Ever since I started working with Microsoft SQL Server, I have heard and read a lot about the coveted “Microsoft Certified Professional” status. I had yet to get my first certification even after working with SQL Server for the last 7 years. As the year 2011 dawned, I had made a resolution that no matter what happens I need to pass the entry level MCTS examination 70-432.
As 2011 comes to a close, I am happy to announce that last week, I achieved the MCTS certification!
Today, I will try to summarize my learning and examination experience with all.
I have always enjoyed the preparation phase of any examination – the simple reason being that I never look at things from an examination perspective. I always look at the preparation as an opportunity to learn new things.
Microsoft Learning has identified a great set of preparation materials on the examination’s home page – http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-432. Because of the work schedule, the self-paced training kit was the best option for me, and therefore, I bought a copy of the book – “MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 – Implementation and Maintenance” by Mike Hotek (Microsoft | Amazon | Flipkart).
TIP: For those in India, make sure you get the “Eastern Economy Edition” when ordering it online.
As I mentioned, I have been working with SQL Server for quite some time now, and therefore, did not go through the complete prescribed reading syllabus. Apart from backup-restores, I have not had real-time, practical exposure on Disaster Recovery plans & techniques. So, as soon as I got the book, I started reading up on the areas to which I only had a cursory exposure.
TIP: Online resources are one of the best resources that can help in the preparations. Apart from the online resources listed on the examination’s home page, make sure you subscribe to blogs and newsletters of stalwarts like Pinal Dave (SQLAuthority.com), Vinod Kumar (Extreme Experts), Jacob Sebastian (BeyondRelational.com), and SQLServerCentral.com. Even outside of the preparations , these are some of the blogs & newsletters I read daily and find them to be enriched with knowledge & information.
That’s pretty much it. The end of the year was fast approaching, and after 6 months of slowly reading selected sections of the book, I decided to give the examinations a go!
The examinations for Microsoft certifications are conducted through a network of authorized test centers operated by Prometric. One can go to their web-site, search for a convenient test center location, pay online and schedule an examination on a date of their choice. The online registration process is simple and smooth.
I reached the examination centre about 45 minutes before the scheduled time (they require you to come at least 30 minutes before time), and the check-in process was immediately started. They already knew I was coming, and I was given a couple of forms and non-disclosure agreements to sign on. I was required to produce 2 forms of photographic identifications (passport & driver’s license are the most common) and all pockets were to be emptied. All personal belongings need to go into a standard locker, and therefore, they recommend that one should not bring backpacks or any other oversized item to the test center.
After the sign-in process, I was given a set of 2 erasable boards, marker pens and was explained the examination process by a very kind and patient test administrator. I was then assigned a cubicle where once again a few terms & conditions were to be accepted. Once done, the test began. Personally, I found no reason to hurry – I was given a time of more than 2 hours to complete the examination. On an average, I had about 3-4 minutes per question and so, I immediately relaxed – I had time to think the questions through.
I finished the examination well within the prescribed time, and was immediately provided an embossed score sheet by the administrator certifying that I had passed the examination! After that, it was time for some feedback forms and that’s it – it was time to go!
The next day, I received an E-mail from Microsoft giving me my very own MCP number and access to the MCP website from where I could view my certificates, download them and even order a print copy if required.
I was officially, MCTS Certified! A new-year resolution was completed by me for the first time!
I found the examination completely practical oriented. If you are going to appear for the exam after only reading through the theory, please do not do so. The secret to clearing the examination is – practice, practice & practice. The questions require you to have faced complex, practical issues in SQL Server implementation, maintenance & administration.
My recommendations would be to read through the theory, and reinforce it with practical experience without fail. The questions and practice exercises within the book are great way to get started on the practical side of the preparation. In addition, go through the content and practice tests in the CD/DVD accompanying the book – the practice tests on the CD/DVD simulate the test environment to a real world level and I strongly recommend that you pass at least 3 consecutive times on the simulated tests before you decide to appear for the exams.
I would recommend that anybody who foresees themselves working on Microsoft technologies should prepare and get themselves Microsoft certifications. The certification has tremendous value. For me, the next step is another MCTS certification (70-433: SQL Server 2008: Database Development), but that would be next year. I am exhausted for now!
Until we meet next time,
Be courteous. Drive responsibly.