Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting my 6th ever SQL exam and I did it in the heart of London city. I don’t think I would even be in London, if I had not done my first… In this post I’ll share the process that I go through taking exams. But first, a few words on certification…
Exams can be a great way to constantly develop your knowledge while keeping up with the latest changes in your chosen field. As a bonus exams will demonstrate value to your employer, and a commitment to your career development. Additionally, a lot of job ads in the market these days will cite certification as a requirement.
But not everyone thinks that exams are the way to go, and they are a controversial topic. For instance there are a lot of database professionals who have made it to the top of their game without having sat any exams. And in fact without experience, exams won’t mean much at all!
Whether you find exams useful or not will be up to you, but exams can provide a lot of value and are a means by which to keep learning. Let’s look at the exam process…
There are currently 2 paths when pursuing a certification in SQL server 2012; Data Platform and Business Intelligence. Jump on the MS site and have a look at what best suits your career intentions. http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/sql-certification.aspx
How long you can spend on each exam will depend on how much time you wish to invest and how much you have to learn. I usually spend about 2-3 months on each. From the link above, choose your path and figure out which exam you need to do first.
The next thing you will want to do is gather some resources… I personally rely on e-books, Google, BOL and just using the software itself. I recommend MS Press training material if available as I find it covers the material well and also comes with practice exams which are great for learning the multiple choice format.
Do note however that newer exams may not have training material available. Look at the ‘Preparation Options’ for each exam. e.g. http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/exam-70-461.aspx If nothing is available yet, you will have to search for books and material online. I suggest using Amazon and having a good look at the reviews.
Next up, unless you have an environment at work, then you are going to have to either download an evaluation version of SQL server, or purchase a Developer / Technet edition. http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/details.aspx?id=29066
What about the method? How you study will largely be up to you but try to spend at least 30 minutes per day. I take a lot of notes as I make my way through each book. Anything I did not know or I think is important, I will write down using my own words. These notes can be reviewed later and also help commit what you have learned to memory.
Try to go back and revisit your notes every week or two, and basically go through your book front to back. You can set yourself up examples and test anything you’re not sure on.
After that it is time to commit… Logon to Prometric, find yourself a testing centre and set yourself a date and time! https://www.prometric.com/en-us/Pages/home.aspx
Plan to give yourself at least two weeks of pure revision after you finish the book and before sitting the exam. Use this time to review all your notes again, make a list if the things you don’t feel strong on, and give yourself some demos to solidify your knowledge.
I usually book around one month in advance as I’m finishing up the book. If you’re a morning person, book the exam for earlier in the day. If you work best later in the day, book the appointment accordingly.
When exam day comes, give yourself plenty of rest the night before, make sure you get some healthy food into you and prepare yourself mentally by accepting that you might fail in advance. Finally, get to your exam early and make sure you bring identification to show who you are.
Exams can take up to 3 hours so make sure you have the right fuel beforehand.
Now get in there and do it!!! If you come across features you were unaware of, commit them to memory so that you can learn them later. (The bonus here is that if you fail, you will have an idea what items you need to study in order to pass the next time!)
If you have any questions on certification, feel free to send me an email.