Update 8/13/2012: I passed!
I took the VCAP5-DCA beta exam on 5/17/2012. At the request of the beta team, I have refrained from posting about the beta exam until the end of the beta period.
First, the basics. The blueprint listed the exam as 26 questions in 3.5 hours. There was something wrong with one of the questions – when I reached it, all it said was “This question will not be graded, please skip it.” There were only 25 questions on the exam. You get 2 ESXi hosts, vCenter, vMA, and a CLI machine with PowerCLI and vCLI. You get access to PuTTY and you have all of the PDF documentation available as well. You aren’t going to have time to dig around in the documents though – it’s good for reference if you can’t remember the correct sequence to do something, but it’s not like you can go into this thinking it’s an open book test.
There is a single password common across all of your components – Windows administrator, root, vi-admin are all the same password. Usernames and passwords are listed at the bottom of every question, so you don’t have to worry about writing it all down.
For those of you who took the VCAP4-DCA, you’ll notice that the version 5 exam has significantly fewer questions on it. It certainly didn’t feel any shorter to me. Although they reduced the number of questions, I think they added more depth to each question. I would say that the level of difficulty remained consistent – if you’ve taken version 4, version 5 will feel about the same. One big advantage over 4 is that you don’t have to mess around with ESX classic.
I found nothing unreasonable about any of the tasks I was asked to perform. The trick is the time limit. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would be able to configure 100% of what was asked, but I would need more than 3.5 hours to do it. You have to be FAST. 3.5 hours divided by 26 questions means just over 8 minutes per question. At first glance, this seems like a huge amount of time for a single question, but it’s not. The environment is unfamiliar… you don’t know the IP ranges, you don’t know the passwords, you don’t know the machine names. So you burn time going back and forth looking them up. Tick tick tick. There are multiple tasks for every question. Tick tick tick. You’re in a restricted remote desktop – as you open more and more windows, it gets more and more challenging to switch back and forth.Tick tick tick. You start an operation that will take some time to complete. Do you wait, or do you go ahead and come back later to check on it? Either way, tick tick tick.
This is a live lab exercise. Any change you make persists for the duration of the exam. This means you have the potential to introduce a misconfiguration on a question and have that mistake also cost you points on other questions. The exam builds on itself. I’m not going to use any vSphere examples because I don’t want to accidentally reveal exam content. I’ll use a Windows example instead. Question #1 might be “Create a new IIS website named MySite with the default settings”. Then question #10 might be “Create a custom error 404 page for MySite that says ‘Move along, nothing to see here'”. And question #15 “Enable MySite to use existing SSL certificate ‘MyCert’ on TCP8443. Force all browsers to use SSL when visiting MySite”.
There is no flag for review interface like the VCP exams. When you reach question 26, going back to question #1 means clicking “back” 25 times. I recommend writing the numbers 1 through 26 on your dry erase board as soon as you sit down. My strategy was to go through each question as quickly as possible. I assumed from my v4 experience that the v5 exam would build on itself; I wanted to spend the most time on groups of questions that would maximize my points. I spent almost no time puzzling through anything – I either started configuration immediately or I skipped it. Any question that I was 100% confident on, I crossed off the dry erase board. Any question I wasn’t sure on, I circled. I also wrote a small note so I knew what category the question was in. Reusing my Windows example – I got to the end of my first pass through the exam and saw that I had 4 IIS questions, 2 NTFS questions, and the rest were single topics. My best shot at the most points was to dig into IIS, so I focused on the IIS questions next. I had slightly less than 2 hours to go after my first pass.
The exam team carefully built the environment to ensure that none of your exam tasks take your environment down. Infrastructure components that you shouldn’t touch are very clearly marked. Don’t touch them unless you want an early exit on your exam.
I am confident that I correctly answered 17 out of 25 – if each question had equal weight, that means I passed with a score of 340. But of course they are not equally weighted, so there’s no good way to estimate my actual score. The beta exams have to go through the lengthy process that I detailed in this post – they could toss out some of the questions I missed and improve my score. Or they could toss out some of the questions I answered correctly and reduce my score. I don’t expect to get beta results until the beginning of August.