VCAP5-DCA Testing Strategy and Tips

This year at VMworld in San Francisco, the #vBrownBag crew was able to host a series of Lightning Tech Talks, a series of 10 minute presentations in the HangSpace Community Stage. I was lucky enough to do two of the presentations, discussing testing strategy for the VCAP5-DCD and the VCAP5-DCA. This post will outline my presentation on the DCA. All of the presentations were streamed live and recorded. They should be available soon on:

If you are interested in taking the VCAP5-DCA, there are several resources out there that will help you tackle the technical aspects of the official blueprint. A few of them are listed below, and I recommend that you go over them during your exam preparation.

First and foremost is the #vBrownBag training series. These guys support an amazing site, hosting weekly webcasts on vSphere training. They record each presentation which can be downloaded from their website or iTunes. If you haven’t gone there or attended a #vBrownBag presentation, it is well worth your time on a Wednesday evenings at 7:30 CST. You can find all of the recordings here.

Jason Langer (@jaslanger) and Josh Coen (@joshcoen) have a great study guide at:

Gregg Robertson (@GreggRobertson5) has a guide here:

Chris Wahl (@chriswahl) has a study sheet here:

And finally, my own testing experience from the VCAP4-DCA

While there are several good site outlining the content, there are not many resources out there that will help you take the exam. The VCAP-DCA is 4 hours in length. While that sounds like a long time, most people that attempt the exam do not complete it in the time allotted. With the right approach to taking the exam, you should be able to efficiently work your way through the questions and wrap up your lab with time to spare.

Let’s look at the structure of the lab and understand the way that it is organized. When you begin the exam, you will be presented with a remote session to the Exam datacenter. You will have your workstation, RDP to a vCenter server, the vSphere Client, Documentation in PDF format, and such. You will be able to access your virtual lab environment and perform any functions or operations that the exam requires. On your test workstation, you will have the Exam interface. This is where all 26 questions will be located. Each question will require you to perform some task within your lab. Don’t worry about writing down any usernames or passwords. They are shown on every desktop and easily accessible.

I mentioned that there are 26 questions on the exam. If you check the DCA blueprint carefully, there are 26 sections that you need to cover. I’m not saying that there is a question on every section… What I AM saying is that one section of the blueprint is no more important or less important than another. It is there for a reason, so my advice is to learn each section to your best ability before scheduling the exam.

When you sit down in the Testing Center, you will be given a plastic coated page and a dry erase marker. In previous exams, I have simply left them unused during the test. This time, they may be your best friend.

When the exam starts, read question 1. Take your dry erase board, and number down the left side, 1 through 26. After 1, write a brief (2-3 words) description of the task described in question 1. Select the ‘NEXT’ button and progress to question 2. Read the question and write a brief description after the 2 on your board. Repeat this process until you reach the final question. After writing the last description, move backwards through the question until you reach question 1 again. You have now outlined all of the tasks involved for your examination, and the process should take no more than 10 minutes.

Your next step should be to evaluate each task and description briefly. Based on the DCA Blueprint, there are two distinct types of tasks involved in this exam, ‘Create’ and ‘Administer’. The ‘Create’ tasks involve building or modifying your lab environment in a manner that makes it possible to perform the Admin tasks. For example, before you could evaluate or optimize the performance of an Air Conditioner, you would probably need to purchase and install the AC unit in your house.

Go down your list of questions and tasks, and mark them with a ‘C’ or an ‘A’, indicating that they are either Create or Build tasks. This should only take about 3-5 minutes at the most. When you are done with this, you are ready to start the actual testing phase of the DCA.

Here is where my recommendations are a bit different from most others out there. I recommend that you start performing the Create tasks, one by one, and skip over the Admin tasks at this time. Why would you do this? Because sometimes the tasks involve processes that run on vSphere hosts, Windows servers, or the shared storage earmarked for your test lab. Some of these processes take time to complete, and if you sit there watching a server reboot, YOU ARE WASTING TIME!!! Additionally, for you to perform ‘Admin’ tasks in your lab, there is a good chance that you will need to have a piece of your lab in place (‘Created’), in order to complete the task. Try to complete all of your ‘Create’ tasks before tackling the bulk of the ‘Admin’ ones. Remember, if the lab doesn’t exist, how can you administer or evaluate it?

The goal of this exam is to test your administrative skills in a vSphere environment. Don’t waste time watching progress bars. If you have launched a process that you know will take 3-5 minutes or longer to complete, leave that process alone and move to another question. If the next ‘Create’ task is one that is dependent on the current task, switch gears and move backward in the question stack to one of the ‘Admin’ tasks. Fill in that empty time with a useful task.

Complete the ‘Admin’ task you have selected, and return to the ‘Create’ task you left earlier. If you are finished with a task, draw a line through the task on your dry erase board to keep a running tally of what you have left and what you still need to accomplish. This is the only time that you should perform ‘Admin’ tasks until you have completed all of your ‘Create’ tasks. During your exam, you may have several of these pauses in the ‘Create’ process in which you can tackle an ‘Admin’ task. However, keep an eye on the timer in the top corner of the window. Don’t get drawn into a task if it is taking too much of your time. Move along to another task and keep working. It is better to complete 24 out of 26 tasks, skipping 2 that took too much time than it would be to only complete 14 tasks because number 15 was not working as you expected. Move along and capture as many completions as you can.

When you are done with your ‘Create’ tasks and the lab is finished, move onto the remaining ‘Admin’ tasks. One advantage to this methodology is that most of the ‘Create’ tasks build upon each other. By the end of the exam, your lab will be completely fleshed out. The ‘Admin’ tasks usually aren’t dependent upon each other. The various ‘Admin’ tasks rely on the ‘Create’ tasks, but not each other. Here is where you can make up some time, based on your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Browse through the ‘Admin’ tasks and select one that is relatively simple for you to accomplish. This may be question 22 or question 3, and it usually won’t matter which order you work on them. My advice is to get as many out of the way that you are comfortable with first, before tackling other ‘Admin’ tasks that you are not as skilled performing. If you aren’t good at scripting or CLI tasks, don’t try to do those first and waste time researching and debugging a script. Move along to a different task. If you have extra time at the end of the exam, return to that difficult task and try to complete it. If time runs out, at least you didn’t miss completing your more familiar tasks.

Hopefully this will give you an advantage when attempting the VCAP5-DCA. Sometimes it isn’t what you know or don’t know that trips you up, but how you approach the game that makes the difference. Good luck!

About timantz

I am a Solutions Architect at SimpliVity, helping people around the country with their virtualization, storage, backup and recovery projects.
This entry was posted in certification, VCAP-DCA, VCP, virtualization, vmware and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to VCAP5-DCA Testing Strategy and Tips

  1. Thanks for the advice. I test in a couple weeks and will think hard about about using this strategy.

  2. Pingback: Mi experiencia con el VCAP5-DCA | PiPo e2H - Soluciones TIC Avanzadas

  3. paulgrevink says:

    This post is very useful, thank you very much for presenting this strategy.

  4. David says:

    Thank you for writing up this strategy. It makes perfect sense.

  5. Chris says:

    This is VERY helpful, thank you for the useful tips. I test on the DCA in a month and a half, will ensure I follow this modus operandi.

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  7. Pingback: VCAP5-DCA Exam Experience « vPrimer

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  9. manuelvcap says:

    Thanks a lot @timantz, really nice strategy and good post.

  10. Pingback: Sitting my VCAP5-DCA tomorrow

  11. Pingback: VCAP5-DCA preparation material | Everything Virtual!

  12. Craig says:

    Great write up Tim, thanks for taking the time out to put together the blog post.

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  15. Pingback: Two VCAPs in Two Months | vmnick

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