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Jeff Brown

Cloud and DevOps Engineer specializing in Microsoft 365, Azure, and PowerShell. Twitter | LinkedIn

In 2020, Microsoft introduced changes to their certification program to help people stay current on their certifications. People who have an active certification can renew Microsoft certifications annually – and at no cost!

The Microsoft Learn platform provides the renewal assessment along with learning paths to update your skills. In this post, you will learn how to renew Microsoft certifications, and I will provide details on my experience renewing my Azure Administrator Associate certification.

A History of Microsoft Certification Renewal

Previously when you achieved a Microsoft certification, the certification did not expire. For example, looking at my Microsoft Certification Official Transcript, note the difference between the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Productivity certification and the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate. One certification has a “Valid until” date while the other does not.

microsoft certification transcript
Transcript showing certifications that do and do not expire

This method was not too bad. A Microsoft product came out, like Exchange 2013, and Microsoft developed a certification for it. That product might change over time, and the certification exam would receive the occasional update. Your certification would still hold relevance to the product.

When Microsoft releases a new version of the product, you take that certification exam(s) to stay up-to-date. This new certification could involve 1 to 3 exams, each with a significant price tag to take the exam. Once completed, you were back up to date with that product’s certification requirements.

The Cloud Certification Challenge

However, with the popularity of cloud services, those technologies change more frequently. A cloud certification earned 3 years might be less relevant. Microsoft adds new products, services, and capabilities all the time, changing the product’s fundamentals. Imagine passing an Azure certification exam in 2018. If it didn’t expire, you could put it on the resume forever.

However, those certified skills from 2018 might not contain the latest features or best practices in 2021. You could still put the certification on the resume, but your skillset might not be up-to-date.

With the cloud, Microsoft also changed the focus of their certification exams. Instead of being certified in a particular product, Microsoft now provides a portfolio of role-based certifications. Azure provides many different capabilities, and Microsoft has created certifications for any IT person’s skill set.

With these new certifications, Microsoft also set a two-year expiration. However, at the time, Microsoft did not provide many details on certified individuals could renew their certifications.

Introducing Certification Renewals

To solve these problems, Microsoft has introduced free annual certification renewals. You can continue to certify your knowledge and skillset by passing a free renewal certification exam annually. You complete these exams online on your own time within six months of the certification’s expiration.

If you have an existing Microsoft certification, you can renew within 6 months before its expiration date. If you pass the renewal exam, your certification is extended for another year. If your certification was set to expire before March 2021, Microsoft extended your certification expiration date to accommodate taking the renewal exam.

For example, if you review the screenshot of my transcript from earlier, I achieved the Azure Administrator Associate in February 2019. Because Microsoft did not release this exam’s renewal certification until March 2021, Microsoft gave the certification a 6-month extension.

Moving forward, starting in June 2021, newly attained certifications will be valid for one year from the date you earned the certification. This change will put everyone on a yearly cycle for renewing their certifications.

The renewal exams are free, and you can take them as many times as needed to pass. If you do not pass the first time, you can retake the renewal immediately. If you fail the second attempt, you must wait 24 hours before any additional retake attempts.

How to Renew Microsoft Certifications

The renewal assessment process is easy to access and straight-forward. The following sections outline where to find the renewal assessments, preparing for the content, viewing your results, and how to retake if you did not pass the first time.

Verify Expiring Certifications

If you have a certification approaching expiration, Microsoft will send a notification email 180 days before its expiration. The email provides information on which certification expires and a link to start the renewal process.

microsoft certification renewal email
Action Required! Renew your Microsoft certification.

If you’re not sure if a certification is eligible for renewal, visit your Certification Dashboard to review your certifications. You will need to sign in with the email address originally used to register for the exam. From here, select the Renew this certification button.

microsoft certification dashboard
Viewing the certification dashboard for expiring certifications

If you want to view all your certifications and renewal dates, select the link in the top menu for Microsoft Learn. In the Microsoft Learn dashboard, select your profile picture in the upper right and choose Profile. Your profile page lists your available and upcoming renewal certifications.

renew microsoft certifications
Viewing all certifications and renewals

Preparing for the Renewal Assessment

You are then redirected to the certification’s renewal page. If you signed up for Microsoft Learn using a different email address than the one used for your certification, you need to link the two together.

The page displays information on when your certification expires. Below this, Microsoft outlines which skills are measure in the renewal assessment. At the bottom of the certification renewal page, Microsoft Learn provides a collection of free modules to prepare for the assessment.

If you are ready to take the renewal assessment, go ahead and select the Take the renewal assessment below the renewal exam description. The renewal assessment begins immediately.

renew microsoft certifications
Starting the renewal assessment process

Taking the Renewal Assessment

Unlike the regular certification exams, the renewal assessment is not proctored, so no being watched on webcam. The assessment does not lock down your browser or prevent you from accessing other resources. It is very much “open book.” There is also no timer on the assessment from what I experienced.

As far as exam structure, I had 28 multiple-choice questions. Some were more simple in the amount of information given, and others were closer to case studies with requirements and background information. The format and styling are very much what you have experienced on Microsoft certification exams before.

During the assessment, you can only move forward in questions. You cannot go back to change and answer after moving to the next. Unlike regular certification exams, there is not an option to review the questions later prior to submission. You have one opportunity to answer the question before proceeding to the next question.

Viewing Results

Once completed, the assessment will score your results. You need a 71% passing score to renew the certification. If you failed and this is your first attempt, you can retake the assessment immediately. If you fail the second attempt, you have to wait 24 hours between any subsequent attempts.

You can view which areas you were strong and weak in based on the assessment section. You see roughly how many questions are from each section and how many you got right. The green bar seems to indicate how many questions you need to get correct in each section to pass. You cannot go back and review questions and your answers on the completed assessment

Based on these results, Microsoft Learn will suggest customized learning modules to improve your skills. You can review these prior to the next retake attempt.

microsoft renewal certification results
Viewing assessment results based on exam topic section

To view the results of previous attempts, navigate back to the certification renewal page and select the “Show previous attempts” link to display previous results. The page also displays when you are eligible to retake the assessment.

retake renewal certification eligibility
Viewing previous attempts and the results

If you scored 71% or higher, congratulations! You completed the process to renew your Microsoft certification. Your certification has been extended by one year from the expiration date. You can take next year’s renewal assessment 6 months before its expiration.

passing renew certification assessment
Passing the certification renewal assessment

Thoughts on Certification Renewal Process

The renewal process is straightforward and easy to do. When I first accessed the renewal page from the notification email, I was prompted to associate my certification account with my Microsoft Learn account (they were under two different email addresses). I had anticipated this being an issue but was pleasantly surprised when the app automatically recognized this and associated the two automatically.

There were a few topics I was not as familiar with for the renewal assessment, such as Docker, Azure private DNS, and Kubernetes. I reviewed the recommended Microsoft Learn modules; however, I do not feel the content reflected the assessment. The Microsoft Learn modules are more of an introduction to the concept, but you need more in-depth knowledge to pass the assessment.

Overall, Microsoft’s approach to continuing education and certification renewals is a welcome one. I earned my Azure Administrator certification back in 2019 (back when you had to take two exams!). There are quite a few topics now required to achieve that certification that were not present then, like Docker and Kubernetes. Reviewing these topics for the renewal assessment has motivated me to take a deeper look into these technologies.

For more on my thoughts about certification, read part 3 of my discussion on my IT journey.

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