The Road to SQL Server Certification – Part 5: The End – Exam 70-463
Two exams down, one to go to complete the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series. And that exam was 70-463: Implementing a Data Warehouse with SQL Server 2012.
At the time of starting my studying for 70-463, I was about 8 months into my SQL certification journey. I’d been taking my time so far and I planned to do so doubly on this exam due to the huge breadth of material covered on the beast.
70-463 is easily the strangest exam of the series. Considering my interest in Business Intelligence, the exam didn’t bother me, but I could see how others in more traditional DBA roles would find the material to be very much on the fringe of their areas of responsibilities. While “Querying” and “Administering” both seemed like natural fits in the MCSA series (which is the lowest level SQL certification), Implementing a Data Warehouse seemed a bit more of a stretch to me.
It doesn’t help matters much that 70-463 should probably be re-titled: 70-463: SSIS, SSIS, and More SSIS (We Hope You Like SSIS). To say the material is a little bit SSIS-centric would be an understatement! Sure, there is a little bit of DW design, MDS, and DQS, but it all circles back to SSIS!
Given the breadth of the topics covered for the exam, as well as how little I interact with some of the topics covered (such as MDS and DQS) I planned to spend a longer time than usual studying for this exam — about 6 months or so, putting my target exam date around November or December. My Second Shot voucher was set to expire on December 31st, so I did have a hard deadline to adhere to.
For preparation, I followed the same system I’d used previously for 70-461 and 70-462 (why fix it if it isn’t broken?) with similar materials:
- Round 1: Video Training — The CBT Nuggets 70-463 Series, taught by Garth Schulte, clocks in at about 12 hours which is on par with the others in the series. These videos do an excellent job of laying the foundation and covering all of the exam topics in a very demo heavy setting. The series is very very heavy on SSIS demos (since the exam content is very heavy on SSIS), but also includes some great info on other features such as MDS and DQS installation and usage.
- Round 2: Books and Labs — Much like with the 70-461 and 70-462 exams, I found the Microsoft Press book, Training Kit (Exam 70-463) to be incredibly useful. This Microsoft Press book was well organized and well-written, comes with a PDF version, and comes with a pretty good and exam-relevant bank of electronic sample questions. In the case of many exams, 3rd party books tend to be better preparation materials than the official Microsoft books (as they can sometimes be quite dry) but the Microsoft books were spot on for this series. Another excellent book I used for preparation was Knight’s Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services 24-hour Trainer, which I happened to pick up a signed copy of at PASS Summit 2013.
- Round 3: Practice Tests — 70-463 had been out for a while by the time I got to this point, so there were a couple of good reputable practice test engines available for use. As always, the practice questions included with the Microsoft 70-463 Training Kit were an excellent resource. Additionally, the Transcender Practice Questions were very comprehensive and give excellent explanations as to why an answer choice is right (and why the others are wrong). A handy bonus of having a corporate CBT Nuggets subscription is that Transcender practice questions are included for free…a handy perk!
|Books, books, and more books!
With the craziness of November and December upon me, I had to push my exam date much further back than I’d originally planned. I finally sat the exam on the 23rd, just days before the expiration of my voucher. Fortunately, my preparation did the trick and I was able to walk away with a pass and could relax over the holidays rather than cram again.
The 70-463 exam followed a familiar format to 70-461 and 70-462. If you’ve taken both of those, you know fully what to expect. For a little bit of a rant, however, Microsoft exams these days seem to make heavy use of what Microsoft calls “Repeated Answer Choice” questions in which a question is presented in 2-3 sentences and then a large number of options, say 10-12, are given and you must choose the correct one. They then have 3-5 copies of the question with slight variations in the wording of the original question as well as potentially in the answer choices. Each question doesn’t relate to the last, so you could potentially choose the same answer over and over. I’m not sure what the test benefit to this style of question is (I’m sure there is one…some pretty smart people design these things with a lot of science), however, to me, the consumer, they just feel like the test-maker got lazy. Long tests are already pretty exhausting, but getting what feels like the same question over and over which is really easy to misread a key word, just seems to compound that exhaustion without a lot of apparent benefit. Rant completed!
I’m relieved to have completed my three-exam MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series and have certainly learned a lot in the process. Now I look forward to a period of rest and relaxation and using some of my new-found skills.