So part 1 was all about your pre-exam study prep. Part 2 nicely summarised those resources and finally this one completes the trio. While on the topic of part 2 I did close saying I'd have this post up on Tuesday. It's definitely now Wednesday (just about!) All I can say is work "happened" the last couple of days so I didn't have nearly as much time as I'd hoped in the evenings. Here we have part 3, where I aim to give you some tips, tricks and general pointers on how you could approach your VCAP6-DCV Design exam - once in the room.
As you'll hopefully know by now this exam consists of two question types - "Visio style" designs and Drag n Drop. If you haven't already you should really head over to Jordan Roth's (@jordanroth) excellent posts which offer some great insight into the types of questions you will face, how they are scored along with tips/tricks for the exam UI. I'm not going to re-hash the info from those posts so head over there first and have a read. Another great resource is Jason Grierson's (@JasonTweet7889) VirtualTiers Exam Sim. Although created for the VCAP5 this is still useful for getting a feel for the Visio style questions.
This first tip sounds really obvious but having done the exam I must stress how easy it is to miss important details. Basically - read the question. Then read it again, maybe even another once or twice. Some of the design scenarios are a little long-winded so you need to ensure you digest the information, to understand exactly what is being asked. Not all of it will be applicable so you need to be able to separate out the "wheat from the chaff" so to speak... The same is true for the drag n drop questions albeit to a lesser extent. Don't get drawn into quickly dropping objects/markers on to the answer area until you know what the question is looking for.
You have a handful of options with regard to your general approach. You can either take the questions as they are presented resulting in a random selection of design/drag n drop. Alternatively you can approach all of one type first followed by the other. I would strongly recommend this approach. It is much easier to get into a flow by breaking the exam "in two", hitting one type of question first then repeat for the other. Which you tackle first comes down to personal preference. My advice would definitely be to get the more time-consuming design questions done first. I believe the exam scoring is weighted toward these so you really want to get them done whilst you are sharpest. Additionally if you do run short of time it's better you do so when on less "significant" questions score wise.
Speaking of running out of time, I just about completed the exam with 10 minutes to spare. This was after going through my answers again once at the end. I feel given the question count and time allocated 3.5 hours is a fair amount. Not too tight that you're battling the clock and not too much that you're wondering whether you missed something. Or what to have for dinner.
The dry wipe board. Oh, and time management
The next tip relates to making smart use of the dry wipe board. As soon as I started I skipped through every question and marked each design for review. I noted the number of each design question down the left hand side, top to bottom. I noted the number for each drag n drop question across the top edge of the board left to right. This allowed me to map out how many of both types I had, so I could keep track throughout the exam. By using minimal space I had plenty of real estate to sketch designs when needed, ahead of drawing with the Visio tool. As I moved through the exam I crossed off any question I was happy with. This meant I knew exactly how much I'd done with a glance down at the desk. No clicking around the exam interface.
Any question that threw me initially I put a question mark next to, without even attempting to answer. This allowed me to maintain flow on the first pass, with a view to spending time on the more challenging questions once I knew how much was going spare. This leads me to another key point. Don't get drawn into giving too much thought to a question that unsettles you initially. Keep moving, make a mark on the board and come back to it. Maintain momentum. Spending a while trying to figure a question out will disrupt your train of thought. This also has the potential to impact your confidence level in other areas of the exam. Don't do it.
Design specific tips
So specifically considering the design questions I have a couple of tips for you. The first relates to the design requirements part of the scenario. These tend to start with a general introductory text with customer requirements embedded, followed by some specific design requirements. The latter basically provide you with guidance on exactly what you need to draw and how. As we all know a vSphere infrastructure has many facets and many possible design diagrams. You could have logical designs for compute, storage, network and the same for physical level diagrams. Equally each aspect of an infrastructure could have more specific diagram requirements relating to individual vSphere features. Without a brief on how you should draw your design the exam would be far too open to interpretation for automated marking. This is where the design requirements come in and must be rigidly followed.
The next tip is around being mindful of how you can instinctively think real world when approaching these questions. This is not real world. You have a set of requirements to follow and if you apply real world knowledge/experience to an answer (that does not need it) you can easily lose marks. For instance if the requirements don't tell you high availability/redundancy is required, don't automatically connect redundant links to your vSwitches. As architects we know that there are few (if any) real world scenarios where we wouldn't do this. In the exam however do what is required - not what you would ordinarily "just do."
The marking system cannot have tolerance for you building in real world insight that doesn't align with the "model answer.". Get your head around this and as you complete your designs, check to make sure you haven't subconsciously added bits that aren't required. I actually did this on one design and ended up starting over when I went through my final review. Whether this helped or hindered my final score I'll never know. Given I did this for all other designs however I guess it did probably help...
This negative marking thing...
So if you've read the blogs I mentioned above you'll know there is a concept of negative marking in this exam. This applies to both design and drag n drop questions so is something to 100% be aware of. Essentially if you add too many connections, objects or source/target mappings you will lose points. After discovering this I decided I'd be strict when answering questions, in terms of how certain I wanted to be when answering.
This is about having conviction as you move through the exam - if you're certain, do it - make the connection, drag n drop the source to target. If you're not at all certain, simply don't to avoid losing marks. The middle ground is where it gets a little tricky. I went with a policy of if I was 70-80% confident, go for it, add the item and move on. Thinking in this way helped ensure I had a fairly methodical approach for when I would and wouldn't add an element.
If you've ready any VCAP Design experience posts you'll probably have seen people mentioning exam UI nuances. I have to say that largely my experience was pain-free. There was one instance where I dragged an object too close the bin and removed half my design, so watch out for that! The other main glitch was when I'd moved between questions quickly and the interface locked up for a good 20-30 seconds. I momentarily wondered if I'd lose at least that answer but thankfully that didn't happen. If something like this happens to you the advice is really quite simple.... Relax and step back from the keyboard. Wait. All being well the exam environment will recover, you'll breathe a big sigh of relief before carrying on as you were...
That's about all for now, and all for this series of posts. I'm scheduled to take the Deploy exam on 21st April so will be adding to this category after that date.
Best of luck if you take the Design exam soon. If you have any more tips to share be sure to add them in the comments. As always if you have any more questions for me reach out on twitter or via LinkedIn.