Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in beta tests of SQL Server 2012 certification exams. I have already described what exams are prepared and what the new certification path is in one of previous posts, so let me briefly describe how the exams loked like.
First of all, it’s a standard Prometric test. You come to testing center with two IDs (both with a signature, one of them needs to have a photo of you) half an hour before the exam, sign all the paperwork, leave all unnecessary stuff in a locker and wait till the test administrator calls you. I understand that the exam rules are pretty standard, but I love the part which says “no weapons are allowed at the Prometric test center”. Well, perhaps there are places in the world, where you have to fight your way to the test, fortunately Poland is not one of those.
I signed up for two beta exams (71-461 and 71-462) on one day, mostly due to time pressure. I am currently heavily loaded at work due to new system implementations and I didn’t have much time to do some real preparations. I had a bunch of VMs set up at my home PC lab, spent some time installing and configuring SQL Server 2012 but didn’t actually go deeper into it, for instance I had planned to establish AlwaysOn HA solution as a practice, but it ended up with reading Books Online a day before the exams. I had no idea what the certifications would be then apart from recertification requirement, so it was a blind shot made mostly for fun, but I guess I did OK – it was either 5 or none, if you were thinking certificate-wise.
There were two other guys waiting with me to take their tests and as usual I had bad luck – the computer assigned to me was out-of-date and received Prometric updates which had been applying for half an hour. It did not impact my test a lot, but I got a bit anxious at one moment and had to rebuild my focus. Then I left the room to catch my breath and prepare for second exam, but it turned out that the other computer I was supposed to use for testing hung and required assistance. All in all, I spent almost 6 hours at the testing center and finally took the wrong door while leaving.
The query exam (71-461) was an interesting one. I was expecting a lot of CRUD-like stuff. Instead, there were questions about database design and fundamental concepts such as keys and referential integrity, there was also a bit of DDL, all of course focused on features new to SQL Server 2012. If I were preparing for 70-461 exam, I would revisit:
- new built-in functions, such as LEAD, LAG, TRY_PARSE
- data types, paying special interest to date/time
- DDL stuff including triggers vs stored procedures
- locking and isolation levels and their impact on query results
Those were things which probably have impacted my result. What I didn’t like and strongly argued about it in the comments were questions related to cursors – the feature I don’t like and try to avoid as much as possible. With CTE being available since SQL Server 2005 I would expect cursors to lose their usefulness, but the test could make me think otherwise.
When it came to 70-462 – an administration exam – I felt absolutely confident about it. This is by all means the part of SQL Server that I am most exposed to (my development skills have gone down lately) and I find it most interesting. If you prepare for it, pay special attention to:
- backup and restore strategies, with reference to recovery models
- extended events – this is new diagnostic feature introduced in SQL Server 2008, so this is the first opportunity to test it
- AlwaysOn – there is a big hype about it with SQL Server 2012 and you want to know everything about it
- contained databases – what are they and how to convert standard database to a contained one
I had a few questions about database mirroring, which I found strange given that it is considered deprecated in next versions of SQL Server. I even argued about one of those, which was single-choice question and from what I understood two options were 100% correct.
Speaking of exam quality – after reading a few sources I expected a lot of bugs and holes. I was surprised (in a positive way) to see only one error and a number of inconsistencies. The results are going to be available at the moment when real exams go-live, which is about June 12. I am looking forward to results – it was a very interesting experience.