Recently a forum question asked for a step-by-step process on how to get
certified. Both Steve
Jones and I responded with some suggestions on how to go about the
certification process. If you've read the "How to get certified"
articles at other sites, you won't see anything really new in this article.
However, since the question has come up several times on this site, I've put
together my recommendations about how to get Microsoft- certified. This is
basically my ten step approach that I used when I completed the NT 4 MCSE track.
I'm now back in the certification game, heading towards new certifications, not
all of them Microsoft (security has become a big player), so I think this
ten-step approach is a fairly generic one. Needless to say, this is the plan I'm
using to get certified. Okay, enough with the introduction and on to the plan:
Step 1: Understand the Requirements for the Certification You Want
Microsoft has numerous certification tracks. Among the ones most appealing to
IT professionals are:
- Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
- Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA)
- Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD)
- Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD)
- Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT)
Each of these tracks have different requirements. Many of the tracks have
overlapping requirements. For instance, if you complete your MCSA, you're well
on your way to the MCSE. If you complete your MCAD, you don't have too much left
for your MCSD. If you plan your MCSE pursuit correctly, you won't have a whole
lot left for your MCDBA. The first thing you want to do before pursuing any
certification track is to completely understand what it takes to get the
certification and what tests apply and what tests don't. There's nothing like
shelling out US$125 for a test and then realizing it doesn't apply to the
particular certification track you are after. If you are looking to obtain
Microsoft certification, here is the web site you need to visit:
Since this is SQLServerCentral.com, I'll concentrate on the MCDBA exam.
Visiting the Microsoft site and navigating to the requirements, I find the
requirements break out like so:
of Exams Required
|SQL Server Administration||1|
|SQL Server Design||1|
1 The old Windows NT 4 Server (70-067) and Windows NT 4 Server in
the Enterprise (70-068) together also meets this requirement (NT 4 MCSEs
2 The Microsoft Accelerated Exam (70-240) also counts.
If I'm just starting on my way to Microsoft certification, I know I have 4
tests ahead of me. I have one on administering SQL Server, 1 on designing for
it, I have an operating system exam, and I have an elective exam. The question
that now comes to mind is, "Which exams do I pursue?" Well, I'm a
realist, and I know SQL Server 7.0 isn't going to stay a viable option, at least
as far as certification is concerned. After all, Microsoft is going to release
Yukon sometime in my lifetime and that means SQL Server 7.0 will be 3 versions
old. So if I'm targeting for certification, my best bet is to go after the SQL
Server 2000 tests. When in doubt, pick the exams that
should be around the longest. That means I will be taking the
- Exam 70-228: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft SQL
Server 2000 Enterprise Edition
- Exam 70-229: Designing and Implementing Databases with Microsoft SQL
Server 2000 Enterprise Edition
- Exam 70-215: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows
What about the elective? Well, since there's a list of 11 possible elective
exams that qualify for the MCDBA, I'm going to pick an elective exam that works
towards my strengths. For me, that's probably Exam 70-216: Implementing and
Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure because I deal
with the Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure so much as an Enterprise Systems
Architect. If you're more of a developer, you might target one of the VB, C++,
or .NET exams. If you are a data warehousing expert, you might consider Exam
70-019: Designing and Implementing Data Warehouses with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0
(there isn't a similar exam for SQL Server 2000). My advice is this:
pick the one that tests on your strengths.
Step 2: Choose the Certification You Want to Pursue
After you're done looking at the certifications, you may find that you want
to pursue more than one. For instance, it's not unusual to see people with MCSE
and MCDBA or MCSD and MCDBA on their tag-lines. They went after and obtained
certification along more than one track. But if you start with the mentality,
"I'm going to grab them all," you may run into a brick wall during
your certification efforts. When you proceed with the mentality to get them all,
you may fall into the trap of taking an exam here and there, not focusing on any
one track first. That means you may get to the point where you've taken some
five or six tests and you're not done with any of the tracks. This can lead to
frustration which leads to abandoning certification. When I was active in the
Usenet groups for Microsoft certification, I would see a post where someone was
giving up every so often. Focus on one track at a
Once you've accomplished one track, only then go after the next one. You'll
have to advantage that some of your requirements for next track should already
be completed because of the exams you took for your first certification track.
This really boils down to a mental game with yourself. You're looking for any
advantage that will keep you motivated and hungry to complete the
certifications. Studying and testing isn't easy. You want to minimize those
things which can kill your morale and maximize the pick-me-ups that keep you
going. Centering on one certification track at a time will help you do that.
Step 3: Choose the Test You Want to Pursue
Like in step 2, you need to narrow down your focus. Concentrate
on one test at a time. This is the best advice I ever received from a
friend of mine who asked why I hadn't completed my NT 4 MCSE. I had completed
the NT 4 Workstation exam, mostly at his urging. But then when I looked at the
fact that I needed 5 more exams, the mind games started to play against me. In
fact, I had gotten discouraged. I had passed workstation in September and it was
now December. And my friend knew exactly what was going on. So he took me aside
and said, "Look, you passed workstation. Server builds on workstation. Go,
study that, and pass it. Then worry about your next exam, not your next four
exams." My friend was right and I knew it. I focused on one exam at a time
and by the end of the month, I had my MCSE.
Look at the objectives for each test. Figure out what test you are already
the most prepared for. Focus on passing that test first. Only then will you
worry about the rest of the tests. And when you pass that first one, you should
do the same thing again: figure out what test you are strongest for and focus on
that test alone. Mentally it is easier to think about passing one exam rather
than 2 or 3.
Step 4: Study and Train Using the Methods That Are Best for You
The certification industry is a big business. Plenty of training centers will
provide classes for you that prepare for the exams. Plenty of books are on the
shelves keying on the specific tests. And plenty of videos are out there to help
you pass that test the first time around. Only, which method do you choose? If
you do any research into learning theory, you'll find that there are quite a few
models on how people learn. But one model that is referenced a lot breaks
learners down into the following learning styles:
- Kinesthetic (motion)
Just about everyone can eventually come to the point where they can learn by
any of the three different methods. But each person will always have one method
that is best. For me it's visual. For my father and my oldest son it's auditory.
For my youngest son it is kinesthetic. Figure out how
you learn best and try and choose the training method that applies.
If you are a visual learner, self-study books are a good option. If you are an
auditory learner, those training classes will be of more value to you than a
visual learner. If you're a kinesthetic learner, which means you learn best by
doing, you're going to have to initially start with visual or auditory, but
ensure you focus a lot more on the lab environment. However, don't get too
caught up in the learning styles unless you have an interest in the topic (like
I do)... you're just trying to figure out how best to plunk down your money to
prepare for the exams. If you know you do just fine by reading the material and
running through a few lab examples, then there's nothing wrong going down that
route, even if it turns out your an auditory learner.
Step 5: Obtain Self-Test Software
I'll be honest in saying that the books and classes probably won't give you a
good feel for how you'll do on the exam. Nothing is worse that sitting an exam
and realizing you don't know the material like you should. First of all, you
know you've wasted the money for the exam. Second, you might start doubting your
ability to ever pass the exam, depending on much you've already studied.
Self-testing software can really help here. The software should give you
questions very similar in scope and difficulty to what you'll face on the exam.
Also, the self-test software (at least the good ones) should tell you the areas
where you are weak and need more study. Use the
software to pinpoint gaps in your knowledge. Don't try and simply
memorize the questions and answers, no matter how much you've heard how closely
the self-test software resembles the actual exam. Then after you've identified
your gaps, study to fill them in. Repeat until you're ready to take that exam.
Some of the self-test providers (not an endorsement, just a list of the more
- BeachFront Quizzer: http://www.bfq.com/
- Boson: http://www.boson.com/
- MeasureUp: http://www.measureup.com/site/
- Self-Test: http://www.stsware.com/
- Transcender: http://www.transcender.com/
Step 6: Register with a Testing Center
In order to take the test, you'll need to register with a testing center. For
the Microsoft tests, there are two main providers in the United States: Thomson
Prometric and Vue. If you are outside of the United States visit the Microsoft
Training and Certification site earlier in this article to locate the testing
providers in your country. You can usually register by phone or on the web. For
the two providers in the US:
In some cases you can call up by phone and get a test the same day, but this
isn't always the case. It's typically better to call up a week or two in advance
and schedule the test. This is my advice: schedule your
test two weeks before you're going to take it. There are a couple of
reasons for my suggestion. First, you'll be more likely to get a testing slot at
a time and place that works for you. The seats are first come, first serve so
the longer you wait the less likely you are going to get the seat you want.
Second, by scheduling the test, you are committing yourself to a date. It is very
easy to keep putting off studying because you don't have a date scheduled. But
if you have a date on the books, you'll be more inclined to learn the material
and be ready for the test. While it is possible for you to delay or cancel an
exam (at least a day in advance is typically required), having that date is just
another mental game you play with yourself to get it done.
I learned this trick from that same friend who told me to focus one test at a
time. What he does is estimate how long he things it'll take him to be ready for
a particular test. Once he's done that, he goes and schedules the exam right
away. This helps keep him on track. His results speak for the validity of his
approach. My friend currently holds the following certifications: CCNP, CCNA,
CCDA, MCSE (4.0), MCSE (2000), MCP+I, MCT, Network+, and A+. He earned all of
them while holding down a full-time job with the US Army, as a systems
administrator, and later as a network architect. My friend points out that if he
can do it, so can anyone else.
Step 7: Finish Up Studying Before the Day of the Exam
A good rule is to finish up studying before the day of the exam. The last
thing you want to face is having run out of time before the exam and knowing you
aren't ready. If you still have studying to do the day of the exam, you may
start to panic and think, "I'll never get through it all before the
test!" This will cause you to rush through the material to just "get
it done" and you may get through all the pages but miss something in your
rush. This gap may mean the difference between passing and failing.
Try and complete all of your studying at least a day
ahead of the exam. Use the day of the exam strictly for review. Go
through your notes. Look at the objectives and make sure you understand each
one. Verify that anything you need to have memorized for the exam you can
quickly regurgitate. I know as a physics and mathematics student I would quickly
check all of my formulas. When I was taking TCP/IP I made sure I had my
different WINS node types down. The little check at the end may mean the
difference in one or two questions.
Step 8: Eliminate Distractions and Impediments
Anything that could be a distraction or impediment will only hurt you for the
exam. So take the appropriate steps to eliminate as
many of them as possible. You want to be focused on your test. Try
and do things such as the following:
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Get to the test center early (if you plan on getting there early and
there's traffic, you should still be okay).
- Make sure you have all the identification required by the testing center.
- If you have to take the test on a work day, try and take the exam before
you go to work.
- Ensure you eat at a time so that you're not sleepy for your exam (don't
take an exam right after a meal).
- Anything you had to memorize, write down on the scratch paper as soon as
you sit down to take the exam (this is before question #1).
Step 9: Go Take That Test
In order to pass the exam, you must take the exam. I know of a few cases
where a person had decided to attempt an exam. Every time the date of the exam
loomed, the person would reschedule it for two weeks later. Eventually the
person in question would just cancel the exam. Don't be afraid to take the exam.
It is very easy to convince yourself you aren't ready for an exam when you
really are. That's part of the reason for the self-test software. If you score
well on the self-test software, you should be okay for the exam. But even with
that said, I know of people who still convinced themselves that they wouldn't be
able to pass. Don't do this. Take the exam.
If you pass, you're one step closer to your goal. If you don't, well, that's
what the next step is for.
Step 10: If You Don't Pass, Don't Get Discouraged
Quite a few people have failed an exam on a first attempt. The
key is to stay positive. Hopefully, the exam results has a breakdown
of the areas that you were weak on. If not, go back to your self-test software.
Regroup, focus on those areas, and prepare to take the exam again. Remember,
failing an exam isn't the end of the road. I have another friend who failed the
CCIE written exam several times. Each time he only failed by a few questions. He
could have easily gotten discouraged and decided to stop. But he didn't and he
eventually passed the exam successfully. My friend that I mentioned with all the
certifications failed an exam (NT 4 Server in the Enterprise), and then
rescheduled for two days later. The second time he took the exam, he passed
easily. Don't let a failure convince you to quit. Rather, use it as ammunition
to study harder and complete your certification.
Getting certified can be challenging, but if you have the mind to do it, you
will be able to do so. The biggest issue I've found is getting up the confidence
to go take the exam. Even if you fail the exam, you should get some really
helpful information to help you pass the next time. As I said in step 10, the
key is to stay positive. Don't talk yourself out of pursuing the certification.
If you have a question regarding certification, check out the
SQLServerCentral.com forum specifically for this arena. Keep in mind that this
forum isn't to answer "brain dump" type questions. If you post a
question with several answers and ask, "Which one is it?" you're
likely to get back, "Which one do you think it is and why?" Suitable
questions involve ones on how to get certified, how best to attack a particular
exam, how a particular piece of technology works, or on what materials others
used for their certification efforts. Here's a link to the SQLServerCentral.com
Some other sources for certification information and tips:
Good luck on your certification efforts!
Brian Kelley. http://www.truthsolutions.com/
Author of Start
to Finish Guide to SQL Server Performance Monitoring.