One of my goals is to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Business Intelligence. I decided to start from scratch and take the three exams required for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): SQL Server 2012 to learn as much as possible. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would and I’m not there yet, but I’m one step closer to my goal: I passed the 70-461 exam (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012) in January :)
Preparing for the exam
My plan was to work my way through each chapter in the Training Kit book. I read each chapter and answered the quick check questions, lesson review questions, and case scenarios out loud to myself. I did all the exercises, but none of the suggested practices. Instead, I tried to use what I had learned at work. For example, I rewrote some of our queries to use the new window functions, and it was easier to understand how FOR XML worked when I queried data I was already familiar with.
The practice tests that came with the book were generally completely useless and not even close to the actual exam. The only thing they were useful for was to identify which topics I still had to work on. For example, there were a couple of questions about transaction isolation levels that made me realize I didn’t know the topic well enough, so I looked it up online and read more about it there.
I completed the Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy and I watched these prep videos:
Finally, I went through the list of skills measured and made sure that I felt comfortable with everything mentioned there.
However, the main preparation for this exam has no doubt been working with SQL Server every day for years. I already felt very comfortable with most of the skills measured, so I focused on learning the things I don’t do every day such as the new SQL Server 2012 features (we still used SQL Server 2008 R2 when I took the exam), XML, transactions, triggers, functions and cursors.
Taking the exam
I tried taking the exam online twice without getting past the check-in process. (You can read about that in my other blog post.) The third attempt was at an on-site test center. The staff was very friendly, professional and walked me through all the rules and details -- all in all a very pleasant experience. You also get to use a whiteboard on-site in case you want to write or draw something, you can’t do that if you take the exam online.
The exam itself consisted of 42 questions. Some were simple questions with one correct answer, some were multiple-choice, some were drag-and-drop where you had to choose a certain number of code snippets and place them in the correct order, and some were questions where you had to type the answer. On the questions where you had to type the answer you could click a button to check the syntax so you don’t have to worry about typos. The different kinds of questions made the exam a lot more interesting. As soon as you end your exam you will see your score and if you pass or fail.
I probably spent way more time preparing for this exam than I had to, but I really wanted to take this opportunity to learn as much as I could.
Good luck on your exam! :)