VCAP5-DCA Exam prep

I took the VCAP5-DCA exam some 7 months ago, so it’s not quite so fresh in my mind as the VCAP5-DCD exam. If I’d planned things better, I’d have moved straight on to it after passing the VCAP4-DCA exam (which I passed the year before), as there was a good 70-80% overlap of content, and I’d have saved myself a significant amount of study time!

As with the DCD exam, there is no specific course requirement for the DCA exam, but you must have passed one of the VCP5 certifications (any will do, it doesn’t have to be the VCP5-DCV).

I won’t beat around the bush, the DCA exam is a real trial:- 3.5 hours long, 26 scenarios with multiple configuration and/or troubleshooting tasks on each. And believe me, 3.5 hours is not enough time!

You will get credit for what you do manage to achieve, even if you haven’t fully completed a task, so it’s worth having a go, to get partial marks, even if you’re not able to finish something.

The exam uses a real lab environment with actual hosts and VMs, not some kind of Shockwave Flash emulation. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It does behave exactly how you expect, but if you screw up the configuration (say you deleted the networking completely) then you will lose access to it, just as you would in the real world.

There are 2 main things you need to prepare for this exam

  1. The Blueprint
  2. Your own lab environment

In addition to the blueprint, study guides can help, these two were the ones I found most helpful

Plenty more are available, feel free to have a browse of them, and make your own mind up. I spent most time with the Valco Labs one, printed it out and used it as the basis for my study.

The actual study…

For me this was firstly about spending time understanding all the areas in the blueprint listed as “Knowledge”. Once those areas had started to sink in, I moved on to the actual lab practice. You need to work through all the “Skills and Abilities” entries and make sure you know how to do them, and how to do them very, very quickly.

In my view, the key to this exam is how quickly you can work. I’ve seen a number of guides on this exam suggest that you should practice the 3 ways of doing something (GUI, PowerCLI, Command-Line) until you can do them all without referring to any reference guides – I think that’s probably over the top and would take an excessive amount of time to achieve.

More practically, there are some things that can *only* be done via PowerCLI or Command-line, and you do need to practice those as in an exam, you don’t have time to be looking up syntax. For example manipulating the Path Claim rules, or configuring Auto-Deploy. Other things where there is a GUI method, I personally found it to be quicker and easier to use the GUI method, however you do still need to practice this until you know instinctively where you’re going in the GUI and can perform the task rapidly.

Ultimately, studying for this exam is about practice, practice, and more practice. I spent several hours a week for 3 months, rising to a couple of hours a day in the last 2 weeks before the exam, and pretty much all day on the last few days.

On to the exam…

Using the GUI is significantly slower than you will be used to. The labs are in the US, and you are using them via a much smaller screen size than you are likely to be used to.

VMware provide a simulation of the lab environment, which is well worth checking out, it gives you a good idea of what to expect.

Another hint I picked up was to set up advanced search on the reference materials they provide – this makes it much quicker to find something when you’re not sure which document it’s in. However you cannot afford to spend time searching for how to do things, other than the odd occasion, or you will run out of time.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the 26 “scenarios” will cover configuration tasks, and troubleshooting tasks. You may also get asked to create or amend a PowerCLI script (I don’t class that as config or troubleshooting).

Sometimes the scenarios may build on a previous one – on my VCAP4-DCA this allowed me to realise a mistake I’d made on the first one and go back and correct it.

Make sure you’re adequately hydrated before you go in, but not to the extent that you may need a toilet break – you can’t afford the time. Eat something with slow energy release before the exam, and maybe take ibuprofen if you’re likely to get a headache.

I think the key to this exam is to put in the hours practicing, especially on parts of the product that you don’t normally use – for me this is quite a large proportion as my main client only has Enterprise licencing rather than Enterprise+, and secondly about being able to work fast.

Unlike most of the VMware exams, you don’t get your results straight away, you have to wait 15 working days (my VCAP5-DCA results actually took over a month to arrive!), and you get an email with your score.

I didn’t finish either the VCAP4-DCA or the VCAP5-DCA, but scored enough marks to pass both (333 on VCAP4, and 381 on VCAP5).