This past September, I attempted (and recently received a passing score for) Microsoft’s new certification exam, 70-768, “Developing SQL Data Models” during its Beta period. This brand new exam is a requirement toward the new MCSA SQL 2016: Business Intelligence Development certification. Last weekend, I took and passed 70-466, “Implementing Data Models and Reports with Microsoft SQL Server” which counts toward MCSE: Data Management and Analytics. Both of these exams overlap heavily in the topics covered, so if you’re interested in taking them both, its a good idea to study for both and take them back to back.
Brand new exams, as well as higher level specialty exams in general can be a bit of a tricky beast due to the lack of available resources. For exams which are mainstream (such as Windows Server exams) and have been out for a while, you can count on resources such as MS Press Books targeted toward the specific exam, practice tests from MeasureUp and Transcender, and other useful resources. Unfortunately, for brand new exams, or many of the high level SQL Server exams, none of this exists. Having successfully studied for and passed both 70-768 and 70-466. Below are some tips and resources I used to prepare for each exam.
General Tips for Both Exams
The first tip is just to know the question types that the exams typically cover. Microsoft list all of their question types here, with examples of each. It’s typically a good idea to pay special attention to the “Build List” type of question, which emphasizes knowing the steps, and order, that task components should be performed in. There seems to be a lot of love for this question type.
For both exams, the best starting place is the bulleted section of the “Skills Measured” section of the official exam page. Modern Microsoft exams follow this section very closely — you can practically guarantee there will be a question that ties back to each sub-item for each category. I like to go through this section and all of the bulletpoints and break it down into small words or phrases that I can then use as a checklist while studying. I’ve included an example for each exam below in the exam specific sections.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the beta period for the new Microsoft 70-768, “Developing SQL Data Models” exam. As part of the development process for new exams, Microsoft periodically offers invitations to take a beta version of the exam free of charge. Passing an exam while in the beta period results in passing the test officially when it is released. However, there are a few catches to this. The first of which is that these betas are designed to be taken by people who already have knowledge of a subject and work with it on a regular basis. Since the exam is brand new, there are no official study materials to study, and there is typically a short window of time between the announcement and close of the beta period, so there isn’t a lot of time to prepare. These exams also aren’t for those that feel the need for instant gratification, as it may take a month or longer to receive score results to ultimately find out if you passed or failed. But, the wait is for a good cause as the beta exams are used to determine the final versions of the exam as well as passing scores, which must be completed before the beta exams can the go through the scoring process to be officially scored.
For those interested in taking a beta exam and qualified to do so, I’ve found that Microsoft usually announces the availability of a limited number of seats via the Born to Learn blog which are available until the allocated number of exams are scheduled. For this last batch of SQL Server beta exams, 300 seats were made available for each exam. This may sound like a lot, but this is worldwide, so you have to act fast. I’ve found that if you don’t act within the first day or maybe two of the announcement, you will probably be too late. Once announced, you typically have to have the exam scheduled in a proctored environment within around a month of the announcement.
Like all Microsoft certification exams, the beta exams are covered by an NDA protecting the exam content, so I won’t go into exam specifics, but I do have a few general thoughts about the exam and process. It is interesting to see how the Microsoft exams in general have changed and matured over the years.
- I’d classify this exam as “tough, but fair” with a heavy amount of reading. I underestimated the amount of reading, and was thoroughly exhausted at the conclusion of the exam.
- Due to the length of the questions and answers, and re-reading questions and answers, I used almost all of my time allocated for the exam.
- The published Exam Objectives were very representative of the exam content (shockingly so) and make a very good framework for preparing for the exam.
- How an exam is scored is always a black box, but some questions do make mention of how they award partial credit, such as “1 point per part of correct answer” which I found to be a welcome change — nice to know for sure that partial credit is at least possible in some cases.
- The test engine itself is new since the last time I took an exam and seemed to work well with one exception. An exam may be made up of a combination of “reviewable” questions in which you can go back and “non-reviewable” questions in which you cannot go back. I’m sure there’s an intelligent reason for this. The way the engine handled this, however, is to go through the reviewable questions first, then allow for the standard review and change process, then proceed to the non-reviewable questions with the remaining time — only it really didn’t do a good job of explaining this process. Instead, I saw the question count, such as “50 out of 60,” hit next, then it proceeded to the review screen, which I thought was a glitch in the question count, no big deal…so I spent a bit too much time reviewing, only to have it launch into the next set of questions with not much time remaining once I finished review. It’d work a bit better if the non-reviewable questions came first or it gave a can’t-miss screen of explanation to allow for better budgeting of time.
- The question types are made available here . Not all types will necessarily be present in all exams and the Build List is definitely a type to be very familiar with, as it seems quite popular.
I’m currently eagerly awaiting my results, and probably will be still for some time as the beta period has just closed. Should I not pass, I look forward to attempting it again, possibly in the new online proctored format, which I’m curious to try out.