Updating Microsoft Certifications: How we keep them relevant

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

Microsoft is committed to reviewing certifications regularly to help ensure that they remain relevant and technically accurate and that they’re assessing the skills need to thrive in a cloud-based world. Our reviews help ensure that we’re evaluating the right skills for a given job role—and only what needs to be evaluated for that particular role. This is important to understand because we cannot assess everything that’s required for success, so we have to prioritize (although that’s not to say that Microsoft won’t create training for those additional skills). In other words, the learning associated with a given job role is more comprehensive than what we can measure on the exam.

 

Here’s how it works…Microsoft reviews the objective domain every two months for our role-based and specialty exams to make sure they stay up to date and relevant. This review typically takes the form of revising, removing, and, occasionally, adding objectives. In addition, every year, we’re committed to reviewing the job task analysis (JTA)—the basis of the certification. (As you can see with all of these reviews, we’re serious about trying to maintain the relevance, integrity, and value of our certifications!)

 

As some of you might know, the JTA is the process through which we define the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are critical to success in a job role. The JTA is the foundation for each of our role-based and specialty certifications and for the learning content and hands-on experiences that we build so you can practice your skills.

 

Often the changes in these JTA reviews (we refer to them as refreshes) are small, reflecting what I like to call evolutions of the job role—small updates that accumulate over time to become something bigger—but these are baby steps that don’t affect someone’s ability to pass the exam. With small changes like these, we’ll update the exam through an in-service update. This means that the update is seamlessly integrated in one of our regularly scheduled exam updates that happen every two months. To support your exam preparation, we provide the details of these updates on our exam details pages, with a marked-up version of the objective domain. This allows you to clearly see what’s changing and when those changes go into effect. Because we cannot proactively notify test takers of impending changes (privacy rules affect our ability to contact you), you need to be proactive about regularly checking the exam details pages to understand when updates are being made. We post these updates at least 30 days in advance of the date when they’ll appear on the exam.   

 

Occasionally, those changes are bigger, reflecting what I like to call a revolution in the job role. When this happens, there are several possible outcomes. Let’s talk about each of them.

 

New exams with new exam numbers

As long as the job role is still relevant and important in the industry, when the JTA reveals a significant change, we’ll create a new exam for that job role—and it will have a new exam number. This alerts the test taker that the exam has changed quite a bit and lets them know exactly what will be covered on the exam that they choose. New exams with new numbers are needed when more than one-third of the exam content has changed, meaning that the changes could affect someone’s ability to pass the exam if they didn’t realize that the exam had been updated. In other words, we change the exam number because it is the most effective way to communicate to you as a test taker that the exam content has changed significantly—so you can prepare accordingly.

 

Because it’s a new exam, it’s first available as a beta exam. This gives you the choice to continue preparing to take the “original” version of the exam or to take the new exam that aligns to the revised job role. The choice is yours, and we always keep the old exam in market for 90 days after the new exam is launched. This gives you time to transition to the new exam. If you’ve been preparing for the current version of the exam, you can still take it during this transition period if you want; however, that version will retire at the end of the 90-day window—no extensions and no exceptions, so plan accordingly. If you have to retake the exam, it might no longer be available.

 

Splitting or consolidating exams

Depending on the nature of the changes made during the JTA refresh, we might also decide to split an exam into two—or we might decide to consolidate two exams into one. We split an exam when the job role has expanded to such an extent that we can no longer cover the core skills and abilities in a single four-hour exam (our maximum seat time). We do everything we can to keep the certification paths straightforward, with a single exam. But, at times, it’s just not possible to do this and still provide a valid and reliable measurement of the required skills.

 

On the flip side, we might decide that requiring multiple exams to earn a certification is overly burdensome, doesn’t reflect market expectations, or is simply no longer needed because we can design the exam in such a way that if someone demonstrates competence in one area, we can assume competence in other areas (for example, measuring a more difficult or complex skill and assuming that the test taker has the foundational knowledge or skills needed to perform that more complex task). We rarely consolidate exams as a result of a contracted job role; it’s usually because we’ve learned something about the role that allows us to reimagine the assessment process with fewer exams.

 

Note that in both the consolidation or splitting of exams, new exams with new numbers will be created and will go through the beta exam process we described earlier.

 

Renaming certifications and/or exams

In rare cases, the JTA refresh might indicate that the name of the job role has changed or that we need to modify how we’re referring to it in some meaningful way. This means that we need to change the name of the certification and, usually, by extension, the name of the exam. The new name will reflect our vision for the job role and the required skills based on industry and subject matter expertise input. As an example, we renamed the Azure DevOps Engineer certification to DevOps Engineer to better reflect the future direction of that job role and to remove the confusion that this certification was based on Azure DevOps (the product) rather than on DevOps Engineer (the job role).

 

Name changes are generally transparent to candidates. If you’ve already earned the certification and its name changes, the new name will be reflected on your transcript. Rarely does this result in an exam number change.

 

Retiring certifications

With the rapid pace of change in cloud-based job roles, it shouldn’t be surprising that some job roles become less relevant over time or that this happens more quickly than it did in the past. Although these decisions sometimes result from the JTA refresh process, we often learn of the possible need to reimagine a certification in completely different way before the annual JTA refresh is due. In those cases, we’ll work with internal and external subject matter experts to decide what to do about the existing certification. If the job role as we originally imagined it no longer makes sense, given the direction the industry is headed, we’ll retire the certification. In most cases, we’ll replace it with a job role certification that’s more relevant and valuable to you, our partners, and organizations as they continue on their digital transformation journeys. This is what happened when we retired Teamwork Administrator and replaced it with Teams Administrator.

 

When we choose to retire a certification, we’ll provide at least 90 days’ notice so that you can complete the certification requirements if you so choose. But keep in mind that after the exams retire, you won’t be able to take them, so make sure you pass all the certification requirements before that date. In addition, you won’t be able to renew that certification—meaning that you won’t be able to extend the expiration date on your transcript beyond the date that it expires by default after earning it.

 

Answers to some of your questions

Based on my experience with certification and exam changes, I have an idea of some of the questions you’re likely to have. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions, along with their answers.

 

Does the name of the certification change when you change an exam number?

  1. Typically, the name of the associated certification doesn’t change when we release a new exam with a different number. Regardless of whether you earned it with the old or new exam, you’ll have the same certification, but the skills that appear on your badge will reflect those that were part of the exam(s) you took to earn it.

 

I’ve noticed that you released a new exam for the job role, but I’ve been studying for the current version of the exam for that job role. What should I do—continue on this path or start on the new one?

  1. Truly, this is up to you. You need to do what makes sense for your certification journey. You’ll eventually be tested on the new skills as part of our certification renewal requirements, even if you choose to take the old version now. The key consideration is whether you want to be validated on skills that Microsoft believes are more closely aligned to the job role today or to continue as you’ve planned and to update your skills through our recertification process and your own learning journey after you earn the certification with the version of the exam in market today. We offer sufficient notice of these changes so you can make the decision that best fits your journey.

 

If you choose to take the current version of the exam, check its retirement date and plan your exam accordingly. Note that after the exam is retired, you won’t be able to retake it if you fail your attempt.

 

When you make changes to an exam, will the self-paced learning content and instructor-led training be updated at the same time?

  1. Yes. We’re committed to having the self-paced learning content updated within seven days of the release of the updated exam, and the instructor-led training will be updated within 30 days. If you’re planning to take an instructor-led training course, please make sure that the provided learning is for the version of the exam that you want to take. Some partners will continue to offer the training associated with the old version of the exam until the exam retires, some learning partners will provide both versions, and some will transition immediately to the new version. Be sure to confirm with the partner that’s delivering the training, so you get the training you need.

 

What’s a beta exam?

  1. Exam questions are pilot tested in an exam-like situation known as a beta exam. This helps to ensure that only the best content is included in the live exam. Through this process, Microsoft gathers psychometric data on the quality of the questions. Based on this data and on candidate comments, we work with subject matter experts to finalize the items that will be scored and that will appear on the live exam and we set the cut score. For this reason, if candidates take the beta exam, they won’t receive a score immediately. However, they’ll have a meaningful voice in what’s included on the final exam. This is one of the few opportunities in which someone outside the exam development subject matter experts can have significant influence on the exam content.

 

When you update an exam number, why is the new exam released as a beta version?

  1. Because many of the skills measured by these exams are new (which is why we use a new exam number), we must develop many new questions to cover those skills. These new questions make up a substantial portion of the new exam and need to be pilot tested to help ensure that they are psychometrically sound, valid, reliable, and fair. The beta process allows us to validate the quality of the items that we include on the live exam and lets us know that we’re measuring the right skills.

 

Through the beta process, we give candidates an active voice into the certification and exam design. Their data and comments are used to evaluate the quality of the items, identify fixes needed to improve accuracy and clarity, and flag questions that must be removed. The data and information we gather through the beta process is, perhaps, the most important part of ensuring the validity and overall quality of the exam.

 

When will Microsoft update certification and exam pages with changes?

  1. We continuously update exam pages with upcoming and applied updates. Candidates should visit those pages frequently to stay up to date with changes to an exam and to learn when they’ll go into effect.

 

 

 

 

 

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