Microsoft TSQL Certification

Working with data is a daily routine for hundreds of database experts in Prague, but how many of these are guaranteed specialists, is it the same number as before? How you can know that everyone is really an expert?

Microsoft certification is a guarantee that someone really understands MS technologies and concepts. MS provides various certifications on different technologies, but I will focus only on T-SQL Querying Data with Transact-SQL (Exam 70-761).From the outset, it is important to say that T-SQL is the superstructure of basic SQL, and it is not equal to ordinary SQL certification.

In the following sections we’ll look at the process of testing, how to prepare for it and get some tips & tricks for the exam.

Preparation

Your first step should be to the official page of the exam, where you can find basic info about the exam, the areas that you are expected to know, additional stuff for learning and interesting links for it (videos, practice exams etc..)

All the information on the web can be very useful, but what I suggest first is to buy the official training book (Exam Ref 70-761 Querying Data with Transact-SQL, written by Itzik Ben-Gan) and read it from cover to cover. I read the book twice and still have the feeling that I can learn more from it. The book is perfectly designed and covers all topics on the test. It starts with the absolute basics for somebody who has no experience with SQL or T-SQL and describes them in many step-by-step examples.  The book contains 3 main chapters:

•             CHAPTER 1 Manage data with Transact-SQL

•             CHAPTER 2 Query data with advanced Transact-SQL components

•             CHAPTER 3 Program databases by using Transact-SQL

This book, along with practicing on MS AdventureWorks database is the best possible combination of preparation for the exam that you can get. For more examples and deeper information about the topic I used the internet, where there are sometimes better descriptions of some cases, but keep in mind that this information is not guaranteed like in the book.

Exam process

When you think you are ready for the test, then schedule and register for your exam. I did it in a Microsoft certificated training center with all necessary procedures, some of which were really funny (like having your socks checked to make sure you don’t have a cheat sheet), after that you sign a document that you have read and agree with the mentioned rules. I didn’t read it because you have no way to refuse it, I just signed it and asked the personnel for some summary ?,  the response from the assistants were brief (absolute quiet all the time, no food/drink and definitely don’t use a handkerchief, when you need to visit the toilet the time is not stopped and before you return to your computer you must pass the security check again, including the socks control).

When you finally get to the computer, there is small questionnaire about your SQL skills (I marked every option as an SQL noob, hoping that I would receive the easiest form of the exam ? – I don’t know if it this happened, probably not).

The exam takes a maximum of 150minutes, which is enough time if you know how to handle it (see Tips and Tricks section). The test has various forms, at the beginning there are questions with 2 choices (True/False) and you cannot return to this section, you have only one try to fill it in (It focuses on if the written code is OK or NOT, and the next question modifies the code by some new row(s) into the previous version. Other forms of the test including filling in the correct word(s), writing correct SQL statements (syntax validator is available!! Thanks to it I avoided one typo) and selecting the correct answer for a question (A,B,C..H possibilities).

At the end you raise your hand, the assistant explains the next steps to you (like installing SW, clicking on next and agreeing with everything).

Tips and tricks

This section describes my tips & tricks for the exam, it is not an official recommendation!

Watch your time, even though you have 150 min for 45 questions it could be tight, some tasks start with long introductions to the task which will take up a few minutes to read and understand (average time per question is 3min). My advice is to skip the introduction text, review the database schema structure and look at the question and what they exactly want from you (I did this for all long tasks and saved 10 minutes per final check).

Skip all tasks when you know that it will take a long time to be completed, use this additional time to do other tasks (you can add the flag a question and return to it later, i really appreciate this option).

If you really don’t know the answer in the True/False questions, always click on False, ordinarily there are 4 questions on similar code (the code is modified differently for each question) and only one is OK, so if you really don t know, marking all false will get more points that randomly guessing.

The main scope of the test is correct understanding of how the joins (inner, left outer, right outer and full) really work, there are many questions on this, so pay close attention to the wording of the question and read in the recommended book and links from the official site).

When you have finished and still have time, double check your answers, you will definitively find some mistakes (because you have time to check it, there’s no pressure on the time limit).

If you passed (Congratulation!) don’t forget to celebrate and announce it in your company. Your company can also be a Microsoft Gold Partner (if you have a certificated specialist) like we are in Joyful Craftsmen?

Summary

The certification is great validation that somebody has the skill and ability to work on complicated tasks. I am sorry that I didn’t do it earlier. Even if you fail in the 1st attempt it is a great experience for you and a challenge for the next attempt. When you have the study materials and practice them, it should take you about 1 week of study to successfully prepare for the exam.

Good luck in the exam! ?
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