Two weeks ago I took and passed my first VCAP-DCA Exam (VDCA550), it was a great experience and fun exam for sure, a lot more gratifying in my opinion compared to other tests. I admit prior to taking it, I was under some pressure and anxiety, after all this is a great deal for me and I bet for many VMware guys, but if you prepare well, study and practice the right material, there is nothing to fear and it can be the most exciting exam you take; it was for me.
I prepared for almost 2 months for this goal, reading the official Cert Guide book, highlighted all subjects I felt weak on, (ohh claimrules), listened to Jason Nash’s VCAP Advanced training from Pluralsight while commuting, during work breaks and at every chance I could. As the exam date got closer I emphasized in reviewing in detail the features I was weak with, things I never used before in the real world or all the new stuff on 5.5. I also took advantage of the Test Track lab, this was huge to get a sense of what the exam was like. Thanks to Joshua Andrews for making this available.
If you’ve read posts from other takers, you know the number one suggestion is to be aware and manage your time carefully during the test, very important you get a shot at every one of the 23 or 26 labs in the exam depending what version you’re taking.
I will summarize some tips I consider significant based on my experience and what I've gathered while preparing, some are cited by many bloggers, but some others I think are not talked about enough. In no particular order I’d suggest:
Mike Preston’s (@mwpreston) “8 Weeks of VCAP” was very helpful to me as well. Great work by Mike on very specific subjects.
VCAP5-DCA Command Line Study Notes by Shane Williford - This is I think all possible commands for the material of the book.
Joshua Andrews’ Test Track (@SOSTech_WP) is a valuable resource as it allows you to use a live lab with 16 real world scenarios during 4 hours; some of the scenarios include a script that grades your completed task.
Be familiar with the official documentation you’re provided access to during the exam. I know of 22 PDF Guides, DM at @J_Kolkes if you want a zip of them all. In relation to these PDF files, I thought of and found out prior to the exam how to search multiple PDF files at once; this can be very useful if you have a good sense of what you’re looking for but aren’t sure the specific guide to find it in. What you do is simply press Shift+Ctrl+F on the pdf reader, then select the folder that includes all of the files you want to search. Try it and get familiar with this option, it’s simple and can save you a lot of time.
Practice, practice, practice. Remember that on this particular exam is not how you do things as long as you get them done right, either from command line, C# Client, Web Client or PowerCLI. Be familiar with different methods but at the end of the day do it the way you feel most comfortable.
Recommendations during the exam
Use the note taking pad provided to list the number of questions 23/26 so you can mark completed items and the ones you have to go back and review.
Manage time wisely: 3 or 3.5 hours may seem as a long time but not when you have to carefully read and understand what the lab is asking you to do. If you are not completely sure how to perform the tasks or how to figure it out quickly, skip it and mark it in your pad to review later; it’s better to have a chance at all labs than to waste valuable time on a specific question causing you trouble.
Do Not, I repeat, Do Not open multiple windows at once on the RDP session you perform the tasks on. I thought it was a good idea to have putty sessions to hosts, vMA, Web Client, C# client connections opened for quick access… Wrong, it made the whole thing super slow and frustrating; it reminded me of internet browsing in the early 90’s. I’m not kidding, the refresh rate was long seconds. I hope VMware resolves that issue for future takers, I’m sure they are aware of it.
After completing each lab, confirm your changes and make sure things took effect, don’t assume, verify.
Remember the Shift+Ctrl+F combination to search all .pdf documents at once. It saved me time when I needed one of those difficult to remember Advanced Settings Keys.
Best of luck if you’re preparing for this exam. If I could accomplish it, you sure can too.