My VCAP-DCA exam experience

9/29/2011
I passed! I am VCAP-DCA #421.

I initially found the test intimidating because I didn’t think that anybody outside of a consultant could possibly gain enough experience to pass this test. I wanted to update this to let people know that you don’t have to be a consultant. I was an admin at a Fortune 500 for my first attempt, and I’d only been doing consulting for a month when I took it the second time. Build a lab, put in your study hours and you can achieve the cert!

9/13/2011
I took the VCAP-DCA exam for the second time today because I failed my first attempt by 13 points. I walked out of my first attempt feeling like I had been run over by a truck. Today, I only felt like I had been pummelled by baseball bats. It is without a doubt the most difficult test I have ever taken. I am reasonably certain that I passed – I know I got more questions right than in my first attempt.

The version 4 exam remains the only version of the DCA available and it’s not clear when version 5 will become available. The exam is 225 minutes long and consists of 100% lab questions. You sit down at a remote desktop and you have a vCenter, 1 ESX host, 1 ESXi host, a vMA appliance, and the PDF documentation. No multiple choice, no guessing – you either have the knowledge to make the requested configuration changes or you don’t.

Many others have posted good exam reviews, including David Davis and Eric Sloof.  Some of my bits of advice are:

  • I found Sean Crookston’s study guides to be immensely useful.
  • Most reviews say this, but I will say it again – there is a lot of configuration to do and very little time. I ran out of time on my first attempt. There is no interface to “review later” like you can on the VCP exams, so you have to track your questions manually. On my second try, I used the Pearson-provided dry erase board to keep track of which questions I needed to revisit. Before I started the test, I wrote the digits 1 through 40 on my board. During the test, I marked an X through the ones I was confident on, and circled the ones I needed to come back to.
  • Certain tasks run for a while. Don’t sit and wait! Mark down the question number and move on to the next question.
  • Limit yourself to no more than 3 minutes per question the first time through. That will get you to the end of the test with almost 2 hours left to go back and tackle the tougher questions.  On my first attempt, I burned over 20 minutes on an early question; bad enough to waste time, but it also made me frustrated and threw me off for a while afterward.
  • You have to spend hours in a lab or you won’t be able to pass the test. I ran my entire lab on my laptop inside of Workstation – a domain controller, vCenter, ESX and ESXi host, vMA, and Openfiler for iSCSI.  It was slow as hell when it booted up, but it worked well enough. I’d rather have some kind of dedicated whitebox, but it’s not in my budget right now.
  • The lab engine during the test makes it possible for the edge of the vSphere client to be off the screen. This could end up hiding something important, or make you think you are losing your mind because you can’t find the place to make a configuration change. If you are feeling lost, step back and check your vSphere client.
  • Spend a little time learning what information is the official PDFs. The documentation is all sitting in a folder, i.e. a bunch of files like “vsp_40_config_max.pdf” sitting in a folder. If you can’t remember how to do something, it helps to know where to look it up quickly. You don’t have enough time to open them all and search.
  • It’s 225 minutes. There is no bathroom break.
  • The Advanced Fast Track course was great, though quite expensive, preparation for the exam. Fortunately the training was employer-paid.

Hopefully I get a passing grade – nothing to do now but wait.

5 thoughts on “My VCAP-DCA exam experience

  1. You mentioned only the ESX servers and vma. What about PowerCLI? Are there explicit questions or tasks MUST be done with PowerCLI? If it is not installed, there is no point learning it, isnt it? Are there any tasks to be done over CLI or the vSphere client or is it my choice, which tool I take to complete the task?
    Another one: I have heard that vscsiStats is not installed on the ESX server. Do we needto install it during the exam?
    I guess, these questions are not subject of the disclosure to be signed…

    • Most questions are your choice, just get it done however you want as long as the end result is correct. PowerCLI is already installed on the vCenter.

      I don’t think I can answer your 2 specific questions without revealing whether or not I got a question related to them.

      • I can tell you that sometimes you’re forced into a specific method based on the wording of the question… i.e. “Perform X operation but ensure that Y doesn’t happen”. Ensuring that Y doesn’t happen means that you might use one method over another.

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