90 days to MCSA – Building a plan for the Challenge

In the first post in this 90 days to MCSA series, I laid out the idea that we should all work together to target achieving the MCSA certification in SQL Server 2012 and/or Windows Server 2012.

Join the Challenge
Now, it is a very good idea to set a goal and to start working towards attaining that goal. However, if you do not have a plan on how to achieve that goal, you will never get there. Let’s say you set out to climb Mount Everest. That is all very well and fine, but first, you will need a few things before you can just go off and climb the highest peak on Earth. You will need oxygen tanks. Cold weather clothing and camping equipment. An idea on exactly where Mount Everest is. You will need training on how to climb large outcrops of rock. You may even need the services of an experienced mountaineer. The point is that there will be a number of steps that will need to be followed in order to even attempt the climb.

What I will, hopefully, lay out here is a basic plan of action that we can follow to be much better prepared to pass the exams that are required for the MCSA certification. I will lay out two separate plans, one for the SQL Server 2012 certification and one for the Windows Server 2012 certification. You will need to pick one of these to follow (or both, if you’re crazy in the head, just like me !).

First of all, let’s go over some basic rules of certification and test-taking.

1. You need hands-on experience !!! The whole point of the certification is the knowledge, not the piece of paper it’s written on. A wise old lady once told me “Knowledge is a burden easily carried!” To know something is definitely not the worst thing in the world. You can never know everything, but to continue learning new things every day is the way to go through life. In order to make sure that you know the material, you will need to build a home lab and play with the software. Break it. Fix it again. Break it again. Etc.

2. You can’t possibly know everything so rely on your strengths and focus on your weaknesses. That brings me to the next rule. You can’t possibly know everything about the product, especially when there is a time crunch like we have here. Make sure you shore up your knowledge in areas where you are strong and then develop a strategy on how you will attack some of the areas where you may not understand as much.

3. You will be tested on stuff you may never have, and may never use. We are a variegated bunch and work and play in a wide variety of environments. Some DBA’s may have never worked with SQL replication in their careers (like me), while others have no idea on how to set up database mirroring (who needs disaster recovery, anyway?). Some sysadmins have never actually created an Active Directory forest from scratch (Don’t blame me. It was like this when I got here) while others have no idea how to administer DNS (the network guys do that, right ?). If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat first …

4. Carve out time every day to study & practice, if your work/home life will allow One thing I will advocate for you to do, RIGHT NOW, is to go and have a talk with your family, SO, spouse, dog, friends, etc. about the fact that you will need about 10 hours a week for the next 10 – 12 weeks in order to achieve this goal. I’m not kidding. If you’re serious about furthering your life, you will need the support of those who love you. If you skip this step, there will come a time when you’re sitting in the exam room thinking “Damnit, I should have spent an extra 2 hours going over this thing …”. Fact.

5. Develop a solid test-taking strategy. I have not taken a lot of certification tests in my career. I have been skating along on good-looks & charm all my life . However, there are a LOT of good resources out there that detail how to go about the task of sitting a Microsoft exam. Here are a few that I found:
Certification Magazine
Computer Performance LTD
Pearson IT Certification

6. Reward yourself when you hit your goals. Sitting at home, on the shelf in my office, I have this LEGO set. It’s not built. It’s still sealed in the box. When I finish this challenge, I am going to spend an entire Saturday with my 6 yr old son and we are going to open it and build it and it will be GLORIOUS !! Go find something similar for yourself. We can all share our triumphs together.

7. Take time off when you need it. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” You are not a robot. You will go mad if you do not take a break. Go outside every now and then. Go and replenish your bacon supplies, at least.

90 days to MCSA – SQL Server 2012

Week 1 (this week):
     Build your Plan. Following this blog post series and visiting the Microsoft 90 days to MCSA web site will help you to do that.
     Build your Lab. Here is a great article from the fine folks at Microsoft learning on how to set up a lab to prep for exam 70-461: Lab Setup Guide to Prep for Exam 70-461 Querying SQL Server 2012.
     Sign up for the Microsoft Learning 90 Days to MCSA e-newsletter. This can be found on this page.

Week 2 (next week):
     Build your Knowledge. Sign up for the Free Video Training from TrainSignal.com: trainsignal.com/blog/90-day
     Sign up for the first exam. Microsoft is offering free second shot retake vouchers for a limited time. Go and grab 15% or more savings on certification packs here.
     Share with us in the Google+ community. Let us know how you’re doing, if you have any questions or if you just generally need to talk. We’re here for you.

Week 3:
     Build your Knowledge. Watch the Microsoft Learning Exam Prep video for the first exam that will be attempted – 70-461
     Join the Microsoft Learning Study Group. There are some great resources available in these Study Groups including discussion forums and exam prep wikis. Go and join the Database Certification Study Group.

Week 4:
     Build your Knowledge. You should be consuming the content of an exam training kit like the one offered by Microsoft Press which can be found, amongst other places, on Amazon: Training Kit (Exam 70-461): Querying Microsoft® SQL Server 2012. Also available and recommended is the Study notes and review questions book: MCSA SQL Server 2012 Exam 70-461 & 462 ExamFOCUS Study Notes & Review Questions.
     Take the 70-461 exam. By this point, you should be in a position to exert your effort into actually putting knowledge to paper. Well, digital bits of paper. You will go and attempt to pass the exam. Let us know how it goes !

Week 5 and beyond:
     The process is more-or-less repeated with the 70-462 and 70-463 certification exams. I will be updating this post with specific links that cover those exams. Keep an eye out for that.

90 days to MCSA – Windows Server 2012

Week 1 (this week):
     Build your Plan. Following this blog post series and visiting the Microsoft 90 days to MCSA web site will help you to do that.
     Build your Lab. One of the tricky things about studying Windows Server 2012 is that you need to delve into the guts of Windows Hyper-V as it is a very integral part of the OS. You will need 1-2 Windows 2012 instances and that is not including the DC. Remember, Hyper-V does not support nested Hyper-V virtual machines so you will need a physical installation of Hyper-V or the use of anopther company’s virtualisation software (VMWare or Oracle VirtualBox – What I use). Details on how I am building my virtual environment will be coming in another blog post.
     Sign up for the Microsoft Learning 90 Days to MCSA e-newsletter. This can be found on this page.

Week 2 (next week):
     Build your Knowledge. Sign up for the Free Video Training from TrainSignal.com: trainsignal.com/blog/90-day
     Sign up for the first exam. Microsoft is offering free second shot retake vouchers for a limited time. Go and grab 15% or more savings on certification packs here.
     Share with us in the Google+ community. Let us know how you’re doing, if you have any questions or if you just generally need to talk. We’re here for you.

Week 3:
     Build your Knowledge. Watch the Microsoft Learning Exam Prep video for the first exam that will be attempted – 70-410
     Join the Microsoft Learning Study Group. There are some great resources available in these Study Groups including discussion forums and exam prep wikis. Go and join the Server Certification Study Group.

Week 4:
     Build your Knowledge. You should be consuming the content of the exam training guide offered by Microsoft Press which can be found, amongst other places, on Amazon: Training Guide: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012. Also available and recommended is the Exam reference book: Exam Ref 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012.
     Take the 70-410 exam. By this point, you should be in a position to exert your effort into actually putting knowledge to paper, well digital bits of paper. You will go and attempt to pass the exam. Let us know how it goes !

Week 5 and beyond:
     The process is more-or-less repeated with the 70-411 and 70-412 certification exams. I will be updating this post with specific links that cover those exams. Keep an eye out for that.

And that’s it. Stick to your plan and you will, successfully, achieve your goal of a brand new MCSA certification that you can take to your boss as your bargaining chip for a raise or promotion (hopefully).

I hope to see everybody that I know achieve their MCSA certification in SQL Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012.

2 Responses to 90 days to MCSA – Building a plan for the Challenge

  1. Pingback: 90 days to MCSA | UNIQUE and NOT DULL

  2. Pingback: Week 1 Goals | The SQL Lounge

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