In May 2021, I took the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) exam. This is similar to Microsoft 365 Fundamentals (MS-900), i.e. it’s asking about what the technology does rather than how you use it. However, I thought this was a better exam than MS-900, i.e. it was more relevant to what you actually need to know for a job, and it’s not just acting as a marketing brochure. This isn’t a formal prerequisite for any other Azure exams (e.g. at associate level), but it seems like a good place to start.
This is also a good exam if you’re on a budget: the training and the exam itself were free of charge! More precisely, I attended a Microsoft Azure virtual training day. The name is a slight misnomer: it was 2½ hours on 2 consecutive days. That training isn’t enough to prepare you for the exam on its own, but it’s useful as a high level overview. When I booked the exam, I entered the email address that I used to book the virtual training day, then that address was linked to my Microsoft certification account, and I was credited with a voucher for the full cost of the exam. I did the exam at home (via online proctoring); I’m not sure whether the voucher is also valid if you attend a Pearson Vue test centre.
More generally, it’s worth getting a free email account from Microsoft (e.g. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), then using that to log into the Microsoft website for training etc. If you log in with an account that’s part of a federated domain (e.g. a domain that has a trust relationship with Azure AD for Exchange Online), you can’t create sandboxes. You can still get email notifications sent to a different account (which can be on a federated domain), so the free email account can just be used as a set of credentials. If you’ve been using a different email address in the past, you can create a free account, link it to your profile, then remove the old address.
My primary resource was the Microsoft website. If you scroll down the exam page, there are currently 3 learning paths:
- Microsoft Azure Fundamentals: Describe cloud concepts
(52m, 3 modules)
- Azure Fundamentals: Describe Azure architecture and services
(3h 23m, 4 modules)
- Azure Fundamentals: Describe Azure management and governance
(1h 50m, 4 modules)
In total, that’s 6h 05m for 11 modules. Each module has several units, and each unit (a single web page) is typically just a few minutes long. So, you might think that you can do the entire course in a single day. However, I don’t recommend that.
Firstly, you need to consider how much information you’ll actually retain. In other words, if you go back to this a few days later, will you actually remember what you learned?
Secondly, these times are only a rough estimate. In particular, units often include links to other Microsoft web pages that go into more detail. You don’t have to follow those links, but you might find them useful, particularly if you’re actually going to be using this technology in your job. For instance, consider this unit:
Host your Azure virtual machines on dedicated physical servers by using Azure Dedicated Host
At the top of the page, this unit is labelled as “2 minutes”. However, it links to this page:
Azure Dedicated Host – Private Cloud | Microsoft Azure
The linked page has 2 embedded videos (19 mins and 17 mins), so watching both of them would take longer than the allocated time for the entire module that this unit belongs to!
On a side note, be aware that Microsoft update the syllabus and the training material every so often. E.g. in 2019, there were 12 modules, adding up to 9h 32m. In 2021, there were 20 modules, adding up to 10h 15m. (The unit I mentioned above comes from one of the 2021 modules.)
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of writing, but it might be a bit out of date if you’re reading it later.
Related to that, even when the training material is updated, it might not quite match the live environment. For instance, compare and contrast these 2 statements:
- “RBAC uses an allow model. When you’re assigned a role, RBAC allows you to perform certain actions, such as read, write, or delete.”
Control access to cloud resources by using Azure role-based access control (Azure RBAC) – Learn | Microsoft Docs
(Syllabus updated 2020-11-09)
- “Previously, Azure RBAC was an allow-only model with no deny, but now Azure RBAC supports deny assignments in a limited way.”
What is Azure role-based access control (Azure RBAC)? | Microsoft Docs
(Page updated 2022-08-21)
In theory, that means you could get caught out, e.g. if the exam asks “Does RBAC support deny assignments?” then it’s presumably based on the training material rather than the current status. However, my advice is don’t worry about that: just choose the answers that you know to be true, rather than second-guessing the examiner. You don’t need to get 100% to pass, and there’s no shame in dropping a few marks on ambiguous questions.
It’s always worth downloading the exam skills outline when you prepare for any exam. This document lists the skills that the exam is intended to measure. In this case, you should read through that when you’ve finished all the learning paths, and pay particular attention to any concepts that you don’t feel confident about. For instance, one of the bullet points is:
“Describe virtual networking, including the purpose of Azure Virtual Networks, Azure virtual subnets, peering, Azure DNS, Azure VPN Gateway, and Azure ExpressRoute”
If you don’t know what ExpressRoute is, go back and re-do the relevant module.
As a rough guide, I think that doing 1 module per day is a reasonable goal. (Obviously this will depend on your personal commitments, i.e. how much study time you have available.) If you can do that, it will take you 11 days to prepare for the exam. Personally, I did 20 modules in 2 weeks (studying in the evening and at weekends), but I’d also been using Azure for about a year at that point, so some of the content was quite familiar to me already.
I don’t think you need any hands on experience with Azure before you do the fundamentals exam, as long as you do the sandbox exercises. However, it will help.
Each learning path and module has its own prerequisites. However, at the time of writing they all have the same entry:
- Basic familiarity with IT terms and concepts
If these prerequisites change, and you don’t feel confident about them, you might need to allow extra time to read up on them. (Remember that you can reschedule your exam up until 24 hours before it’s due to start.) As a general tip, I recommend doing CompTIA Network+ (or at least being familiar with that syllabus) before you try this exam, e.g. so that you know about BGP (Border Gateway Protocol). In my case, I’d also done the CCNA, but that would be overkill (and mostly irrelevant) for this!
When I did the virtual training day and we got to module 4 (“Azure Security and Network Security”), the instructor emphasised that this was just the tip of the iceberg, e.g. AZ-500 (Microsoft Certified: Azure Security Engineer Associate) spends an entire week on that topic!
So, the general point here is that you don’t need to be an expert on all these topics: this exam is about breadth of knowledge rather than depth.
When I actually took the exam, the introduction said that the questions would be grouped into sections, and I’d only be able to review each section in isolation. However, I had all my questions in one big group. Maybe that’s a general warning that only applies to some exams?
According to the website, there will be 40-60 questions in 85 minutes. I had 42 questions, but that might not be the same for other people, e.g. the exam might choose randomly between 1 long question and 5 short questions. I didn’t have any problems with the timings: it took me about 15 minutes to do my first pass, 5 minutes to have another look at the questions I’d flagged for review, and another 10-15 minutes to do a third pass through all the questions. It’s not a race, so some people might do it in a longer or shorter time. The important point is that if you’ve prepared for it properly then you shouldn’t need to worry about running out of time. With a lot of questions, I found that I knew the answer instantly, so I wasn’t having to sit there wracking my brains.
Since all the questions are multiple choice, I got my result as soon as I clicked the button to end the exam. I passed, and I got email confirmation from Microsoft about 30 minutes later (along with a Credly badge).