Microsoft MCM prep guide

Here's some advice on becoming a Master based on my recent experience with the exam process.

I've recently been awarded the Microsoft Certified Master for SQL Server 2008.  And as a result I thought I'd give you my MCM prep guide.  Now, I'm going to be purposefully vague because we're not allowed to reveal any details about the exams.

Written:

When I was getting ready for my written I took a couple months to study my ass off.  I studied all types of things that I thought would be covered in detail.  However, when I got to the exam I found that everything I studied was completely wrong.  I of course didn't know what the nature of the exam really was so I compared it to what I knew... the lower-level exams.  I'm not saying anything about those exams, I'm just saying they have a different objective than the MCM exam.  The lower exams are interested in your knowledge about specific features, and syntax, and orders of operation.  And if you take the right path to get your certs those exams measure the everyday tasks that DBAs and developers perform.  They're very good at measuring that type of knowledge (if you do stay away from braindumps and actually study).  The MCM exam is focused more on a higher level of tasks.  This exam concentrates on your overall knowledge of how well the different technologies interact with each other, or how you would architect different scenarios.  And sure there's some specific knowledge that's measured, but the lion's share of the exam is built around choosing the correct group of technologies, or the correct course of action.  So how do you know whether you're ready for the exam then?  Well, unfortunately that's not really something I can answer for you.  I find that most DBAs I interview have a very inflated sense of their knowledge and abilities so even if you've been doing this for a long time now you may still be a long way off.  The only way to know is just to take it and see where you stand.  It's $500 to see where you are.  And if you luck-out and pass then all the best, but if you don't then at least you know where your weaknesses are and what type of studying to do.  And frankly I think your study should comprise of both reading and practicing.  You should practice everything you read because nothing beats actually getting your hands on it.  And these days when VMs are everywhere and so easy to come by, there's just no excuse for you to not have a box spun up that you can study on.

Lab:

Now the lab is another story.  There's only one thing you can do to study for the lab.  Be good at your job.  In the lab you have a certain number of tasks to perform, some of them are to fix things, some are to build things, etc.  It's a nice mix actually, and a very good test of what a real DBA does every day.  Ok, not just any DBA, but really good DBAs perform these tasks.  And there's a difference in the level of solution you're expected to perform here as a Master than you would as a normal DBA.  For instance, as a DBA you might restore a DB when there's a problem and you lose data, but as a master you might be able to get away with a page-level restore or a filegroup restore.  At this level you should know when that's an option and how to actually do it.

I would say though that the hardest part of the lab isn't necessarily the individual tasks, although some of them are quite tricky, but figuring out what you're expected to do.  Sometimes the requirements aren't documented as well I you would get at work and figuring out the subtle wording can be difficult.  Also, I urge you to get away from the single-task mentality of the lower exams.  I had a hard time with this myself.  I was initially looking for individual solutions, when that wasn't the case at all.  Some of the questions have several aspects to them to form a complete solution.  So the best advice I can give you is to leave the lab behind.  While you're in there, forget you're taking the exam.  Think of every task as a real business problem that you have full latitude to perform any way you like.  So don't get bogged down in what they're trying to get you to do because what they're trying to get you to do is to think like a Master and see if you can show that you know all the factors that can cause something to go wrong, or that go into a complete solution. 

For example, if you were to get a question about a process running slowly, you may see an initial issue with one of the data types in a table, and you may be right.  But you should also look to see if the indexes have the right fill factor, or the data and log files are on the same drive, or instant file initialization isn't turned on and you're spending too much time zeroing out data files.  So think of everything that can cause the issue you're faced with and look into each of them.  Think for yourself and don't be so concerned with that you think the task is supposed to be about.

I didn't get that at first and I attacked the lab the same way I did the lower exams.  So this is the best advice I can give you.  I hope this helps to put your head in the right place.

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