Sunday, January 31, 2016

A new study resource for Oracle certification exams

Four years ago I published the first of the Oracle Certification Prep study guides -- largely because I felt that Oracle certification candidates did not have enough options in their choice of study materials. There is a tiny fraction of the myriad options that are available for certification exams from Cisco, CompTIA, or Microsoft.

Last year I started making practice tests available for the same reason. Prior to this, there were only two vendors of practice tests that offer a high-quality product, and since both are owned by the same company, they are effectively one option.

I spend a lot (too much) of my time thinking about Oracle certifications. A fair amount of that time is focused on trying to devise ways of providing certification candidates with more options to prepare for their exams. Late last year one came to me and I have been working on it ever since.

Long before I started writing study guides for others, I was creating 'study notes' for my own use in passing certification exams. These notes were basically just three to five pages of important facts, lists, commands, etc. that I felt were likely to be asked about on the exam. As part of my study process, I would read through them multiple times, On the day of the exam. I would arrive at the testing center early enough that I could spend fifteen to twenty minutes going through the notes a final time. This ensured that a fair amount of the information that I would be encountering on the exam was fresh in my short-term memory.

Several times in the past four years I have tried to think of a format to reproduce the utility of these study notes for others. Until now, I have been unable to come up with a reasonable delivery method and a way to provide context. The notes were really just brief and cryptic 'answers' to questions I did not bother to write down. They would have been useless for anyone but myself. In December I had an epiphany about a solution to both problems. The level of information that I put into the study notes is a very good fit for the 'answer' portion of flash cards. The 'question' component of flash cards would provide context and a mobile app would make an ideal delivery system.

I liked the idea so much that I dropped everything in order to focus on the task of turning the concept into reality. It worked -- the first two OCPFlash apps are now available on Amazon. Each contains 200 flash cards for the 1Z0-061 and 1Z0-051 Oracle SQL Fundamentals exams respectively. In a few weeks when more apps are completed, they will all be released on the Google Play store as well as an iOS version at the Apple store. Currently the focus is on developing new flash cards as rapidly as possible. Flash card apps for more exams will be released as I have time to create the content for them. Eventually I plan to release OCPFlash for all of the exams that I have written practice tests for.

To be clear, I highly recommend that certification candidates should NOT attempt to use the flash cards as their sole source for exam preparation. There is absolutely no way that all of the information required for any certification exam could be represented in flash cards. On the SQL Fundamentals apps, for example, the SQL statements used are considerably smaller than what candidates will see on the real exam. There is simply not enough room on a flash card for it to be otherwise. In addition, while flash cards are an effective way to assist with the memorization of facts, they are no help at all in other areas -- for example gaining experience writing and executing SQL. The image below shows an example of a question and answer set for the SQL Fundamentals exam.

The flashcard app is $1.99 on Amazon. My vision of the role it would play in a certification candidate's preparation would be as an additional resource beyond whatever study materials they are already using. I believe that most people who use them will get a number of exam questions correct that they would have missed otherwise. If the app helps someone to answer even five or six more questions correct... in my opinion that is an excellent return on an investment of two bucks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Practice for your Oracle DBA Certification Exams

 In late November, I published a blog post announcing the release of four new Oracle Certification Prep practice tests for the Oracle 11g and 12c upgrade exams: 1Z0-050, 1Z0-055, 1Z0-034, and 1Z0-067. While I was focused on test generation, I decided to continue with development of practice tests to complement existing Oracle Certification Prep study guides.

I completed the process earlier this week and published the new practice tests to the OCPrep website. Four new practice tests are available to cover the Administration exams of the 11g and 12c DBA track:

As with all of my practice tests, the price for the first take of the exam is $14.50. Retakes within a 60 window cost $11.00. I continue to receive very positive feedback from people who have taken my practice tests before the real exam. So far everyone that has contacted me has received exam scores on the actual exam that were very close to what they received on the Oracle Certification prep practice test.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Tetrad of New Oracle Upgrade Practice Tests

In October, Oracle announced they were offering exam vouchers at a 35% discount for their DBA upgrade exams through March 1, 2016. The discounted voucher offer covers exams 1Z0-060, 1Z0-067, 1Z0-034, 1Z0-050, and 1Z0-055. On November second, numerous Oracle professionals with Oracle 7.3, Oracle 8/8i, and Oracle9i Database credentials had their credentials inactivated until (and unless) they recertify in either 11g or 12c.

These two events spurred me to focus my efforts on creating more Oracle Certification Prep practice tests to provide options for all of the available Oracle DBA upgrade exams. The 1Z0-060 exam has been available since January of this year, but the other four have been notably absent.  That is no longer the case. As of this morning, practice tests have been added for the following exams:

  • 1Z0-034: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g OCA to Oracle Database 11g OCP
  • 1Z0-050: Oracle Database 11g: New Features for Administrators
  • 1Z0-055: Oracle Database 11g: New Features for 9i OCPs
  • 1Z0-067: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g/11g OCA to Oracle Database 12c OCP

The pricing model is the same as with all of my practice tests, with the initial take costing $14.50 and retakes within a 60 window costing $11.00. This is a better deal that you will find from any other vendor selling legitimate practice tests. The next lowest price would be $69.00 for 30-days of online access from Self Test Software. For that price, you can take a practice test from Oracle Certification prep six times. If you take a practice test more than three times in a thirty-day period -- the results will stop having any relevance regarding your knowledge of the material vs. your knowledge of the practice test. In addition, the 60-day window to qualify for the retake price means you have more time to work on fixing the weaknesses identified by the practice test.

As with the existing Oracle Certification Prep practice tests, I have included a practice test discount code in the OCPrep study guides for each exam. I tried to come up with a reasonable way to allow previous purchasers of my study guides to provide proof of purchase so I could send them the code. Ultimately, I failed to come up with anything that made sense -- so I decided to open it up a bit further by starting my first ever 'begging for likes' campaign. This article is on the Oracle Certification Prep blog, and has been re-posted via the Oracle Certification Prep Linked in page. I will track (separately) Google +1's in the blog and LinkedIn 'Likes' on the LI Company page. If I get ten +1's on the blog, I'll post the code for one of the tests, at 20 I'll post the second, at 30 the third, and at 40 the fourth.  Likewise, if the LinkedIn company page re-post hits 10, 20, 30, or 40 'Likes' I'll do the same. I will not combine the two (i.e. five 'Likes' and five +1's != 10).

If this begging campaign succeeds better than I have any reason to expect it to (say either 100 likes or 100 +1's), I'll post a code that will provide a discount off any of the Oracle Certification Prep practice tests (i.e. not just these four). There are ten total right now (including the four new ones) and I have about six more in the pipeline at the moment, so it would cover a lot of different tests.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How many certifications is too many?

This afternoon, a reader sent me a thank you note for creating my study guide for the 1Z0-060 exam (Upgrade to Oracle Database 12c). I sincerely appreciate the sentiment.  I am always pleased when someone finds one of my guides useful.  However, the most memorable portion of his message was the first sentence:

"I have way too many certifications already but taking the 12c OCP upgrade shortly."

On reading that, my initial thought was to wonder exactly how someone determines the point at which they have too many certifications. Alternately -- how does an Oracle professional decide that they have too few? The critical goal though, would be figuring out what number represents the Goldilocks zone where you have exactly the right number of certifications.

Unfortunately, when I checked out his LinkedIn account, Oracle certifications were not broken out individually on his profile. As a result, it was not possible for me to get a count of the number he felt had become excessive. Looking beyond the certifications section, his profile indicated a highly experienced Oracle professional, with seventeen years of experience as a database administrator, two stints as a presenter at Oracle events, and recognition as an Oracle Ace.

From this, it is readily apparent that his goal in accumulating certifications is not demonstrating knowledge of the Oracle database to potential employers. If that were the case, presumably the credentials would at least be listed on his profile. Instead, his motive is almost assuredly related to a note in the 'Interests' section to the effect that he likes keeping current with Oracle technology.

In fact, this is the same reason that I regularly take Oracle certification exams. I have just passed my second decade working with the Oracle database. Given my experience, no employer in the world would doubt my knowledge of Oracle even if I had never taken a single certification exam. By extension, adding new OU credentials to my profile is unlikely to make a noticeable increase in an employer's perception of my skills. However, taking an exam or two a year is an excellent means of ensuring that my Oracle knowledge does not become stale.

The return on investment of earning a multitude of credentials is not the stack of certificates collected. In my case, that stack only sees the light of day when I open the file drawer to add another certificate. The value of any Oracle professional lies in how much they know and how proficient they are at applying that knowledge in the real world.

At what point should an Oracle professional decide that they know enough about Oracle such that learning more has no value? To be clear, I certainly do not mean to imply a binary solution set exists: either earn certifications or stop learning. There are other methods for keep your skills current that do not involve pursuing certifications. However, they are certainly a convenient method for achieving this goal -- especially for something like the new features exams.

So... in answering the question posed in the title, my opinion would be that an Oracle professional probably has enough certifications when they are two or three years from retiring. Until that point, I have difficulty believing that learning ever stops being worth the time and money invested.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Oracle Certification Tests are Getting Harder (and this is a good thing)

The Oracle certification program and I go back a long way. I have been taking exams from Oracle fairly steadily since the program first started in 1998. In the past three years, I have noticed a marked increase in the difficulty level of their exams. Anyone who follows my exam reviews on GoCertify might have noticed this. One of the last exams I took before this trend started was the 11g upgrade: 1Z0-050. In my GoCertify review for that exam I stated:

"I have never found upgrade exams to be particularly difficult and 1Z0-050 was no exception."

The first exam that I noted being harder was 1Z0-117, where my exam review contained the statement:

"Despite what I thought was adequate preparation, the exam was a bear. I passed, but with a lower margin of error than I consider to be acceptable."

I then took and reviewed 1Z0-460:

"I passed, but it was not nearly the walk in the park that I was expecting."

The most telling wake-up call, however, was the 12c DBA upgrade: 1Z0-060. My review for that exam noted:

"This is easily the hardest of the exams I have taken to upgrade my Oracle DBA certification."

Based on my experiences, I can only believe that one of three things is occurring:

  1. The exams are getting harder
  2. I am getting dumber
  3. I am getting old enough to start imagining that everything was easier 'back in my day.'

Given options two and three, I really hope that the exams are getting harder. Luckily, my colleague John Watson has also made some comments about the increasing exam difficulty. One hopes that both of us are not becoming dumber and/or curmudgeonly.

For the sake of argument, I am going to take it as a given that the Oracle Certification Program has been consciously increasing the difficulty level of their certification exams. Why am I writing this article and why is that a good thing? The 'why' of the article is easy. I have seen a number of posts on various forums about how difficult Oracle certification exams are. Just recently there were two on the OraFAQ certification forum about the MySQL OCP exams: 1Z0-883 and 1Z0-882. These two articles and a couple of others I have seen previously seem to be geared around the idea that it is 'a bad thing' that the exams are hard to pass. I well understand just how irritating (and embarrassing) it is to fail an exam that you spent weeks or months preparing for. This has not happened often in my career, but I did fail 1Z0-060 on my first attempt. Unfortunately a large part of that can be attributed to my prior experience with Oracle upgrade tests causing me to underestimate the exam.

That said, if the tests are easy to pass, there is absolutely no point to taking them in the first place. I recall way back when I was in high school (maybe I am getting a bit old) there was a requirement that PhysEd give a written midterm and final exam. The coaches thought it was stupid, so they made 'matching' tests where the answers were labeled A-to-Z. When all of the questions were correct, the test spelled out something like 'VOLLEYBALLISFUN'. No one failed the tests. No one got less than 100% on them. As such, they were absolutely useless.

Certification exams need to be difficult in order for earning the related credential to have value in the marketplace.  Two statements from the linked MySQL posts make that point quite well:

"It's impossible to pass this exam for part time MySQL worker. You need to be really expert and know all the details."
"IMHO you can't pass this exam when you don't have minimum 6 months of full time real world (production) practice."

How can either one of those statements be considered bad for an exam that grants a professional-level credential? The single most common argument from people who do not like IT certifications is that they do not guarantee that the people who earned them are really knowledgeable. If you are an individual who is truly interested in adding to your skills and becoming a valuable (and well-paid -- never forget that) Oracle professional, then you must accept that harder tests are better tests. Easy is only good for the people who are interested in faking knowledge long enough to get hired.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I knew all the answers, but I still failed my Oracle certification test!

Recently I received the following question from one of my readers about their results on an Oracle certification exam:

"There was not a single question on the exam that I did not know, but I still got only 54 percent. How did this happen?"

I spend a lot of time answering questions on various Oracle forums from certification candidates. One of my foremost personal rules is to avoid sounding like a jerk in my answer. However, another of my primary rules is to be honest.  Unfortunately, in this case honesty is likely to sound like I am being a jerk. All that I can say is that this is not my intent.

The person in question was referring to an exam that had been in production for over a year. If the exam had been in beta at the time he took it, conceivably there could have been several questions for which there was no correct answer. That said, even in a beta, there is no way that the exam team would have put something out where 46% of the questions had no correct answer. For an exam that far into production, it is simply inconceivable that the exam itself would have a statistically significant number of questions with no correct answer. Certification candidates would be failing the exam in huge numbers if this were the case. The problem therefore is not the test itself.

If the exam questions have valid answers, there are only four possible options for a multiple choice/multiple-answer test:
1. You know how to answer the question and select the correct choices.
2. You do not know how to answer the question, but guess and select the correct choices.
3. You know how to answer the question, but mistakenly select the wrong choices -- either through a mis-click or mis-reading the answer.
4. You do not know how to answer the question and select the wrong choices (or no choice).

The candidate in question indicated he 'knew' the answers to all of the test questions (and that is what this post is about), so the first two options can be dismissed. That leaves only two options -- either he knew the correct answer, but selected the wrong choice(s) by accident (e.g. a typo), or what he 'knew' to be the correct answer was in fact wrong.

It is difficult for me to imagine someone miskeying the answers to almost half of an exam. I will grant that it is just barely conceivable if they were in a great rush and not being careful.  However, I consider this to be a very unlikely scenario. By far the most plausible explanation for failing a test is that you do not have sufficient knowledge to pass it. The very reason that tests exist is to provide a means for measuring the knowledge of the people taking it.

Obviously the best-case scenario is to take an exam and pass it. However, second best is to take it and fail it, but in doing so to recognize where your knowledge deficiencies are. In that situation, you can hit the books again to rectify those problems so that you can retake the test and pass on your next attempt. The absolute worst possible outcome is to be in the position defined by the article title -- failing a test that you believe you knew all the answers to. If the test is not flawed, then the only reasonable explanation is that what you 'know' to be true, is not. This is a significant problem for a couple of reasons.  First, if you do not realize which portions of your knowledge are flawed, it is difficult to target your study efforts to fix them. Second, people who have an attitude that they know everything are much less willing to learn.

If you feel that the article title applies to your personal situation, the best advice I can offer you is to immediately dispense with the certainty that you know all the answers. Your certainty is misplaced and it will only get in the way of you passing the test on your next attempt. Make use of the feedback provided by the exam results page to study the areas where you missed one or more problems. Be extra vigilant when studying to look for differences in what the documentation or other study resources say when compared to what you believe to be true. This is the best way to find and fix the knowledge that caused you to fail the exam.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Free Oracle Practice Quizzes Available at GoCertify

I have provided quizzes to GoCertify for their Oracle Practice Quiz page that correspond to each of the six exams for which Oracle Certification Practice tests currently exist. At five questions apiece, they are certainly short... but again, free.  Free is always good.

The first of the six was made available yesterday for the 1Z0-047: Oracle Database SQL Expert exam. GoCertify will be releasing a new quiz each week for the remaining five exams (not necessarily in the below order):

  • 1Z0-051: Oracle Database 11g: SQL Fundamentals I
  • 1Z0-060: Upgrade to Oracle Database 12c
  • 1Z0-061: Oracle Database 12c: SQL Fundamentals
  • 1Z0-144: Oracle Database 11g: Program with PL/SQL
  • 1Z0-146: Oracle Database 11g: Advanced PL/SQL

As more Oracle Certification Prep practice tests are created, I plan to continue supplying GoCertify with the equivalent quiz for it. Each of the questions that I am providing had their origin in a question from the corresponding OCPrep practice test.  However, each has been modified to some degree. None of the quiz questions has the exact same questions and answers as what exists in the practice test. I did not want the quiz to have any impact on the experience of taking the full practice exam.

If you are interested in getting a feel for the types of questions that appear on the real exams, but have zero interest in spending any money, please check out the quizzes. If the one you need is not on the GoCertify page yet... check back in a week or two.