Microsoft MCSA Certification Guide
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Microsoft MCSA Certification Guide

Microsoft is present in nearly every work environment. Windows is the most popular operating system in the world. Microsoft Server is the industry standard. Azure cloud services power an ever-increasing number of businesses processes. Most IT professionals will manage and configure at least one Microsoft product early in their career. Many IT professionals build entire careers installing, configuring, managing, and eventually designing Microsoft products and systems.

Microsoft certifications are essential for IT professionals to learn the products and validate their knowledge. In most cases, employers are either seeking certified IT professionals or willing to train their technical staff to earn the right certifications.

The MCSA Roadmap to Success will cover the breadth of MCSA certifications available, how to earn those certifications, and the career opportunities available for each certification.

What is the MCSA certification?

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is a certification designed by Microsoft to test and validate the product knowledge and technical skills of entry-level IT professionals.

MCSA certifications are valuable for both employees and employers. Microsoft certifications outline the baseline knowledge and skills IT professionals should know at their experience level. The MCSA validates the knowledge and skills the test taker has acquired in their first year of work experience.

When an IT professional earns an MCSA, they are telegraphing their experience in a consistent, industry-approved way. Conversely, employers can hire a Microsoft-certified IT professional with confidence that they have the appropriate level of knowledge to manage their Microsoft products.

The MCSA is the second level of Microsoft 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 MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer) is an entry-level track similar to the MCSA, except for Microsoft developers.

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.


What is the difference between MCSA and MCSE?

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solution Expert) are the entry- and expert-level certification tracks, respectively. Not only do they have separate requirements and validate different skills, but the two exams also prepare learners for different IT career roles.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is an entry-level Microsoft certification that validates the knowledge and skills an entry-level IT professional will learn in the first year working with a Microsoft product. That’s why Microsoft recommends that test takers have at least one year experience working in a Microsoft environment.

Though recommended, Microsoft does not verify work experience in the exam process. To earn the MCSA, IT professionals typically must pass three exams. Certification at the associate level prepares IT professionals for jobs like system or network administrator, desktop support specialist, or other support roles. The MCSA certification is also a prerequisite for the MCSE.

MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solution Expert) is an expert-level Microsoft certification. While the MCSA is a three-exam series, the MCSE only requires passing one exam. However, MCSE validates a higher level of expertise than MCSA. It may only require an additional exam to earn the MCSE, but the subject matter is more difficult and technically in-depth than the MCSA. The MCSE typically qualifies the recipient for management roles like IT manager or senior technical roles.

Until 2017, the biggest difference between the MCSA and MCSE was the recertification process. Prior to 2017, MCSE certifications expired every three years. But that’s no longer the case. MCSEs do not expire. Just like MCSA certifications, they are valid for the life of the Microsoft product — or more accurately the life of the certification exam.



The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certifications are vastly different, but many IT professionals will obtain both. While there’s some overlap in some Microsoft networking certifications, CCNA validates knowledge about different products types and prepare test takers for different IT roles.

The biggest difference between CCNA and MCSA are the companies’ respective approaches to certifications. Microsoft certifications are largely product-based. For instance, the MCSA library comprises dozens of certifications that validate knowledge about Microsoft products, including Windows, Server, SQL Server, Dynamics, and Office.

Cisco has a robust certification program that’s more role-centric. Their certification exams cover topics like routing and switching, security, collaboration, and wireless. Cisco certifications also test product knowledge, but typically within the context of a network.

There is one similarity between the MCSA and CCNA certifications — they are both entry-level certifications. System and network administrators are typically responsible for managing both Cisco and Microsoft products. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for IT professionals to earn both the MCSA and CCNA certifications relevant to their job roles.

How to get an MCSA certification

Since Microsoft recommends at least one year of experience with technology before attempting an MCSA exam, IT professionals should earn MCSA certifications that best match their job roles and responsibilities. However, there are no firm prerequisites required to sit for an MCSA exam. For individuals with less than a year of experience, the foundational Microsoft Technology Association (MTA) certifications might be a better place to start. Otherwise, Microsoft offers 15 MCSA certifications, which largely map to their product and services.

Each certification requires passing at least two exams, but several require three. Here are the current MCSA certifications and their required exams (in alphabetical order):

MCSA: BI Reporting

  • Exam 70-778: Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Power BI
  • Exam 70-779: Analyzing and Visualizing Data with Microsoft Excel

MCSA: Data Engineering and Azure (retires June 30, 2019)

  • Exam 70-775: Perform Data Engineering on Microsoft HD Insight
  • Exam 70-776: Perform Big Data Engineering on Microsoft Cloud Services

MCSA: Machine Learning (retiring June 30, 2019)

  • Exam 70-773: Analyzing Big Data with Microsoft R
  • Exam 70-774: Perform Cloud Data Science with Azure Machine Learning

MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 (retiring April 30, 2019)

  • Exam MB2-715: Microsoft Dynamics 365 customer engagement Online Deployment
  • Exam MB2-716: Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customization and Configuration

MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations

  • Exam 70-764: Administering a Microsoft SQL Database Infrastructure
  • – OR-
  • Exam 70-765: Provisioning SQL Databases
  • Exam MB6-894: Development, Extensions, and Deployment for Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations

MCSA: Office 365 (retiring March 31, 2019)

  • Exam 70-346: Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements
  • Exam 70-347: Enabling Office 365 Services

MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development

  • Exam 70-767: Implementing a SQL Data Warehouse
  • Exam 70-768: Developing SQL Data Models

MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration

  • Exam 70-764: Administering a SQL Database Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-765: Provisioning SQL Databases

MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development

  • Exam 70-761: Querying Data with Transact-SQL
  • Exam 70-762: Developing SQL Databases

MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014

  • Exam 70-461: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014
  • Exam 70-462: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 Databases
  • Exam 70-463: Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014

MCSA: Universal Windows Platform

  • Exam 70-483: Programming in C#
  • Exam 70-357: Developing Mobile Apps

MCSA: Web Applications

  • Exam 70-480: Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3
  • Exam 70-483: Programming in C#
  • Exam 70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications

MCSA: Windows 10 (retiring March 31, 2019)

  • Exam 70-698: Installing and Configuring Windows 10
  • Exam 70-697: Configuring Windows Devices

MCSA: Windows Server 2012

  • Exam 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
  • Exam 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012
  • Exam 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012

MCSA: Windows Server 2016

  • Exam 70-740: Installation, Storage, and Compute with Windows Server 2016
  • Exam 70-741: Networking with Windows Server 2016
  • Exam 70-742: Identity with Windows Server 2016


MCSA Certification Cost

Most MCSA exams cost $165 (USD) for test takers in the United States. MCSA exams will cost international test takers from $55 to $165 per exam in their local currency. Because MCSA certifications require either two or three exams, the cost to earn an MCSA ranges from $330 to $495 in the United States.

Microsoft exams have a reputation for being challenging, and it’s not uncommon for learners to take an exam more than once. Microsoft is aware that their exams are difficult. Most years, it offers an Exam Replay, allowing an exam retake at a fraction of the original cost. Because Exam Replay availability varies by exam, test takers should regularly check their availability for certain exams.

MCSA certifications are relatively inexpensive compared to certifications offered by other vendors. But like any certification, additional costs will be accrued in MCSA training material.


MCSA Recertification and Renewal

MCSA certifications do not expire or require recertification/renewal. MCSA holders can find all their certifications listed on their official Microsoft Certified Professional Transcript classified as “Active” or “Legacy”. Certifications will remain in “Active” status until Microsoft retires the exam. Microsoft retires exams when the product or service associated with an exam reaches its end of life. When that happens, the certification will be listed as “Legacy.” But, it’s not expired.

 How much does an MCSA make?

Information technology has a diverse set of job roles and titles. With more than a dozen MCSA certifications that span the entire universe of Microsoft products, IT professionals who earn these certs can expect disparate and varying salary ranges.

MCSA: Server 2016

IT professionals who pursue the MCSA: Server 2016 are often in technical roles with job titles like systems administrator. In 2018, reported that the salary range for DBAs is $43,000 to $86,000 per year with $60,708 as the average salary.

MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration

IT professionals who pursue the MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration are often in database management roles with job titles like database administrator (DBA). In 2018, reported that the salary range for DBAs is $45,000 to $107,000 per year with $71,759 as the average salary.

MCSA: BI Reporting

IT professionals who pursue the MCSA: BI Reporting are often in business intelligence (BI) roles with job titles like a business analyst. In 2018, reported that the salary range for BI analysts was $49,000 to $93,000 per year with $66,289 as the average salary.

While certifications are valuable on their own, they are even more valuable combined with commensurate experience, education, and complementary technical skills. It’s also important to note that salary ranges vary greatly among industry and geography.

MCSA Certification Training

Selecting the right training materials is essential for IT professionals studying for an MCSA exam. Microsoft exams are notoriously difficult and require intimate hands-on knowledge of the product or services being tested. The best Microsoft training material provides not only instruction but also the opportunity for hands-on experience and practice exams.

CBT Nuggets offers training courses for these Microsoft exams:

MCSA: Windows 10 (retiring March 31, 2019)

MCSA: Windows Server 2012

MCSA: Windows Server 2016

MCSA: Office 365 (retiring March 31, 2019)

MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014



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