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How I Passed the SQL Server 2008 MCM Exams

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04 Dec How I Passed the SQL Server 2008 MCM Exams

Achievement Unlocked!Last week I found out that I had passed the SQL Server 2008 MCM lab exam, the final hurdle to earning my MCM certification. I actually started the process over two years ago, back in 2010. What I wrote back then still very much applies for today as well, except for one thing.

The lab exam.

The lab exam is much, much different than any written exam that Microsoft has ever composed. I can’t tell you how you should prepare for the lab. I’m not even going to try to tell you what the lab was like, or what you should do, or even think that I would know enough about you to presume to know what study methods work best for you.

What I can do for you is to share what worked for me. There is a chance my methods may work for you, too. I don’t know if they will or if they won’t but I’m happy to share with you my experience. Here are the steps I took in order to pass the SQL Server MCM exams.

1. Gathered All The SQL MCM Reading Materials

When the SQL MCM program first started I had a PDF with a bunch of links to reading materials. Over time that sheet became outdated a bit so Microsoft made this page available. Section 7.7 on that page is essentially the same list of reading materials that is in the PDF. I read through these papers and blog posts as time permitted. Much of the material was familiar to me but not to the depth I felt I would need to be an MCM so I decided to do something in addition to just reading.

2. Watched The SQL MCM Readiness Videos

When the SQL MCM program changed from being the three week boot camp to the current format Microsoft had some videos put together to help folks like me prepare. I watched those videos in order to reinforce a lot of the reading material. After watching a few of the videos I started to add up the amount of time it would take me to watch them all. It was a lot longer than I wanted to spend, especially considering I didn’t have the luxury of dedicated one hour blocks of time to focus. So I wanted/needed to make certain that I used my time very efficiently and decided to take further action.

3. I Wrote Everything Down

As I watched the videos I decided to write everything down in a notebook for that topic. This way I got the most use of my time. It would take me a bit longer to get through a video, but it forced me to have a series of stops and starts which was a HUGE benefit because my whole life is a series of interruptions anyway. I don’t live in a boot camp. I don’t have the luxury of diving into the material for hours on end. I get ten to fifteen minutes at most before someone or something else needs my attention. So the idea of having something that forced me to stop every now and then worked VERY well for my MCM preparation.

I wrote everything down in two notebooks, filling them both, with nothing but MCM material. I focused on answering the question “when?” for each topic. It wasn’t enough to know something well, I felt that I needed to know it to the point that I could explain when/where/why it would be applicable. That is what gets you to the MCM level: knowing when a particular topic is applicable, and when it is not. Here’s a sample of some of the questions I would ask myself:

When would I want to use mirroring?

When would I want to use replication?

When would I want to use SQL Audit?

When would I want to use compression?

Over and over again it would go, always following this format:

When would I [want/need] to use [feature]?

But even the reading, watching, and writing were not going to be enough. Fortunately I knew what else I needed to do.

4. If You Want To Learn Something, Teach It To Others

I learned at a very early age in life that if you want to learn something then what you need to do is try to teach it to someone else. That’s where my friends Tim Chapman (blog | @chapmandew) and Jason Strate (blog | @stratesql) came to play such a pivotal role in my MCM prep. We made a list of the MCM topics and tried our best to teach them to each other. It took a long time for us to get this done, about a year.

One thing that helped us along the way was that we developed a series of presentations in order to help us teach topics to each other. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” concept was born out of our MCM prep. We would put together scenarios and figure out the best ways to troubleshoot. Then we would present these scenarios at user groups and SQL Saturdays and get feedback from the audience. This feedback helped the three of us understand where our skills were sharp and where we needed to improve.

We would then practice everything over and over again. Reading, watching, writing, and teaching were still not enough. I needed to put my hands on the tools in order to give me the training necessary to be at an MCM level. I simply cannot stress that part enough. Putting my hands on the tools, building things, having them break, and then fixing them was what I needed to do in order to be at the MCM level.

Eventually we all got to the point where we were ready for the lab. We each took the lab, and passed, while at the 2012 PASS Summit.

While I know I did a lot of this work on my own over the past few years I also know that what helped me the most in my MCM prep was having my own private study group. That and the ability for us to deliver presentations that were essentially hands-on troubleshooting labs allowed for the three of us to raise our abilities to the MCM level.

That’s what worked for me.

It may work for you, too.

One Pingback/Trackback

  • http://twitter.com/SchmitzIT Peter Schmitz

    Nice sum-up. I’ve been having my eye on the MCM title for a while now, but fear I might not know enough. I’Like you, I spent hours reading up, and mauling over blog posts only to then still discover new scenarios that I did not consider.

    Some day, my precious… Some day 😉

    • ThomasLaRock

      Peter,

      Yeah, the volume of information can be daunting, no question. I could only digest a piece at a time and it took a while to consume it all. But I got there. And if I can get there, ANYONE can get there.

      I think the questions helped. Ask yourself something like “When do I need to take backup the tail of the log?” There’s only a finite number of scenarios where you want/need to do that. Then put your hands on the tools and walk through the scenarios.

      Eventually you get there.

      • http://twitter.com/SchmitzIT Peter Schmitz

        Thomas, thanks for your reply. I agree with asking the questions. I often run into people coming up with ideas and scenarios that simply do not make sense.I’m a big advocate of using the right object for the right task, and the same applies to the different scenarios of disaster recovery and/or HA.

        I do think I have a lot of that covered, and an more worried about the stuff I personally do not consider very vital, but that does seem to be abundant in the other SQL exams (memorizing the order of commands in specific T-SQL syntax, or specific TRACE flag ids for instance), or the nitty gritty stuff of the internal workings of the database engine (the kind of stuff usually described in Karen Delaney’s “Inside SQL Server” books, or the kind of stuff Paul Randal blogs about regularly).

        Without asking for specifics, is that not the sort of stuff to expect in the MCM lab, but is it more about knowing when to use what technique, as you described here?

        Thanks :)

        Peter / SQLGroupie

        • ThomasLaRock

          Peter,

          When taking the MCM lab exam for SQL 2008 you have full access to the Books Online, so you needn’t worry about remembering syntax.

  • http://twitter.com/SlocumMatt Matt Slocum

    Very nice write up Tom. Congrats again. I don’t know if I’ll ever hit MCM level, but I have my sights set on MSCE SQL 2012 (passed the 70-642 while @ the PASS Summit this year). Your study methods will certainly help me achieve my goal.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Matt,

      Thanks! I completely agree. Writing it down as well as putting my hands on the tools make are the difference between being taught something and being trained.

      • http://twitter.com/SlocumMatt Matt Slocum

        Agreed, being able to put your hands on it helps tremendously! One of my favorite quotes is “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” Until you put your hands on it, it’s just theory.
        Teaching also comes into play in a big way as well. You learn so much more when you have to explain it to someone else than if you just pushed through it just enough to just Git R Done! It takes a higher level of understanding to explain something to someone else than to just muddle through it on your own. Personally, I learn a lot more about topics when I blog on them.

  • http://twitter.com/thesqlpro Ayman El-Ghazali

    Huge congrats! I planned to study for the MCM a year ago, but I still haven’t gotten around to finishing the reading material to start the Prep videos. It’s extremely time consuming, and I commend you for your efforts.
    I wanted to highlight point #4. That’s golden advice! I got my MCT so I could learn more about SQL Server when I get the opportunity to teach the courses. Teaching is by far the best way to learn, and probably why I still remember most of my high school Biology (teacher made us teach it to the class).
    Good luck to you Thomas.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Thanks! I think everything I have done well in life has come as a result of my having to teach it to others.

  • http://twitter.com/AnupWarrier Anup Warrier

    Huge congrats to you,this is really motivating,I’m looking forward to reach this level and will try hard for that !

    • ThomasLaRock

      Thanks, and best of luck to you on your journey!

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