Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Take the MySQL Certification in five steps

I recently took two certification MySQL 5 exams. At that time, I was on vacation, but now that I am back I would like to share with the community some advice on how to pass the exams.
Son't worry, it is not about cheating. But read on, and you'll decide if it was worth listening.

1. read the book

So much for the ones who thought I was teaching some tricks. Nothing like that. Let me tell you why you should read the book.
  • You could read the (free) online manual instead. No questions about that. If you read the whole manual, you will know all is needed to pass the exam. But you will have to read twice as much as the book (about 1300 pages of user manual instead of 672 pages of certification book).

  • The book will tell you what is important for the exam and what isn't. True, even if the certification exam does not mention it, it could be important (and usually is), but you really want to pass, don't you? So, the book is better.

  • The book is organized by exams. There are four of them, and the book covers their subjects nicely in a very organized way. In the manual, you either read it all, or you will never be sure that you covered everything.

Notice that, although I am now a MySQL employee, I don't get any share from the book sales. What I am saying here is what I honestly believe. I bought the book long before an employment with MySQL was even faintly suggested. Actually, I should add that everything in this article is my personal opinion, and it is not the official take of MySQL AB.
Summing up this item: Read the book, because it will save you time.

2. Get some hands-on experience

Reading the book (or the manual, or both) is not enough. Even if you commit the whole beast to memory, it won't be enough to pass the exam. To pass it you need to apply your knowledge to some real world problems. I can't tell you the questions you are going to get in the exam, but I can tell you the gist of it.
During the exam you won't get questions like "what does the book say about this matter?"
Instead, you will get questions like "given this problem with this set of conditions, which of the following actions is most likely to solve it?"
If, in addition to reading the book, you have some practical experience, you will be able to apply what you learned and answer the questions. If you have a prodigious memory and remember every word of the user's manual but have never tried some of that stuff in the wild, chances are that you won't pass the exam.

3. answer the sample questions from the book

After you get some experience, then try to answer the sample questions from the book. Be aware that the book ask questions in a way that is different from what you get in the exam. The book my ask you to "list all the methods to solve a given problem," while at the exam you get questions like "which of the following methods will solve the given problem?" and you get a multilple-choices-list. So the questions from the book are actually more difficult than those in the exam itself. That's fair. If you answer all the questions from the book, the ones in the exam will look a lot easier.

4. Participate to a forum and answer questions

When it comes to practice questions, you can't get enough of them. After you answer all the questions from the book, you still feel that some more exercise could do you good. There's an easy way of practicing. Subscribe to a mailing list, a newsgroup, a forum dedicated to MySQL, and read through the questions that people ask every day. Even better answer some question yourself! Start with the easy questions, and then try tackling the though ones. You may not know all the answers, but you can find out, because you have read the book and you know where to look in the manual. If you don't, it's a good moment for starting. The real trick is this: whenever you answer a question about something that you know only in theory, spend a few minutes to do it in practice. This way, you will be sure that your answer is correct (and you'll avoid some embarrassment) and you will add some more experience to your bag of tricks. This whole process will boost your confidence a lot. After a few weeks of answering at least one question per day, you will be a celebrity in that forum of your choice, you will have made somebody happy, and many people will have thanked you. What better way of studying?

5. Play chess

Now, wait a minute! What has this to do with the exam? Don't worry. I am not out of my mind, and I will explain shortly what I mean.
During the exam, you will have to answer 70 questions in 90 minutes (the upgrade exams has a different timing, but if you go for it you will have already taken an exam, and you know already what I am talking about). This is a great source of stress. Having a clock that clicks your time away can have a negative influence on your answers. Talking to some other candidates who took the exam, the greatest concern was that time restriction. But you know what? It was not a problem at all for me. And the reason is that I am a chess player, and therefore I am used to taking decision with a clock ticking at my side, and telling me that my time is near exhaustion. In competition chess games, you are given a double clock with two buttons. When it's your time to move, your button is up and your time is running. When you have decided your move, you make it, and push the button. Then your clock stops and your opponent's start ticking.
If you are used to this stressful way of taking decisions in rapid (30 minutes for the whole game) or blitz games (five minutes!), a simple clock giving you 90 minutes for 70 "moves" looks like a joke.
So, if you play chess, resume your chess club card, or play some Internet game, and get some practice at time management. If you don't play chess, answer the above mentioned questions with a clock that rings after a given time.

Then, get a good night's sleep and take the exam

As a last piece of advice, remember that a certification exam is a stressful experience, no matter how well you have prepared. So you need all your strenght and energy for it. Go to the exam well rested and fresh. If you have to take more than one exams, don't do them in a row. Put at least a few hours before the next one, and in between take a walk, read a book, or do anything to recharge your spirits.

Good luck!

6 comments:

Ronald Bradford said...

Good Points.

I've added your entry to this week's Log Buffer #13: a Carnival of the Vanities for DBAs.

ingimar said...

is there no printer-icon to this article of yours, like to read things when using the commuter on my way home.
regards, i

nblogworld said...

Hi,

This article has very useful information, it will be helpful for many certification exam aspirants. Actually one of my friends first read this article and asked me to visit this page.

It’s really amazing to read this description of this article, Thanks for your efforts. Thank you so much for your help.

Thanks,
Steve
steve@eplanetlabs.com
http://www.eplanetlabs.com

Anonymous said...

"7 years later someone disturb the dust :) "

I m learning SQL and decided to start with MySQL and aim for this certification as a goal.

My problem is (apart from lack of experience) that i dont have the CD from the book(the one with exercises etc) , managed to find the book online but no trace of the CD.

Kind sir do you think you can upload the cd of the book (the one in your chess picture) so i can snatch it ?

Many thanks !

Giuseppe Maxia said...

The material from the CD is copyright protected. Besides, I don't know if that book will cover what's needed for current certification.
You should look at http://www.mysql.com/certification/ for up-to-date info and ask the Oracle team if the book can prepare you for the test.
I saw that Oracle sells a quite pricey self-study course ($330!)

Anonymous said...

Then book even 7 years old is still the only good resources as books go for taking the certification.As for anything else i m trying to not spend more then the cost of taking the exams hence i downloaded the book from the internet (guess that makes me a pirate) and i m looking for the CD atm as people said it s very very helpful especially for the actual exam preparation.

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

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