Last week I passed the 70-486 Microsoft exam - Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications, so thought I’d knock up a quick post on my experience and what materials I found useful as part of my preparation.
Going into this exam, I had just over a year and a half’s commercial experience using ASP.NET MVC 2 & 3. Before that, I had experience in ASP.NET and prior to that, when dinosaurs still roamed, classic ASP. It’s no secret I’m a bit of a data nerd (a lot of my blog is db related, SQL Server, MongoDB…) and I have tended to be backend focused, but I wanted to even out the balance a bit by pushing myself in this area, and in JS/HTML5/CSS3. I took the opportunity to upgrade the web solution at my current company from MVC 3 to MVC 4, and being able to do that at the start of my preparation was really useful - this is how I like to learn, by actually “getting stuff done”. That is the obvious, number 1 recommendation - do not just read and swot up on the theory, actually “do”. My brain likes me to be stupid and make practical mistakes - when I then work out how I’ve done something daft, it reinforces the learning and makes the knowledge stick.
The first thing I was disappointed to find was that there is (as of time of writing) no Microsoft Exam prep book for this exam. There is one due out I believe at the beginning of October 2013 - Exam Ref 70-486 : Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications by William Penberthy (ISBN-10: 0735677220 | ISBN-13: 978-0735677227). So I obviously can’t comment on how good that book is. The book I went with was Professional ASP.NET MVC 4 from Wrox, by Jon Galloway (Twitter), Phil Haack (Twitter), K. Scott Allen (Twitter) and foreword by Scott Hanselman (Twitter). While the book alone isn’t enough for the exam, for me it gave a good coverage on quite a few areas I needed so it is definitely worth a read.
Having a Pluralsight subscription was good and while not necessarily geared towards the exam, you can never go wrong with a bit of Pluralsight training. I went through a number of the MVC courses - ASP.NET MVC Fundamentals, ASP.NET MVC 2.0 Fundamentals, MVC 4 Fundamentals and Building Applications with MVC 4. One of the things I like about Pluralsight is you can control the playback speed so for most of the stuff I already knew, I glossed over at a faster speed. I also went through the “Building Web Apps with ASP.NET Jump Start” training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy (Scott Hanselman, Jon Galloway and Damian Edwards (Twitter)) - that was quite entertaining!
I found some great study guide blog posts that collated together a lot of links to some good material:
These give a lot of useful links to MSDN articles, MS resources, blogs, interesting StackOverflow questions etc.
Last but definitely not least, there was my practical setup - Windows 8 on a VM, with Visual Studio 2012 and a Windows Azure account. To re-iterate what I said before - the best way to learn, is to do…and make daft mistakes. I started work on a new web app from scratch, with a real-world mindset on (i.e. writing production-worthy code) putting to good use the new things I was learning. I also had a scratch-pad web app where I would just dump rough code to try out short, simple snippets.
Overall, I put a lot of time and effort into preparation for this exam and it paid off. The biggest benefit for me is what I learned along the way and the challenge it gave me.