An MCT’s perspective on taking a Microsoft Fundamentals Exam (FAQ’s)

If you are about to take a Microsoft Fundamentals exam, or are thinking of taking one in the future, it is perfectly natural to ask questions pertaining to that exam such as ‘What is a Microsoft Fundamentals exam actually like?’ ‘How many questions are there?’ ‘What can I do to prepare to give myself the best opportunity to pass?’ Having taught both the Azure (AZ-900TO1A) and Microsoft 365 (MS-900TO1A) courses several times this year across the UK and Ireland, it may come as little surprise that I get these questions a lot. I am always happy to answer them. I am a firm believer that if we can understand these exams and what we are facing, we are better prepared to go in and give our best performance without any surprises which may negatively impact the end result. This is a collection of FAQ’s from those deliveries which I hope can help you go on to achieve the result you need

For exam prep guides on the Fundamentals exams see

Azure Fundamentals: here
Microsoft 365 Fundamentals: here
Dynamics 365 Fundamentals: here

Q. Are Fundamentals necessary before Associate and Expert level exams?
A. Fundamentals are optional exams and are not prerequisites for any other associate or expert level exam. They are designed for candidates looking to demonstrate foundational knowledge on the considerations and benefits of adopting cloud services in general. In other words, they are ideal for high level commercial, presales and technicians beginning or re-orientating their career. They can even benefit experienced technicians in terms of consolidating their knowledge and as a refresher. Consider that Microsoft are making it mandatory for all staff to have the fundamentals certs as a minimum certification requirement – so they are very much a benchmark for anyone working or looking to work in these areas

Q. How long are Fundamentals Exams?
A. They are 60 minutes long. This contrasts against the associate or expert level exams which typically take 150 minutes. When booking a fundamentals exam you may see that it says 85 – 90 minutes – but the first 25 – 30 are actually allotted to the acceptance of the terms and starting the exam itself. I personally made this mistake when I took my first one – Cloud Fundamentals (98-369) – last year

Q. How many questions are there?
A. Fundamentals typically range between 35 and 55 – feedback from candidates I have taught this year has shown most get around 44. The least amount of questions which I have heard of has been 30 in a window where Microsoft were doing initial changes to the question pool for Microsoft 365. The highest was 63 when the exams were introduced at the start of 2019 (when I did them). I haven’t heard of them being this high since that time – 63 in 60 minutes is going some

Q. Are the questions any simpler with this being a Fundamentals exam?
A. It’s well known to those who take Microsoft exams that the main challenge with Fundamentals is time considering they are much shorter than associate and expert so its very much a case of thinking fast – but also the questions themselves are not in any way simpler just because they are foundation level. This is frequently attested by those who have taken associate and expert exams in the past – the exams are just as challenging and its fair to say they prepare you well for what associate exams will be like in the future

Q. What type of questions will I encounter?
A. The exam formats and question types are listed here. As opposed to associate and expert level exams, you should not expect to encounter case studies or labs at this level (unless Microsoft suddenly change the format and introduce these). Latest feedback is that Fundamentals exams may include an initial section (4-5 questions) where you must answer once and once only without being able to return or review. Once this section is completed you then go into the general questions (the large part of the exam) where questions can be set to review in order to return to them

Q. Do any questions involve Powershell?
A. Whilst understanding what Powershell is and what Powershell does is part of both Azure and Microsoft 365 Fundamentals, I have never met anyone who has needed to complete Powershell script for a question within a Fundamentals exam. That doesn’t rule it out as I don’t design the exams or have knowledge of the question pool – but I would say its very very unlikely at this level. You do absolutely need to know Powershell and scripting for associate and can expect it at that level.

Q. Do the questions ever change?
A. Microsoft expand the question pool and remove questions from time to time. This is roughly every 3 months to keep pace with new adds and deprecated features. From my understanding, the pool does get generally larger over time. Since the questions are from a pool then you are likely to experience a question or set of questions again if you taking the exam a second time if you have failed the first. I would always recommend trying to remember the questions if you are struggling and fail so as to specifically target those subjects after before a second attempt

Q. What is the pass mark of a Fundamentals exam?
A. As with all Microsoft exam’s – 700/1000

Q. Does that mean it is 70% to pass?
A. No, questions are weighted which means that 70% does not equal 700/1000. Microsoft always aim to be very clear on this point and does not disclose how they work it out – and they state that it is different between different exams. A good rule of thumb is to aim to answer 80% of questions correctly, no matter what those questions are, and you should be there or there abouts. Just looking at the type of questions you get in Microsoft exams then questions with multiple parts (I.e. three statement yes/no questions) would likely carry more weight than a simple multiple choice question with a single answer.

Q. Is there a good strategy for doing Fundamentals exams?
A. A tried and tested method for doing Fundamentals exams is to approach it as a series of runs/passes when you get to the general section where you can review questions (where you can set review and come back to them). First run is to answer as many on the spot as possible, and if you don’t know the answer instantly, or the question seems unwieldy or long then set review on the question and return to it. Let’s call this the initial run. The goal is to answer roughly 50% of the questions in about 10 – 15 minutes leaving 45 minutes or so to answer the other 50%. The second run is to dig into the remainder in more detail with less time pressure for about another 20 minutes and then get that down to about 25% of questions remaining with about 25 minutes remaining. The third run is looking at the questions not in terms of what the answer specifically is but what it can’t be on the basis of elimination. This, and having memory jogs from other questions should get you down to about 10% of questions remaining with 10 minutes to go. The fourth and final pass is a Hail Mary pass which is to try and either infer what it is, or worst case guesstimate. There are, of course other strategies out there but this seems to work out in the majority of cases

Q. Will I know the result immediately?
A. Yes, you should find out instantly upon completion of the exam

Q. What happens if I fail? Can I retake?
A. The retake policy is here. First retake is permitted 24 hours and then subsequent retakes are every seven days (as opposed to 14 days for the associate and expert exams). A candidate can fail five times and if they fail the fifth they cannot take it again for another 12 months until the anniversary of that fifth failure

Q. What is the pass rate of Fundamentals exams?
A. Microsoft does not currently present data for the pass rate of its exams. From personal experience, with ILT, the first time pass rate is roughly 70% for a fundamentals exam with a suitable period of revision between the course and the exam and given good preparation. The second time pass rate is about 90% – again, assuming a suitable period of revision and good preparation. Of course, a lot of this is also dependent upon the commitment of the candidate and their familiarity with the content and so the guidelines above should be used with caution

Q. Does Microsoft give you any advice if I fail?
A. Microsoft does highlight three areas of improvement on the score report if you fail the exam. However, feedback is that these are often vague. The best advice I can give here is  to identify which sections of the study area they are in and read around these areas (I.e. MS-Learn, docs.com), or – if you have one – contact your ILT instructor who may be able to guide you as to the specific areas of the content to target

Q. Does failure mean I am not as good a technician as others who passed first time?
A. Absolutely not. Exams are abstractions of real life and do not reflect your full potential or capabilities in exactly the same way a driving test is not ultimately reflective of driving in real life. It is, of course, important to pass exams to be certified and to validate your knowledge on the subject, but failures do happen and its important to understand a.) It happens to all of us and b.) That there are many reasons for failure – part of the learning may not be close to what your job is, there could be technical issues setting up, you may not have done an exam for a long time or you may have time challenges for study. Failure is as much a learning experience as passing and can be just as valuable in terms of highlighting gaps in our knowledge or things you haven’t done, which are then opportunities to adjust, then go on to pass

Q. I haven’t done an exam in a long time. Is there a practice test? 
A. Official practice tests for the Fundamentals exams, if they exist, are on Mindhub so if you want experience of what the exam is like, then you can purchase and take them in the comfort of your own home or office without any stress. However, the official practice exams are roughly the same cost as the exam itself, and in consideration you can take a Fundamentals exam 24 hours later if you fail the first time, there is a school of thinking that to save money its easier to just take the exam and repeat as opposed to getting a practice test. On the point of not doing exams in a long time, the best way to normalize this is to sit exams even if the first one ends in failure. I went nine and a half years without doing exams and am actually doing a talk on this at Microsoft Inspire. Exams are not life and death situations – and neither should they be perceived as such

Q. Anything else available to help me to prepare for a Fundamentals exam? 
A. As well as the official practice tests and Instructor Led Training (ILT) courses such as MS-900TO1A, AZ-900TO1A and MB-900TO1A, Microsoft provide short-form online fundamentals courses on MS Learn. Docs.com is another source of authority. There is Pluralsight and Udemy which – for a subscription price – offer online training. Open EDX is another option. The final recommended sources are blogs such as mine which are the links at the start of this article; Vlad Catrinescu’s blog series is another example.

Q. Is ILT worth it in consideration that I can get a lot of this online? 
A. Absolutely. With a good trainer – one held in high regard – ILT is generally perceived by those who actually attend it as a better experience given the experience of the trainer, their ability to answer questions and clarify the material. There is often less distraction and it is, after all, dedicated time for your learning. A proportion of people will always choose online learning over ILT, but a good trainer will understand that not everyone will need guidance and many can go on to self-manage their training and certification without their input

Q. What is the optimal time to take a Fundamentals exam?
A. This depends whether you decide to self study or use ILT. In terms of self study then I would recommend setting aside about 6-8 weeks all up using Microsoft Learn, Docs.com and anything else such as Blogs and video (I.e. Pluralsight, Udemy). If you are taking ILT, then I would recommend 1-3 weeks from the actual course otherwise the impact of the course tends to dissipate and a refresher may be required. I have known students who have booked exams immediately after ILT courses and I would only recommend this if you are doing ILT at the end of a period of self study.

Q. How can I get hands on with the content from a Fundamentals course?
A. Whilst Fundamentals courses are predominantly lecture and theory based, there is ways to get environments to get hands on – and this is always recommended. For Microsoft 365, if you are a Microsoft Partner, then simply go to demos.microsoft.com and spin up a 12 month demo environment of E5. The alternative is a free trial. For Azure, you can get this through an MSDN subscription if you or your company have access to one or a free trial which includes 30 days and $200 worth of services. Dynamics 365 is also available on demos.microsoft.com, or you can go down the free trial route

Q. I want to book today. How can I take a Fundamentals exam?
A. You book through the exam page (for example here for MS-900). Generally speaking there are two ways to take it – in a Pearson Vue test centre, or proctored in your home or office. If you take the exam proctored you will need to download the Pearson Vue app from the Pearson site linked to your Microsoft Certification Dashboard (created when you book your first ever Microsoft Exam) and enter the code issued from the Pearson site at the time of the exam into the app itself which initiates a wizard. Now, I am completely on the fence with regards to what is the best way to take it. For me, I think taking exams are highly individualistic – each candidate must take it how they feel in order to give them the best chance to succeed. I, for example, dress down for exams because I don’t like to feel uncomfortable or restricted when taking them

Q. Are there any recommendations for taking a proctored exam?
A. Absolutely. Wherever you do your exam ensure there is good connectivity, that you can clear the system checks (I.e. there isn’t a proxy or firewall restrictions preventing the Pearson App from connecting) and that all system updates (I.e. windows updates) are performed or off so they don’t reboot your machine during the exam. Ensure that no one enters the room or that the door is locked otherwise that will be an automatic fail. Ensure that you don’t have anything running on your machine otherwise that will be an automatic fail. If you are in an office or home where you can’t guarantee privacy or preparation look to book this in a test centre or stay overnight in a hotel where no one will enter your room. The last one sounds obvious, but ensure that you are well hydrated, have eaten about an hour before, have had a reasonable amount of sleep and have been to the toilet before sitting the exam otherwise these all may impact your ability on the day

Q. Can the exam go wrong?
A. I have been through a few exam instances where they have gone wrong. One time was when I was doing a proctored exam off of a mobile hot spot and connectivity cut out freezing the exam. Another was, again, proctored where a Windows update was pushed out and restarted my machine, effectively ending the exam. Pearson Vue will reach out in the case something goes technically wrong, however it may be a case they cannot restart it, or won’t if you have infringed the terms. This is a reason some people prefer test centres and why I make the recommendation on being hot on technical checks prior to going into the exam