Prepping for Certification

Having prepped for, taken, and then failed the MCM exam this year, perhaps I’m not the best person to give you advice for certification preparation. However the MCM is a hard test, I did better than I expected, and I was close. Lots of people haven’t passed it on their first try, including a couple people that work with SQL Server every day to build solutions that must work in the real world. A few of them passed on their second try, though I’m not sure if I’ll take it again anytime soon.

Recently I ran across this preparation post from Susan Ibach on MSDN. I think it’s good advice and if you follow it, you’ll be prepared for the exam. At least you’ll have a good idea on which general areas the exams focus on since there are %s given for each area. I’ve shown part of the SQL Server exam 70-450:


Note that this section, which includes security for the instance, database, schema, and encryption, is 15%. Since the exam is supposed to be around 50-60 questions, this means that you should get about 10 questions on security. You might get 8, you might get 12, but I wouldn’t expect to get 20.

I know most of you would like a step by step list of things to do for the exam. However these exams are going to test a wide variety of skills, and since 50 questions isn’t a lot, the exam can’t specify tightly which questions will be asked.

Sidebar: Personally I’d like to see more specific exams, perhaps as specific as security, replication, SSIS, etc., but lots of people don’t want to certify in all those areas. Plus it changes the profits for MS since they have more exams to administer. We’ll see if this changes in the future.

As a result you need to study a wide variety of materials. For example, for the security section above, you ought to tackle this in 5 sessions. Build yourself a short list of skills to have in each area. I’ll do section one for you. Here is what I’d go read about in BOL and practice in SSMS.

If you can explain each of these things to someone else, and perform the skills, you should be fine. I would recommend you blog or write about these, because that helps you to learn and remember this stuff. If you blog about them, ask a friend to look at your blog and see if you have correctly described things.

Once you think you’re OK with all the sections, not perfect and a guru, but you understand these areas, take the exam. If you want extra practice, get a MeasureUp or other practice test.

There’s no guarantee and you shouldn’t expect one. Go through the material, explain it back to yourself or someone else and you should be able to pass the test.

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