Certifications and education can be divisive topics among IT professionals. I hold the A+, Network+, and Security+ CompTIA certifications and completed a Masters degree for Management Information Systems, so I think it shows which side of the fence I fall on. I am proud of my accomplishments and use them to reflect the knowledge and experience I hold. Others might see them as a waste of time and money if people can cram and buy “brain dumps” of the exams to pass them without having the matching abilities.
I had a pretty good pace of earning my previous certifications and focused on my MS degree for a while. To get back in the groove, I wanted to attempt a Microsoft certification since a Windows (desktop or Server) certification would be relevant to my job. I feel like a lot of my efforts figuring out the operating systems from different angles (supporting, imaging, configuring, researching) would definitely help me out.
As this would be my first Microsoft certification, I wanted more formal preparation for the exam beyond my experience. I read the book Configuring Windows 8.1 Exam Ref 70-687 by Joli Ballew cover-to-cover.
The book follows the Skills Measured objectives listed for exam 70-687 as its outline and expands on each topic in more detail.
- Install and upgrade to Windows 8.1
- Configure hardware and applications
- Configure network connectivity
- Configure access to resources
- Configure remote access and mobility
- Monitor and maintain Windows clients
- Configure system and data recovery options
The exam costs $150 but offers a free “second shot” if you take the exam before May 31, 2015. I wanted to take advantage of that offer and my options for study guides was limited. Sybex has a Study Guide for 70-687, 70-688, and 70-689 that does not arrive until next month.
Continuing on with the Exam Ref 70-687, I cannot say that I was a big fan of the book. For over 300 pages, I did not feel that it covered very much content. For a number of technical topics, it gave a paragraph overview and directed you to TechNet to learn more about the new feature there. The content that was covered in the book was the basic topics that have not changed much since Windows 7 and if you have a prayer of passing the exam, you should already know that information. By including the basic content, it only buried the important topics that could have been provided in a much more organized way. Complex URLs to TechNet articles are provided through out the book. In addition to placing them with their related content, it would have been nice to have them organized into a single Exam Tip page that listed the topic and the URL. I have gone through the book and listed those links at the end of this article.
Another fault I had with the book was the existence of errors. As a study guide, you depend on its accuracy. I found a couple mistakes that no editor should have missed. There were sentences that were not concluded and one of the practice questions had 5 choices but the answer guide only provided answers for options A-D. Given the dead tree format, there is not much that can be done to update the text but the Errata section on the Microsoft Press store page for this book is empty. Meanwhile, the 70-687 has a forum thread listing errata.
I finished the book a few days before my exam was scheduled and was not really satisfied that I had studied enough. I found a free Microsoft Virtual Academy session ‘Preparing for the Windows 8.1 MCSA‘ to be very helpful in covering topics quickly. The only downside was that exam 70-688 was included in the discussion, so it wasn’t quite clear what was a pressing need for me to review. In the video, I learned that InTune and components from the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack were all fair game for the certification exam. It was also recommended to take advantage of the TechNet Virtual Labs to get hands-on experience before the exam.
All my complaints about the book aside, I did pass the exam on my first try. I will now prepare for 70-688 Supporting Windows 8.1 in order to complete the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate for Windows 8.1 certificate. Given my lack options, I have already ordered Exam Ref 70-688 Supporting Windows 8.1 (MCSA) by the same author. The price is not too bad for a reference text and while the content was a bit lacking in Exam Ref 70-687 Configuring Windows 8.1 (MCSA), it did help organize my study time.
TechNet articles for further study
Deployment Imaging Servicing and Management (DISM) http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/library/hh825258.aspx
Windows PE and USMT in Windows ADK: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh825256.aspx
Digital signatures and signed drivers http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/ff543743(v=vs.85).aspx
IE11 Group Policy settings http://technet.microsoft.com/library/dn321453.aspx
Hyper-V on Windows 8 http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/09/07/bringing-hyper-v-to-windows-8.aspx
Hyper-V on a laptop http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/185.hyper-v-how-to-run-hyper-v-on-a-laptop-en-us.aspx
Configuring Virtual Networks http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc816585(v=WS.10).aspx
Command line tools http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc754340.aspx#BKMK_a
Virtual Smart Cards http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=29076
Windows To Go http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831833.aspx#MKMK_newblue
BitLocker Drive Encryption http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd875513(v=WS.10).aspx
Disk Management options http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/aa363785(v=vs.85).aspx
Bootable USB flash drive with Windows ADK http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc766465(v=WS.10).aspx
Storage Spaces http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831739.aspx
Resource Monitor http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd883276(WS.10).aspx
Performance Monitor http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc749249.aspx
Windows RE http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh825173.aspx
Windows RE boot options http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh824896.aspx
Windows RE Troubleshooting http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh824837.aspx
Advanced Startup options http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/windows-startup-settings-including-safe-mode
PowerShell and System Restore http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh849785.aspx