn’t matter and even worse if price is a factor.

How they quiz you

Unfortunately, most prep material gives you simple questions like “How many update domains do you get by default in an availability set?” whereas the actual exam gives you verbose real-world scenarios.  Some questions feel like a page long narrative:

Contoso currently has 3 applications  on-premise that listen for triggers based on X while continually sending data to Y, and they would like to migrate them to Azure.  However, their databases need to remain on-premise and their applications need to go to the cloud because of blah blah blah.  The businesses users have this giant list of expectations while the developers want yadda yadda yadda.

After reading a bunch of fluff they ask you an ambiguous question like, “Would Events Hub be an appropriate solution for Contoso?”.  You would have to know the Events Hub is for receiving data and not sending it, therefore the ideal solution is the IoT Hub.  

Thankfully since I used flashcards and knew the purposes and limitations of each technology, it was easy to eliminate certain answer choices.

How NOT to study

I never took the exam’s predecessor 70-534 but some tutorials like ACloud Guru seemed to cut corners on their 535 material by taking their existing 534 material and appending 535 items.  The focus of 534 seemed to be infrastructure related, which I did not see on the exam.  Concepts like setting up VMs, networks, load balancers, gateways, or availability sets had at best one question.  All my efforts into understanding these concepts did not help me.  If you’re pressed for time, I’d focus on studying the purpose and limitation of each Azure service as indicated in the Word doc and not stress the networking concepts.  I hear 70-532 requires implementational understanding of these infrastructure solutions so your efforts will be rewarded eventually.

Go for it!

It took me 3 weeks of daily cramming to feel prepared for an exam in a technology I rarely work in, so you can definitely pass it.  I’d suggest the replay option so if you bomb the first time, you get a second chance. My score was 734 (minimal passing is 700), which I consider a triumph because the closer you get to a perfect score, the more you’ve failed in other ways – such as saving your free time 😉