Sunday, January 20, 2008

Certification Tests

Computer certification tests are often dreaded by those of us who have to take them. After many years of taking certification tests on everything from TCP/IP networks, Redhat Linux, network switches to Paypal programming, I am now on the other side of the coin as the MySQL Certification Team.

Recently I spoke with someone who did not enjoy taking certification tests. He found the cost of exams, finding a test center, studying for the exams, creating time in a an already busy schedule for the test date, and traveling to the test center a challenge but not the big issue. What really bothered him was the clock, omnipresent on the screen, quickly subtracting time until he had to finish.

He said his eyes were always drawn to the counter despite his best efforts. Like the raven in the famous Poe poem, the clock seemed to both mock and infuriate him. And he asked me what I did about the clock when I was testing.

The most popular MySQL Certification tests are seventy questions to be completed in ninety minutes. If you budget one minute per question, you should have twenty minutes to spare at the end. The problem is that some questions take a few seconds and others could use hours.

So what to do?

First, read each question from state to finish. Do not skip words, do not assume ANYTHING, and read all the answers. You want to pick the best answer. The best answer may not be the perfect answer.

Michael Feldman's What Do You Know radio program has a disclaimer on their quiz that states the answers are well thought out and reasonable but false and misleading questions are par for course. The same goes for what you are facing.

Pearson VUE (and most other testing companies) have a check box on each question so you can review questions later. If you read the question and can not make what you feel is the right choice, check the 'review' box and go to the next question. Spending more than a minute on each question is going to put you behind the pace mentioned earlier.

You may find other questions later in the exam trigger the right synapses to get the answer for the skipped question.

So you come to the last question and you are ready to review the skipped questions. Now you have to check the clock to see how much time you have remaining. Quickly estimate how much time you can budget for each question left unanswered.

Now you can attack the last, unanswered questions. Read the question one more time completely. Eliminate any obviously bad potential answers. From the remaining candidates, pick the answer you feel the most comfortable using.

Sometimes what remains is not much of a choice. Was the flag to read from a configuration file -f or -F? Being intimate with the test subject helps but sometimes you will be making your best guess.

After answering all the questions marked for review, it is time to finish the exam. Most of the programs will tell you if you passed or failed immediately. Sometimesyou have to wait for the results to be sent to you at a later date.

Often times you can practice with test exam software that is similar to what you will find in the test center. When I was taking the Linux Professional I & II exams, I found these test banks useful and fairly inexpensive. But there were no test banks that I could find for the MySQL CMDEV or CMDBA exams when I decided to earn a database certification.

Hopefully your prep materials had test questions at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book that you know cold before you schedule your test date. If not, you may be wasting your money.

Later I will post some pointers specific to the MySQL exams (Associate, Developer, DBA and Cluster).

1 comment:

gmax said...

Having passed 4 MySQL certification exams, I can provide some practical advice.