Office 365 beta exams: a few thoughts

Last week I took the beta versions of the two MCSA exams for Office 365: 71-346 is Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements and 71-347 is Enabling Office 365 Services. I thought it might be useful to write up a few NDA-safe notes on the exams and the topics they cover. Keep in mind that the questions on the beta exam are there because they’re being tested; the objective domains (ODs), or areas of knowledge being tested, won’t change but the specific questions probably will as the beta identifies “bad” questions (those that everyone gets right or everyone gets wrong are immediately suspect!) The Microsoft exam development process is really complicated; to summarize, by the time the exams hit beta, the knowledge areas to be tested are set in stone but the questions themselves can be modified, or thrown out, based on beta exam feedback.

First, be forewarned that there are no formal study materials for these exams. I hear that Office 365 Admin Inside Out from MS Press is decent, but haven’t read it yet. Be prepared to do a lot of binging to look up specific things that you want to know how to do.

Second, the absolute best way to prepare for the exam is to sign up for a trial Office 365 E3/E4 tenant and make sure that you know how to do everything mentioned in the exam objectives in both PowerShell and the GUI. This is baloney, and it has been a hot topic of debate in the MVP community. IMHO there is little value in asking an examinee to show that they know how to do something in PS which is trivial to do in the GUI, especially if it’s a one-time task like setting up Azure RMS. Nonetheless, that’s the requirement.

For 346, specific things you should probably know include:

  • How to add a new tenant, from scratch. This includes choosing a region (and what effect that has), setting the domain purpose, and confirming domain ownership.
  • How to configure DNS records and firewall settings: SRV, CNAME, and MX records, what they point to, etc.
  • How to design ADFS: how to size it, when to use SQL Server instead of WID, and so on. Note that actually doing HA or DR with ADFS is not one of the topics listed in the OD, but you’ll need to know how to do it anyway. The ADFS 2.0 documentation content map is very helpful here.
  • How to administer (parts of) ADFS, including installing it (prerequisites too) on both Windows 2008 and 2012 (but not R2), controlling filtering, and managing dirsync. I have heard that there are questions in the pool that cover ADFS 3.0 but don’t know if that’s true.
  • How you’d conduct a pilot, including how to use connected accounts and mail forwarding.
  • What the different administrative roles in 365 are for and what they can do, including how to manage delegated admins.
  • How to provision / license users through the 365 Admin Center.
  • Basic account management through PowerShell: creating users, modifying their properties, licensing them, etc. Nothing too exotic; I expect most Exchange and Lync admins can do these types of things now without difficulty.
  • How to provision, enable, and administer AD RMS, a surprisingly cool technology that Brian Reid has written about at length already.
  • What the mail flow/message hygiene reports are and what you can do with them
  • How to do daily admin tasks: checking service health, using the RSS feeds, opening service tickets, etc.
  • Troubleshooting using the Remote Connectivity Analyzer and MOSDAL

347 is a little more of a mixed bag because it contains both admin-level material similar to ODs in 346 plus a smorgasbord of other stuff. The most important thing to know here: you must know how to do stuff with SharePoint Online. Out of the 53 questions on my beta exam, 12 of them (22.6%) were related to SPO.  Given that about 0.5% of my actual knowledge relates to SPO, that was a problem. I don’t use it, and I haven’t worked on the SPO-related parts of any deployments for Dell customers, so I was unprepared. Don’t be like me. Be prepared to demonstrate that you know:

  • All about Click-to-Run, including how it differs from MSI installations, how you customize what gets installed, how the installs themselves work, etc.
  • All about Office Telemetry. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Its inclusion in these exams seems a bit odd, since I suspect you’d see people running it before deploying Office 2013 on-prem too. It’s been a while since I was directly involved in the world of desktop deployment, though, so maybe everyone but me knows about them.
  • How to manage SPO site collections, including how to share and unshared them, set quotas, etc.
  • How to provision (including how to license) Excel and Visio Services
  • How to manage proxy, reply-to/default addresses, resource mailboxes, external contacts, and groups in Exchange— standard stuff for working Exchange admins.
  • How to work with archiving policies on both Exchange and Lync, including integration with Exchange 2013’s in-place hold mechanism
  • How to set up Lync settings for external access, including visibility of presence and per-user access to PIC

Again, you need to know how to do these things in both PowerShell and the GUI, despite the fact that many of the tasks in the ODs will be things you do once (or maybe quarterly, at most).

Should you take the beta exams? It depends, I guess. They cost the same as the “real” exam, and they’re subject to the same “Second Shot” MS program that grants you one retake of a failed exam. So you could sign up and take the beta now for $150, then take the real exam for free if you don’t pass. Based on the state of the exam questions I saw, and the lack of structured training materials, I don’t recommend that you rush to take the exam, though; the real version goes live on 17 February. Until then, your time would probably be better spent setting up a scratch tenant that you can play with, then running through the list of ODs to make sure that you know how to do the things on the list.

I’d be interested in hearing from people who took the exam to see how well you think the exam actually matches up with what Office 365 admins and designers need to know in the real world.

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1 Comment

Filed under Office 365, UC&C

One response to “Office 365 beta exams: a few thoughts

  1. IMHO too it isn’t worth going for until there is some preparation material available – I wondered when the news were out regarding beta exams surprising it were restricted to some region(like from India) how could someone like me take part and share the views.

    Anyway well summarized.

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