Microsoft technical certifications validate the knowledge, abilities, and skills IT professionals acquire on-the-job and prepare IT professionals to use new technologies. Because IT certifications demonstrate proficiency, certified IT professionals are highly sought-after by companies.
This Roadmap to Success covers the basics of preparing you to earn Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications. This guide includes information on the certification, career prospects, salary guidance, and how you can prepare for the exam.
What is the MCSE certification?
Microsoft certifications are laid out as a pyramid, with each level of certification leading learners to higher, more specialized, complex certifications. At the base of the Microsoft pyramid, IT professionals develop the foundation of knowledge with the MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate). The next level is the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) and MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer), which include many of the most popular IT certifications offered by Microsoft, including Server 2012, Office 365, and Azure. Finally, the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solution Expert) represents the highest level of certification offered by Microsoft and provides learners with the opportunity to develop specializations related to MCSA-level content.
As Microsoft describes it, the new MCSE and MCSD certifications (MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure, MCSE: Mobility, MCSE: Data Management and Analytics, MCSE: Productivity, and MCSD: AppBuilder) are aligned to Centers of Excellence, used by the Microsoft Partner Network to identify technical competencies that are widely recognizable by both Microsoft partners and customers. These credentials do not have a recertification requirement. Instead, the achievement date signals how you keep up with changes to the technology.
The MCSE is classically defined as the go-to credential for IT professionals specializing in Microsoft server technologies. There are a variety of exams within the title of MCSE that test knowledge with various Microsoft Servers, including Windows, SQL Server, Exchange Server, Sharepoint, and System Center (SCCM). MCSE cert-holders are able to demonstrate skills in designing, implementing and administering business solutions.
Each year, you have the opportunity to renew an MCSE certification by passing an exam from the list of electives, demonstrating your investment in broadening or deepening your skills in a given Center of Excellence. Each time you earn a certification, a new certification entry is added to your transcript. This process replaces the existing recertification requirement of taking a specific recertification exam every two years (MCSD) or every three years (MCSE) to prevent your certification from going inactive. Learn more about the new Microsoft certification structure.
What is the difference between MCSA and MCSE?
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and MCSE certifications are two of the most well-known and trusted cert levels from Microsoft. MCSA is generally defined as an associate or entry-level certification, while the MCSE is an expert-level certification. MCSA certification is a prerequisite to sitting for MCSE exams.
MCSA certifications usually focus on servers, operating systems, and web applications, while MCSE covers business intelligence, private cloud computing, server infrastructure, and data platform skills and knowledge.
What is the difference between CCNA and MCSE?
One question many IT professionals ask as they progress in their certification journey is whether they should work toward their MCSE certification or Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. Both of these certifications are highly regarded by IT pros but each path has specific knowledge sets that should be considered.
The Cisco CCNA ICND2 is the second exam in the entry-level CCNA certification. The first exam, Cisco CCENT ICND1 is intended to validate all the knowledge entry-level networking professionals acquire in the first couple of years on the job. In that way, it’s roughly equivalent to the Microsoft MCSA certifications, which similarly validates entry-level job skills on various Microsoft products.
The CCNA ICND2 exam validates the knowledge and skills that IT pros use to successfully install, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size and enterprise branch networks. It’s much more in-depth than the CCENT, and it’s the gold standard for any IT professional working with Cisco hardware. The CCNA is geared toward IT professionals who have 1 to 3 years experience creating business solutions specifically using Cisco switches and routers. These IT professionals configure, install, and maintain LANs, WANs and dial-up networks using IP, Ethernet, frame relay, and other protocols. Though more advanced, even the CCNA would be more closely aligned to the entry-level MCSA series than the expert-level MCSE.
MCSE is expert-level and validates your ability to work with Microsoft technologies. Microsoft offers MCSE certifications in data management, virtualization, productivity, cloud technologies, and networking. A closer analog to MCSE in the Cisco certification hierarchy would be the CCNP certification.
Either certification can be useful for engineer or administrator roles, as you’re going to be working with a variety of technologies. The CCNA provides a solid networking foundation. The MCSE, on the other hand, is very specific to Microsoft.
When considering whether to advance to MCSE from MCSA or earn a CCNA, IT professionals should consider the technology they work with daily — and the career path they want to take. In reality, most networking professionals will manage a Microsoft product, and many desktop or systems support administrators will encounter Cisco products. IT certifications are a way to specialize as an expert in one or the other, but there are many valid reasons to pursue both.
The CCNA or MCSA certifications will give you a broad swath of networking knowledge that will benefit your entire career. If you want to advance as a Microsoft expert, MCSE is your best bet.
How to get an MCSE certification
In order to be eligible for Microsoft MCSE certification, learners must first earn an Associate-level (MCSA) certification. After earning a prerequisite certification, learners must take one additional exam to earn an MCSE certification. For expert-level certifications under Microsoft’s new certification structure, learners are able to choose from a pool of exams to customize a certification to their needs.
Below you’ll find the list of the five MCSE certifications, along with the exams you can take to earn each MCSE:
- MCSE: Business Applications
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales (Exam MB2-717)
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service (Exam MB2-718)
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing (Exam MB2-719)
- Financial Management in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (Exam MB6-895)
- Distribution and Trade in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (Exam MB6-896)
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Retail (Exam MB6-897)
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Talent (Exam MB6-898)
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Field Service (Exam MB2-877)
- MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure
- MCSE: Data Management and Analytics
- Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions (Exam 70-473)
- Designing and Implementing Big Data Analytics Solutions (Exam 70-475)
- Developing Microsoft SQL Server Databases (Exam 70-464)
- Designing Database Solutions for Microsoft SQL Server (Exam 70-465)
- Implementing Data Models and Reports with Microsoft SQL Server (Exam 70-466)
- Designing Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server (Exam 70-467)
- Developing SQL Databases (Exam 70-762)
- Implementing a Data Warehouse using SQL (Exam 70-767)
- Developing SQL Data Models (Exam 70-768)
- Analyzing Big Data with Microsoft R (Exam 70-773)
- Perform Cloud Data Science with Azure Machine Learning (Exam 70-774)
- Perform Data Engineering on Microsoft Azure HDInsight (Exam 70-775)
- Implementing Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB Solutions (Exam 70-777)
- MCSE: Mobility
- Deploying Windows Desktops and Enterprise Applications (Exam 70-695)
- Administering Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and Cloud Services Integration (Exam 70-703)
- MCSE Productivity Solutions Expert
- Designing and Deploying Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 (Exam 70-345)
- Managing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016 (Exam 70-339)
- Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015 (Exam 70-333)
- Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (Exam 70-334)
- Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (Exam 70-331)
- Advanced Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (Exam 70-332)
- Core Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (Exam 70-341)
- Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 (Exam 70-342)
Typically, learners pursuing an expert-level certification should have three (3) or more years of experience working with Microsoft products, particularly Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016, and/or Microsoft Azure.
The following exam details are applicable for each exam in the MCSE certification pool.
- Time allotted for exam: 2 hours (120 minutes) per exam
- Number of questions: 40-60* per exam
- Passing score: 700** per exam
- Question types: Active screen; Build list; Case study; Drag and drop; Hot area; Multiple choice/Best answer; Multiple choice/Single answer; Multiple choice/Multiple answer; Short answer. Learn more about Microsoft exam formats and question types.
- Exam registration: Pearson Vue (Please note that some MCSE certification exams may be available for online proctored delivery.)
- Skills measured: Each exam registration page on the Microsoft website provides a list of Skills Measured (free resource) to guide your study and preparation.
*Microsoft does not publish the exact number of questions associated with its exams. Therefore, the number of questions a learner will see varies on a case-by-case basis.
**Because the number of questions varies, it is not necessarily true that learners must earn a simple 70 percent to pass the exam.
How much does it cost to get MCSE certified?
MCSE certification exams usually cost $165 (USD). Microsoft sometimes has special offers and discounts going, so these prices can vary.
Microsoft exams have a reputation for being challenging. Many learners find they have to take an exam more than once to achieve a successful outcome. Fortunately, Microsoft is aware of the level of challenge associated with their exams, and often provides an Exam Replay, allowing learners to retake exams at a fraction of the cost.
For example, if you purchase an MSCE exam for $165 and don’t pass the first time, you’d normally have to pay that $165 again to retake it. However, with the Exam Replay option, you get the exam, plus the opportunity to retake, for $230, saving yourself $100. Please note that the Exam Replay may not always be available.
As of this post’s publication date, each of the exams associated with the MCSE: Productivity include an Exam Replay, but that may change. Learners should research Exam Replay availability to avoid missing out on the opportunity. If having a discounted safety net in place makes you feel more confident, it’s a deal worth considering.
Another exam option recently made available by Microsoft is the Exam Replay with Practice Test bundle, which includes the exam, the discounted retake and a practice test for your chosen exam for $265. Note that practice tests aren’t available for every exam.
If you’re a student, you can get discounts on Microsoft certifications if you verify your student status before sitting for the exam. A school-issued email account, school network credentials, or International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can all be used to authenticate your student status through your account settings once your exam has been scheduled. If your school is part of Microsoft’s Imagine Academy program, you may be eligible for further discounts.
MCSE Recertification and Renewal
Once you’ve earned an MCSE, it remains valid and in your Microsoft certification transcript until the technology is retired. Even after it’s retired, it only moves over to the “Legacy” section of your transcript. According to Microsoft, recertification exams are currently available for all MCSE and MCSD specialties. Recertification exams cover material from the exams taken to originally earn the credential, with particular emphasis on the most recent technology and process changes. With the new elective exam structure for continuing education, learners have the option to take an elective exam of their choosing each year to “re-earn” an annual badge on their certification. This verifies that the candidate is keeping their skills current with changing technologies.
MCSE Salary and Career Prospects
Payscale.com provides a helpful salary guide to help learners determine appropriate pay scales for job opportunities associated with MCSE certifications. Payscale.com reports a range of salaries between $50,075 and $144,966 for IT pros who hold any MCSE certification. Common roles for those holding an MCSE certification include IT manager, IT director, systems administrator, and senior systems engineer.
MCSE Certification Training
To start preparing for the MCSE, CBT Nuggets offers a variety of certification playlists to get you started. Below you’ll find all relevant CBT Nuggets training playlists for MCSE certification:
The CBT Nuggets experience is designed to help you learn more efficiently, retain information longer, and gain practical, hands-on experience. In addition to our videos, reinforce core IT practices and concepts with built-in quiz questions, simulated practice exams, and customized Microsoft virtual labs.
Note: Our course library is constantly updated, and as of this post’s publication date, we are working toward providing more specific training for all five MCSE certifications currently offered by Microsoft.