VCAP5-DCD: small but important change to the exam format

This week I sat VMware’s VCAP5-DCD exam (and I’m proud to say I passed). As many have commented before me, time is real constraint (or is that a risk). I won’t list out the resources I used to prepare for it; suffice it to say that Gregg Robertson has an excellent post that covers this. Although I have heard about this fantastic design book out there…

Obviously I can’t reveal anything about the content of the exam, but I did want to highlight a small, but important change to the exam format that’s happened recently. The exam consists of a mixture of multiple choice, drag ‘n drop and a handful of Visio style questions.  According to Jon Hall, VMware’s certification developer, these diagrammatic questions can account for around half the available points.  The most common DCD advice I hear revolves around how to apportion your time to these few, but critical questions.  The recommendation is that you skim through the exam once answering all the multiple choice questions and flag the rest. Then you can allocate the remaining time to the big and arguably more important questions. Personally I always read that advice and thought it was topsy-turvy; I was planning to tackle the diagrams first.

However the latest version of official exam blueprint, dated October 26th, has changed its wording and now states:

Once you have provided a complete answer or design for a given exam item and advanced to the next item, you will NOT be allowed to return to that item and the item cannot be flagged for later review. Please ensure when taking the exam that you have completed each answer and/or design before continuing to the next item. Drag-and-drop items and Design items will prompt you for confirmation that the item is complete before advancing to the next item.

Fortunately I noticed this the day before I sat the exam, but because I hadn’t heard anything about it in the community, I wasn’t sure how it would affect things.

Here’s what I found when I sat the exam. Right at the beginning of the exam, just before I hit the start button, the instructions page told me clearly that I was going to get 94 multiple choice and drag ‘n drop, and 6 diagram questions.  I believe this ratio can vary, and I’ve heard folk getting only 4 or 5 of the diagram questions. As I progressed onto the questions each page only had a Next button. There was no option to go back, and no option to flag any questions. As the blueprint paragraph states, you get a confirmation dialogue box for the bigger questions to make sure you haven’t accidentally clicked next. On question 100, I picked my answer, hit next, and that was it. Straight to a congratulations/commiserations score page. So there is only one direction you can take and that is forward.

In retrospect I think it’s a good move on VMware’s part. I don’t like seeing these strategies float around that can give an advantage if you happen to know the special handshake. Now everyone is going to have to address the questions in the same way.  It certainly resets the dynamic, and you really have to concentrate on how you want to spend your precious 225 minutes. I’ll be honest, there was plenty of multiple choice questions where I didn’t even read the scenario – I just scanned the actual question and selected what I thought the most likely answer was. There just wasn’t the time to analyse everything properly, and on these low value questions I had to take a chance. I literally finished with less than 2 minutes on the clock. I appreciate the need to test candidates resolving problems quickly, assessing their time management skills and keeping the pressure on; but to me this ability is more suited to break-fix scenarios. This is what the DCA is for. For me, design analysis should be more considered.

Anyway, forewarned is forearmed as they say. Hopefully some of you might read this and not be shocked when the first you realize of the change is when you’re partway through the exam.

10 thoughts on “VCAP5-DCD: small but important change to the exam format

  1. Great article. I don’t believe that it was ever worth doing the questions in a non-linear order anyway as you waste precious time. As long as you keep an eye on the clock when doing the design scenarios then there’s no reason to do them in any odd order anyway.

  2. I don’t believe there is an unfair advantage or special handshake. The same questions would be presented and answered either way. Abiding by your roposed standards of exam consistency and exactness for all, all candidates should get the same exact test questions rather than randomly generating an exam populating questions from a pool. By your analysis, any candidate who has already passed the VCAP5-DCD exam and who had marked questions or used the back button, is perhaps unfairly and/or unjustly certified based on the current blueprint. This would present quite the connundrum for VMware. Personally I think VMware would have been better off changing this in the next exam series rather than create speculation by changing the exam engine midstream. So what exactly is VMware’s message with this midstream change? Is the current pool of VCAP5-DCDs and VCDX5s tainted or not?

    1. Hi Jason,
      I don’t feel that it has that much influence on anyones mark, apologies if it’s come across that strongly. You’re right, you can’t create an absolutely identical setup for everyone. (I’m certainly not invalidating anyone before me – its a tough exam whichever you look at it).
      I guess the conclusion I was trying to draw was that I don’t think the change is necessarily a bad one. It would be very easy for us to look at it and bemoan that VMware is now restricting our ability to review questions.
      I’ve since been told that VMware didn’t make this change to restrict anyone, but did so because there appears to be a bug with the exam application that has caused several people to have their design answers mysteriously disappear. They’ve changed the format to prevent any more issues until it can be resolved.

  3. Congratulations and thanks for the info. From my personal experience, I failed the vcap4-dcd the first time I tool it early this year using the strategy to skip the more difficult questions and return to them. To prepare for the second try, I did not do any more studying, but did lots of practise reading rapidly on a computer screen. I took the accreditation online courses to practise this. And I bought new classes specifically for reading a computer screen. When I took the exam again I went through them sequentially this time, and passed the second time around. For me, answering the questions sequentially actually helped. The other huge help was new glasses!

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  5. If I had to take the CISSP in this way, it would have killed me. Eliminating thequestions you know and using the remainder of the time for questions you need to spend more time on is more efficient. This new approach makes the Cisco exams harder and it wil certainly make this more difficult, as well.

  6. I suspect this change is purely to address the buggy performance issues many people have experienced with the VCAP-DCD exam crashing. If after completing a question you cannot go back it means that portion of the exam has been saved. So recovery of the exam is easier and quicker. Further it could be that by closing off portions of the exam the application does not need to hold as much data in memory (making exam crashes less common).

    This is pure speculation on my part of course but it seems to me to be the most logical conclusion that one can draw. Disabling “go back” which is a standard feature of many exams is a strange move, so what is the most logical reason for doing this? If it was a question of fairness of the exam or cheating then it is probably something they would have saved for the next version.

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