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Why are Azure exam names so confusing?

By Lars Klint  |  March 04, 2020  |   Certification azure   |  

If you’re considering an Azure certification and are scanning over the list of Azure exams, you might have some trouble decoding the exam names, which look more like rejected names for Star Wars droids than test titles. No doubt there’s a ton of value to be found in Azure certifications — ditto that for AWS and GCP — but what’s with the confusing Azure exam names?

“Why is the AZ-900 the entry-level Azure exam? Why not call it the AZ-101?” you might find yourself wondering as you start to drift off to sleep. “And why is the lowest numbered exam the AZ-104 and not the AZ-100?” you may find yourself screaming to yourself, staring unblinking at the ceiling in a cold sweat, painfully awake and mentally drafting your all-caps email to Satya Nadella.

The short answer for the naming craziness? Because Microsoft.

Sorry, I’m bad with names

Microsoft doesn’t exactly have the best history of sensical naming conventions. 

  • Windows 8 was followed by Windows 10, which is actually the 11th consumer version of Windows. 
  • The first Windows Phone (RIP) was the Windows Phone 7. 
  • The second Xbox was the Xbox 360, and the third Xbox was called the Xbox One. Which is, of course, going to be followed by the Xbox Series X.

The longer answer? There is some method to the (seeming) madness of Azure exam names. 


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The key is to not think of the numbers as levels but categories. AZ is for Azure (probably a given) and then numbers tell you about the focus: AZ-1xx is infrastructure, AZ-2xx is development, AZ-3xx is architecture, and so on. There aren’t just AZ-xxx tests. There’s also an AI-100 (soon to be AI-102), which is for artificial intelligence. 

What about the final two numbers? Those are basically the version of the test. For example, the AZ-103 is being replaced by the AZ-104. (What happens when the version number gets so high as to impede on another exam? Like when you get to the 19th AZ-100 exam and you already have an AZ-120 exam? Surely someone in Redmond who is also worried about this, right? Right???)

And let’s be fair. Google and AWS aren’t exactly churning out catchy names for their certifications either. But their certifications and exams do share a name. Want to become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner? You take the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. A GCP Associate Cloud Engineer? Take the GCP Associate Cloud Engineer exam.

What complicates things with Azure is that Microsoft uses a different name for their exam (or exams) and their certifications. For example, to get certified as an Azure Solutions Architect Expert, you must pass the AZ-300 and AZ-301 exams, which are soon to be the AZ-303 and AZ-304. (Deep breaths, deep breaths...)

Skilling in the name of

Microsoft makes exam changes often, which means there’s never a dull moment if you’re, say, an Azure instructor. This can add to the already confusing nomenclature. 

But, the good news is, the tweaks are smart and driven by Microsoft’s goal to have exams that test you for the skills you’ll need for real cloud career roles and responsibilities. Case in point, between February and April, Microsoft is making some updates to the exams for Azure Administrator, Developer, Architect, and AI Engineer certs. Something to keep in mind if you’re studying and looking to take an exam in the near future!

Beyond changes to exams, new certifications — like the Azure IoT Developer Specialty and Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty — pop up regularly.

Hope you guess my name

Even after all this, you may still feel that making sense of exam names can feel like trying to decipher a bowl of alphabet soup. Don’t panic! 

Remember, the easy way around this is to not get hung up on the exam names (he said to himself). Azure's role-based approach to certification names helps you pinpoint which certifications might be best for you based on your desired — or actual — real-world job. Just find your job, get certified, and try not to lose too much sleep over exam names.

Have we got news for you

2020 is shaping up to be a wild year for Microsoft. Stay up to date on all the latest Azure news with our original series Azure This Week. And go beyond the headlines with deep-dives into the minds of Azure gurus with Azure Fireside Chats.

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