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How to ace an Office 365 certification test

Hint: Know those PowerShell commands.

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Anyone hoping to gain Microsoft certification in Office 365 better know the ins and outs of provisioning, security, syncing, identities and troubleshooting for the cloud version of Microsoft's flagship productivity suite.

And be sure to know the PowerShell commands that underlie the user interface for Office 365, says Neal McFee, a technical adviser at Harvard Business School who led an Office 365 exam-prep session at TechEd North America 2014.

"You don't have to know all PowerShell commands, but a majority of them," he says. "Know the difference between the commands for Microsoft Online, SharePoint Online, interacting with Lync, interacting with users. A lot of those commands are very similar. There's a ton of PowerShell in this exam."

In the case of certification for Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements, the exam focuses on six areas: ability to provision Office 365, plan and implement security for it, manage cloud identities, use DirSync to implement and manage identities, implement and manage federated identities, and monitor and troubleshoot usage and availability.

Each area is broken down into sub-categories. So for example ability to provision Office 365 includes provisioning tenants, adding and configuring custom domains, and planning pilots.

A sample question under that category: You have to assign an Office 365 plan to users that do not require a full Office client, but do support hosted voicemail. What is the least cost plan you must assign?

In this case it is a multiple-choice question and the choices are Office 365 Medium Business, Office 365 Enterprise E1, Office 365 Enterprise E3, Office 365 Enterprise E4. The question measures a candidate's familiarity with the various features and prices of Office 365 plans, one of the areas of competence they must demonstrate. (The answer is Office Enterprise E3.)

A few other samples to give a sense of the range and type of questions:

= You are an administrator for fabrikam.com and have to prove domain ownership of your domain for Office 365. What DNS record type do you have to create? Host record (A), Text Record (TXT), Service Record (SRV), Alias Record (CNAME). Answer: Text Record (TXT).

= You need to delegate administrator rights to User 1 to reset passwords, but User 1 must not be able to reset the password for other administrators. Which administrator role must you assign? Password Admin, Delegate Admin, Billing Admin, Global Admin. Answer: Password Admin.

= You need to force a directory synchronization immediately. What command do you have to run? Start-OnlineCoexistenceSync, New-MSOLOnlineSync, Get-MSOLDirSync | SetMSOLDirSync --PullSync now, Update-OnlineCoexistenceSync. Answer: Start-OnlineCoexistenceSync.

= What port do you have to open between the Active Directory Federation Services proxies and the AD servers? 389, 88, 443, 636. Answer: 443.

= What does a white checkmark in a green circle mean in the service dashboard? Normal service, Service degradation, Service restored, Restoring service, Extended recovery. Answer: Service restored.

Microsoft certification exams have gotten tougher over the past two years in response to industry demands that the certifications reflect a high level of knowledge about the subject matter, and that includes Office 365, says McFee.

Gone are the days of all-multiple-choice tests, with the newer exams including scenario questions in which candidates are given detailed descriptions of a business network and its needs, then asked how they would use certain Microsoft products to accomplish business goals.

Exams are fashioned from a library of questions so that individuals taking the tests on the same day at the same location will likely face a different set of questions. This is done in order to prevent people from taking the exam in order to pirate questions and pass them on.

Exams typically have 40 to 60 questions with one to four hours to complete. Passing score is 700, but how to score 700 varies. It may be 28 questions right, it may be 37 questions right. There is no penalty for wrong answers so guessing is better than not answering at all.

It's OK to go back to earlier questions and change answers but not case-study answers. It's OK to change answers within a particular case study, but once it is completed there's no going back.

All the questions follow the same format. They all start with a common business problem. For example the candidate has an Office 365 subscription and plans to deploy a SharePoint solution, and that's it. Then comes the goal statement, which always starts with the same three words: "you need to" followed by details of that goal. Correct answers directly answer the need-to.

The questions are straight-forward and not designed to be tricky. There could be more than one correct answer. Don't read too much into a question trying to psyche out what the exam writers were trying to do to trick you; that's not the case. So for the PowerShell command question above, the exam wouldn't provide purposely misspelled commands as possible answers.


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