Exam tips for MB2-866 Customising CRM 2011

I recently passed the Microsoft exam MB2-866 – Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Customization and Configuration, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about my experience, and hopefully help others who also want to gain this certification.

Of course, like every other exam this was done under NDA, so I can only give some general thoughts and not discuss specific questions or answers.

All change

I find many exams for a new product version like this seem to deliberately ask lots of questions about the new or changed stuff rather than the old elements that have remained largely the same (this was certainly true of the MCAS exams for Office 2007). I can only assume this is to avoid people coasting through on old knowledge from CRM 4, although it does seem to risk not testing some of the core knowledge.

Obviously some features are unchanged and some questions still cover them, but the feeling is that to pass the exam you really need to have studied the new material and properly practiced using these new skills. Of course, in the real world of actually getting on and using CRM 2011, knowledge passed along from previous versions is all very useful as well.

Are we nearly there yet?

In order to avoid worrying about running out of time, what I tend to do is make some very quick and rough calculations when the information comes up at the beginning about how many questions there will be and how much time is allowed. If it’s easy enough to work out in my head, I figure exactly how much time per question. If not, I just figure out for a bunch of them – however many makes the maths easier, say 5 or 6, and likewise round the time down a bit if it makes it easier to figure out, which also gives you some slack time at the end.

If you have 75 questions , you have 1/15 of the time for every 5 questions, and 15 is easy to divide into hours. So for a two hour exam that’s 8 minutes for every 5 questions (15 goes into 60 four times, so into two hours 8 times).

As you progress through the exam, try to answer every question first time through, rather than deferring any until the end. Periodically check whether you are on track for time. If you are, keep going at that pace, if not, then step it up and now consider leaving some until the end. If I hit a tricky question and I know I am ahead on time, I can afford to take a deep breath, go through it one more time and if necessary use up any of the “ahead” time I have to get it answered and still not get behind.

Overall, I was not pushed for time at all, and had plenty of opportunity to go back and review some questions which I had noted down as maybe deserving more attention, but did not need to change any answers.

Personally, when I read a question I tend to try and come up with the ideal answer in my head, then look for this in the options available. If I get exactly what I was looking for that’s great, and I can choose this answer with a high degree of confidence. Once you start reading the choices available it is easy to be confused by “distractors” – answers which are similar or close to the right one, but missing some important factor (such as they won’t work with a specific version of something mentioned in the question).

If you find an answer you like the look of, even if you can’t be sure why, my advice is always to go with your gut. You can spend a lot of time second-guessing your own answers and not really getting anywhere. There’s nothing more frustrating than going back and changing an answer, yet still not knowing if the original one was right. Trust your instincts, use the Force if necessary, but a subconscious half-memory can sometimes give you those few vital extra marks needed for a pass.

Choose all that apply

Yes, the much-hated “choose all that apply” type of question is back (this is not specific to CRM exams, Microsoft have publicly announced that this question type was being reintroduced). In case you don’t know what I mean, these are multi-choice, multi-answer questions where you don’t even know how many answers to select.

Often these are posed along the lines of “you want to do <some objective>. Which of the following would achieve this goal? (choose all that apply)” Variations might be that you need to choose all the answers that are each one part of an overall solution, or that complete the goal on their own.

Other questions using this style may be aimed at things like system pre-requisites – maybe the answers describe various combinations of hardware and operating system and you have to say which would be suitable to have software X installed (eg CRM server, or Outlook client).

My gut feel is always to select at least two, since it feels like a question with only one answer would not use this type, and I would probably avoid selecting all the answers as I assume at least one is incorrect to trip me up. But this is pure superstition and trying to reverse-psych the person who wrote the question, I have no evidence to say whether this is a sound approach.

CRM 2011 Solutions

One major change to the way CRM customisations are organised, and especially how they are imported and exported is the use of “Solutions”. I felt there were far more questions about this than I would have expected given the  skills measured page shows this objective is considered to be about 13% of the knowledge required.

You may also notice that Solutions are covered by one of the four areas under “Configuring a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Organizational Structure” as well as their own section, so maybe they are worth another 4% from there.

Either way, in order to level things up, all questions are weighted according to those percentage figures, so that even if you had 25 out of 75 questions on that topic, the scores are adjusted to normalise it back down to 13% (plus the extra bit for the overlap in other areas).

I would add that it is important to understand what happens when you layer managed and unmanaged solutions, and remove them again, possibly in a different order. What is the outcome in the real world of importing two solutions which both edited the main Account form?

Also what happens when you import a managed solution with or without managed properties and what can you then change or edit, and how does this affect solutions you import on top. I did not feel the MOC course materials or labs covered this in enough detail, so find some time to play with this a bit to feel comfortable with it.

Richard Knudson has boiled down some information on his CRM Trick Bag blog about how managed properties of managed solutions work, and what options are available, which I wish I had spent more time on as it seemed disproportionately represented on the exam.

A field by any other name

Another minor point for people who already know CRM4 – some of the terminology has changed so make sure you expect the new wording on answers and don’t dismiss these as “distractors”.
So, attributes are now called fields throughout the interface, since most people used to call them this anyway (except hard-core database folks who just call them columns, which may confuse end-users), and when you create custom attributes fields you need to choose the right data type, and the names for these have changed too.

Changes to Data Types for Fields

The data types in CRM 2011 are basically the same as in 4.0 but are now called different things in many cases, mostly more explanatory and verbose. Some might say this is to “dumb down” the techie speak to make more sense to normal people and end-user customisers:

CRM 4.0 name CRM 2011 name SQL data type other names referred to commonly as…
picklist option set (+ global option sets are now available too) actually a foreign key to a joined table with the list of values and names drop down list
bit two options bit boolean, checkbox, radio buttons
int whole number int integer
float floating point number float any kind of number, fraction etc stored as a binary approximation
decimal decimal number decimal decimal (always stored exactly to defined precision)
money currency money! lucre, cash, readies…
nvarchar single line of text nvarchar(###) text field
ntext multiple lines of text nvarchar(max)* big text field, description field

*ntext is effectively deprecated and the new “multiple lines of text” uses nvarchar(max) instead for improved performance (now that CRM 2011 sits on SQL 2008 as a requirement).

I hope these few titbits will help anyone planning to take the exam in the near future. If you have any more tips of your own to contribute, please feel free to add them in the comments, or just use it as an opportunity to claim “bragging rights” when you pass!

PS: comments to this blog are moderated, so if your comment does not appear right away I may not have got round to approving it yet. If you are asking for, offering or linking to brain dumps, exam questions, “pass guaranteed” content or anything similar, don’t be surprised that your comment won’t see the light of day. I reserve the right to remove or edit any such comments as I see fit.

3 Responses to Exam tips for MB2-866 Customising CRM 2011

  1. Adam Vero says:

    Jukka Niiranen has written a great post with similar thoughts and tips about the Applications exam MB2-868 – go check it out at: http://niiranen.eu/crm/2011/10/know-your-application-the-mb2-868-exam-for-crm-2011/

  2. Adam Vero says:

    Neil Benson wrote about his experiences taking the Installations exam MB2-867, which nicely rounds out the set: http://customery.co.uk/2011/09/14/preparing-for-mb2-867-microsoft-dynamics-crm-installation-and-deployment/

  3. Pingback: Changes to Microsoft Certification Exam interface « Getting IT Right

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