VCAP-DCD Study Guide: Part 3 – The Exam

So to the VCAP-DCD exam, VDCD510!  You’ve done your study, you know your stuff, you can do cluster sizing calculations in your sleep… this should be easy right?  Well no, not quite.

There’s a reason you get four hours to complete this exam and chances are you will need to use most of, if not all of this time.  This is partly due to the fact that well, this is an Advanced level exam and it’s tough, but also the exam engine is nothing short of a nightmare to get to grips with.  More on this later.

Exam format

For this exam, you will be given 100 questions, 6 of these will be visual design questions and the rest a mix of drag-and-drop, and multiple choice questions.  You have four hours.  In one of the vBrownBags VMware Technical Certification Developer John C. Hall states that these 6 design questions make up half of your total exam score.  You must keep this in mind, read that part again if you have to but make sure that sticks.  You cannot afford to miss these questions!  It is recommended you allow around 15 minutes each for the design questions (depending on how well the in-exam design tool behaves you may well need more than this) so that’s 15 minutes x 6 questions, that’s 90 minutes of your 240 total gone.  This then, leaves you with 94 questions and 150 minutes and considering that around half of these may well be drag-and-drop questions, with a good page of reading to ingest and analyse, you should quickly realise that time management is very important with the VCAP-DCD exam.  Now I’ve read several ways that candidates like to approach this.  Contrary to what the exam blueprint states, at the time I took my VDCD510 exam I did have the option to review questions, and move back and forth through the questions once answered.  Take some caution around this though, as I will explain later this was not without (quite significant) problem.  So this gives you the option if you are so inclined to skip through all the questions to find the 6 Design questions and get these done first, before going back and completing the rest.  I chose however to write 1-6 on my whiteboard paper and cross them off as I did them, this will essentially be down to personal preference so do whatever works for you.  Something else I did was note down the question numbers of all my design questions, and my drag-and-drop questions, so I could go back and check them at the review.

Something worth noting is that while the multiple choice questions are ‘all or nothing’ in that you will either get them right or wrong and a mark (or not) accordingly, the drag-and-drop and design questions are not, and you will get partial marks for partially correct answers.  Particularly in the design questions there may not actually be a ‘right’ answer, so if you share VMware’s faith in their marking system, it should be able to evaluate your design based on the requirements and mark it accordingly.

Exam questions – Multiple Choice

So in Part Two I spoke about the mindset you need to approach the exam with.  This is not a VCP-style bombardment of multiple choice fact-based questions where, if you’d memorised the Configuration Maximums then you ‘d be halfway to the certification already.  Sure you need to know the maximums amongst other things, but you will not be asked a direct question about them, instead you will get a paragraph detailing a scenario or a set of requirements and you have to answer accordingly taking the given information into account.  Make sense?  In example, VCP might tell you that a customer does not have Enterprise Plus licenses, then ask you to select from a list of features those which would therefore be unavailable for that customer to use.  VCAP-DCD however will give you a scenario and/or a shopping list of requirements, somewhere in there it’ll mention that the customer wishes to utilise their existing Enterprise licenses and does not have budget to upgrade, and a separate requirement to ensure configuration consistency across their ESX hosts, then ask you to choose or design the best way to do this.  First challenge is to pick the above information out from the many paragraphs of information given, then you have to know the implications of that, and then you have to provide the solution.  And given the time constraints of the exam you’ll have around 90 seconds to do this in.  And these questions are the simpler of the array of questions on the exam.  Don’t be too intimidated though, this post is here to help you prepare for what to expect- you just need to practice picking up the important info from the text given, and apply your knowledge- and this is where the mindset I mentioned in Part Two will help, as will the Study resources listed in Part One.

Exam questions – Drag-and-Drop

The drag-and-drop questions are a slightly different animal.  Similarly you will be given some text to digest and then, depending on the particular question, you’ll be asked to drag answers/statements/tasks into the correct heading/order etc. from those given.  These are a little difficult to explain without giving too much away regarding the content (which obviously I cannot do!) but what you need to know about these questions are as follows:

  • Read the instructions!  Each question will tell you whether all the options given need to be used or not, and also if an option may be used more than once.  This on it’s own should give you a clue as to the answers you’ll need to provide.  If it says answers may be used more than once and you only have all answers once, maybe have a re-read as chances are you’re missing something somewhere.
  • You will get partial marks for partially correct answers- this means that if you’re told that all options must be used and you are unsure where some should be dropped, it’s well worth having a stab as you will not be penalised for wrong answers but if you’re lucky you might pick up some extra marks.
  • Don’t be afraid to spend a little longer on these questions than the multiple choice, they are worth more marks.  Just be sure to keep an eye on the clock to make sure you manage your time!

Exam questions – Design Tool

Okay so we’re down to the meat of this exam- the Visual design tool questions.  Lucky you!
For the uninitiated (you’re in for a treat!) the visual design questions will provide you with a scenario, a list of requirements, and your design objective.  To complete the design you are given a Visio-esque visual tool- you have to pick components from a limited list given, place them on the ‘canvas’ and connected them all together to show your design response to the objectives given.
Firstly, read and re-read the requirements and the design objectives so you know what is expected of you, these are quite explicit in telling you what’s needed and remember if your design doesn’t meet all the requirements, it is a bad design.
Second, you are only given a limited list of components and connections you may use in your design- now this can be both a help and hindrance as it will give you a big clue as to what they are expecting your design to include, but conversely it may throw you if a component you’d like to use in your design is not available- in this case you will have to come up with an alternative.
Lastly, and this is the most important point, the design tool is- for lack of a better word- horrific to use.  I mean hair-tearingly, time-sappingly bad, and you must be prepared for this going into these questions.  On the myLearn site there is an interactive demo of the design tool, which I will refer to here by way of example- I highly recommend you run through this demo at least once to familiarise yourself with it, along with heeding my comments as to what to really expect!  Make sure you pay attention to the design objectives given, they will tell you what types of connection to use where and how your components should be placed.
When tackling the design questions, you must check, check and check again all of your connections and component placements to make sure they are all correctly linked.  If they are not, you will not get any marks for that component or potentially, the whole design itself.  

So the Exam UI Demo sets the task to create a Tiered storage design across Primary and Recovery datacenters.  First thing to note is that in the exam once you select a component from the list, like the Tier-1 Storage unit in the demo, you will need to drag and drop it where you would like to place it, not click then click as in the demo.  Fair enough, but herein lies the problem.  When you are required to place a component within another component such as a Production Tier 1 VM into the Tier-1 Storage in the demo, you must check that the VM object has properly ‘connected’ with the storage object.  I mean, REALLY check.  During one of my Design tasks on this exam I had to spend literally 10 minutes on doing just this- it’s that bad.  So what I suggest you do is this, and I suggest you do this for EVERY such object you place.  First place the ‘container’ item, in this case the Tier-1 Storage object.  Then, drop the ‘contained’ object, in this case the Prod-1 VM object on top of the Storage object, and give the UI a few seconds.  Next, grab the Storage object and move it to the other side of the canvas. If the VM object moves with it, then all’s well and good and you can continue to the next object, but if it doesn’t move with it, you will need to repeat the above drop-wait-drag test until it does.  This is crucial, if the UI doesn’t associate the objects with each other, in the eyes of the exam engine you have not placed the object correctly and you will not get marks for this.  As you can imagine this can have massive implications on your whole design, so I recommend doing the above test for every single object you need to place.  Yes it can take time and yes you will get frustrated, but trust me it’s worth it, and it is the only way to be sure what is being marked, is your intended design.
Another recommendation is to place all your objects first, make sure they are all ‘related’ as you would want them, and lay them out on the canvas so you have room to work and you have complied with any explicit instructions from the objectives.  Then, add in your connections.  When you connect objects, a box will appear around that object to confirm it has been successfully connected- make sure the correct object is boxed when you make your connections, this is not always as easy as it sounds when you have objects close to, and ‘within’ other objects.  The reason I suggest placing all your objects first is that trying to move an object that is connected to other objects, can cause some alarming behaviour in the UI.  On one of my tasks I connected an object, then moved it to clear a bit more space to work and half of my objects then shot off the screen, with no way of getting them back- I ended up having to start the whole task again from the blank canvas, which I was not impressed at. You have been warned!

To Review or Not To Review?

One more thing point to make is that when I took the exam, the Review option was still available.  VMware had disabled this option in the past due to issues with it wiping or altering the design questions, but the option re-appeared but I believe some problems still remain.  The blueprint still insists an option to review is not available, but it is there to use but be warned- When I took the exam, upon review of several of the drag-and-drop questions, the answers were not as I entered them.  I could change them, save them, then review again and again they would be different- a phenomenon I got the Pearson-Vue adjudicator to witness and raise an official complaint about post-exam (funnily enough no response), but as VMware are retiring the VDCD510 exam in January 2015 I do not expect this to be fixed.  I know of others who had similar issues- and I do not know whether Reviewing the questions caused the change, or whether the answers I gave were actually the ones being marked for some questions and as such I cannot recommend whether you should review your answers or not- I’m letting you know my experience so you can decide for yourself, what I can say is that if you do experience this issue, get the Pearson rep in to witness it, and good luck.

So there you have it, my advice on taking the VCAP-DCD VDCD510 exam based on my experience, I hope it offers you some help in attaining the cert.  At least I can say it is some sense of achievement when you see that ‘Congratulations!’ message on the screen!
Best of luck all.


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