Open book Microsoft exams? Yes, please!

I’ve taken a lot of technical exams. Like a LOT! I’ve been taking them for over 20 years. One of the most time-consuming parts for me has been the hours necessary to memorize all the little details that might show up on the exam. Of course, from a practical perspective, that’s impossible.

I don’t worry so much about the scenario-based questions, as the correct option often becomes obvious from the context and the differences in the answers. But all those details? No fun.

The LRS Philosophy

A few years ago, when we revamped our NIST Cybersecurity Framework training courses to be written in-house, we made a decision about the exams. We made all of our LRS NIST cybersecurity certification exams open book. There were two main reasons for this decision:

  1. To reduce test anxiety that gave test candidates an unnecessarily stressful exam experience
  2. To mimic how cybersecurity is done in the real world

You and I both know that we can’t keep every important detail about hardware, software, and cybersecurity in our heads. Yes, you do have a lot of information memorized, but, when necessary, you get onto a vendor website or a search engine. You don’t have unlimited time, you don’t have unlimited knowledge, so you do research. That’s how you get the job done.

Why should cybersecurity exams be any different?

Enter Microsoft

Microsoft recently announced a major change to their role-based exams. The change is this: you will be able to access Microsoft Learn while taking your role-based (associate, expert, and specialty) certification exams. If you’ve ever taken a Microsoft exam, you know how valuable this new capability could be!

Let’s get some details straight from Microsoft:

  • You will have access to everything in the domain except Q&A and your profile
  • Extra time will not be added to your exam
  • The exam timer will continue as you search Microsoft Learn for whatever information you need
  • This resource is only available on role-based exams, not fundamentals
  • This resource will be available in the same languages in which the exam is available

So, it’s not completely open book, but it does allow you to have access to the Microsoft Learn library of content…the exact content that we use in our Microsoft Official Courses. You can see a short video demo of how the new MS Learn resource works while taking an exam here. There are also some more details at the Exam duration and experience site.

A Warning and Some Thoughts

I do have a warning for you. Do NOT use the fact that you have access to most of Microsoft Learn to cause you to be less vigilant about preparation. Make sure you still spend plenty of time working with the technologies, reading study materials, learning in courses, and taking practice exams.

Remember that the exam times are not extended, so the number of minutes you use searching Microsoft Learn counts against your normal allotted exam time. This means you’ll want to use Microsoft Learn as a last resort, not a primary source for answering questions. Make sure you feel fully prepared for the exam, and then be thankful that you have a bit of an insurance policy with Microsoft Learn.

-Troy Stoneking
Certified NIST Cybersecurity Framework Professional Trainer and Cybersecurity Assessor