First up. If you came here to get some sample questions, brain dumps or otherwise remarks that would make me violate my exam NDA, I’m sorry. I’ll only talk you through my exam experience from a legal point of view. Because yes, I need to take more exams and would hate it if Microsoft would ban me for violating said NDA.
Having said this, let’s get on with some content.
This part is key. I’ve been working for about 6 years as some sort of DBA and almost a year with Azure SQL Databases. That’s not much. I’ve had enough experiences of things going sour quickly but even more of performance tuning that made people happy. But in no way am I a very experienced DBA. Still, experience helps a lot in a quick understanding of the material.
When you look at the learning path offered by Microsoft on their learn page it will take you through all the steps needed to get a basic understanding for the test. The path is in one way hard to follow because the navigation keeps setting you back to the main page of the Microsoft Learn, but opening your specific learning path in a separate browser window and continue from there will fix that issue.
The thing with the learning path in my opinion is that is hits home on all the basics, but the exam can dive deeper in some areas. In other words, just following the learning path without diving more into the details you’ll find in the regular online documentation won’t get you over the scoring threshold.
On the other hand, if you’re working with Azure databases, you’ll have bookmarks for most of the important things concerning the databases. Because though theory is nice, there’s no substibute for experience. In the learning path, most modules contain an environment where you can practice the content you’ve read about in that module. One thing that bugs me with these labs is that all you have to do is click where the explanation tells you where to click.
This “click here, here and here to achieve this” is one of my major pet peeves with any form of training. If I want to learn something, I have to find out what I’ve got to do. Don’t take over my mouse and click for me just showing me what to do. That’s just “monkey see, monkey do”. And this peeve stretches out over any training, not just these Microsoft trainings. I’ve followed a number of SAP Business Objects trainings as well and these have the same set-up. The trainer shows how something can be done, and all you have to do is repeat the steps that are in the book. What you’ll learn is where buttons are, what happens when you click on a button. Full stop. That doesn’t get me anywhere. When I designed my SQL training, my point was, and is, to show how sql statements work. After that, the questions are formulated in a way some manager or co-worker can ask them. Something like “I need the top 10 suppliers from London, ordered by postal code”. These questions leave room for interpretation and challenge skills.
Registering for your exam is easy. From the site where you can choose your certification, you’ll be linked to the PearsonVue site where you can choose date, time and location of your exam. You can choose for an official site where you want to do you exam, or do it from your own home. If you choose to do the exam from home, make sure your room is up to the standards that are required. No interference from other people, no books, monitors or other materials etc. The rules are quite clear but before the exam starts, you’ll be asked to show where you are and the things that are around you. I haven’t done exams from home because my home doesn’t live up to what’s needed. It’s built around 2001 and there’s constant ambient noise that’s impossible to drown out. So I’m always off to an official site. There are two quite nearby so that’s no issue for me.
For many exams, MeasureUp (the official partner from Microsoft to deliver practice exams) provides practice exams. These are, as far as I know, legal to use and will help you with the way questions are asked during the exam. The practice exams hold all the different question types, like case studies, multiple choice questions and sets of questions you can’t review. If you play nice and use the offer you usually get when you register for your exam, you’ll get a good preperation for your exam. There are multiple offers for these practice exams and depending on your skills and knowledge of both subject and exam style Microsoft uses, you can choose the best offer.
Exam on site
When you’re due for your exam, make sure you’re comfortable. I can’t tell you how to do that. Everyone is different. For me, because it’s an exam, I want to be on edge. If my exam is around 1 in the afternoon, I’ll play with some elements in the morning or review my weak points. After that I’ll make sure I’ve had a good lunch and the right coffee to get me going. In my planning I make sure to have some spare time for traffic. Red lights, bridges, traffic jams or anything else. That’s the stress I need to avoid. Because you need to be on time. Sometimes you’re lucky and you can start early if you’re ready (I’ve started an exam half an hour early once) but starting late is hardly ever an option. When you’re there you’ll be asked two forms of identification to make sure you’re you. They’ll take your picture that will be printed on the result sheet and you’ll be asked to empty all your pockets and remove your watch. When the examiner is satisfied and you’re ready to go, it’s on to the exam room and then, it’s you. Time to show your knowledge and skills. Sometimes the exam site provides you with a wipeable notepad. I’ve used that to write down READ! THINK! Just to remind me of my weakest points in any exam.
After the exam
When you’re finished, you’ll usually get the result both on screen and printed out. It’s either a failed or a congratulations message. If you passed a few hours later your badge will show up on the Acclaim site and you can let the world know you’ve got a certification. If you failed there’s some general feedback on where you lost most points but other than that you have to figure out your weak points. If you fail, I’d advice you to reschedule as soon as you can to keep all the knowledge in your head. Not just the knowledge you need to pass but the questions as well. What questions were hard, which ones were you not sure about. Those are the ones to focus on to try and get a better result next time around.
Value of certifications
Now there’s a discussion. Some say certifications are worthless and only show you can replicate knowledge Microsoft thinks you need. Others think it’s the holy grail to a succesfull career. For me, both of these are somewhat true, but not to that extent. Being certified shows that you’ve got a basic level of knowledge. You’ve either read the documentation or got enough experience to pass the exam. In any case, you know the basics. Even in an advanced topic, you’ve got the basics of that advanced topic. But you’re no expert. As am I no expert on Azure databases. To become an expert, you need experience and failure. When you fail, you have to fix stuff. Usually, those failures aren’t in the textbooks. Maybe you can find things online in blogs but most of the time you need to figure it out. And repair it. That’s the real learning curve that will get you ahead.
Is it useless? No. But it’s not the only way to advance your career either. It’s a part of it.
Thank’s for reading my experience. If you have any comments, thoughts, questions or additions, let me know in the comments below!