Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oracle Certification Practice Exams... Released

Oracle Certification Prep practice testsAs I announced earlier this month, Oracle Certification Prep is expanding into providing practice tests for a number of Oracle certification exams. The release date ran about ten days beyond what I had hoped to hit when I made that post. There are just too few hours in the day and the proofing and error checking for practice exams was considerably more time-consuming than projected.

That said -- they are out now and available from the 'Practice Tests' link on the Oracle Certification Prep website. For those of you that have already followed the company page on LinkedIn, a post will shortly be made from there which will provide a promotional code for $5 off the price of any practice exam. Since the exams are only $19.50 to start with, that's a hair over 25% off. If you have not yet followed the company, there will be three follow-on promotions released at two-week intervals for $4, $3, and 2$ respectively (the promotions cannot be combined). In addition, the company page is going to be the primary vehicle for announcing the release of new Oracle Certification Prep practice tests and study guides going forward.

While I really work hard to release products with zero defects, the real world seldom complies. As such, Oracle Certification Practice exams will have a similar policy to that of my study guides where I reward readers for reporting errors in the text. In fact, I have more control over the practice tests and can offer an even better deal to users than is possible with the study guides. For each verified error that a practice test user is the first to report through the Contact Page of the Oracle Certification Prep website, I will give them a $5 voucher for an exam. Users that report two or three errors will get a $10 or $15 voucher respectively and reporting four errors will net them a voucher for a free exam. I can make corrections to the practice tests much more rapidly than I can release a new study guide revision, so hopefully this program will mean that any error I miss in Oracle Certification Prep practice tests will rapidly be caught and corrected.

I have been working on this project for over a year at this point and I am very excited to finally be releasing them. I sincerely hope that the Oracle certification community finds these practice tests to be a useful addition to the resources available for earning Oracle certifications.

While currently there are only practice tests available for six certification exams, over the next several months, I plan to add to that list considerably. I am not going to give a timeline, or even a planned order, because all of my work on certification materials is done when I have time for it. My schedule is constantly in flux and priorities change unexpectedly. If you are waiting for a particular exam, check the website regularly or subscribe to Oracle Certification Prep on LinkedIn to be included in the announcements.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Oracle Certification Practice Exams... Re-Invented

One of the most common questions that I see asked on various forums about Oracle certification exams is where to find practice questions. Likewise, one of the most common complaints about my Oracle Certification prep study guides is that they do not contain any. In fact, I created a post in this blog a few months back on that topic: End-of-Chapter Questions and Oracle Certification Preparation. As indicated at that time, the guides will never contain practice questions because I do not think this would add sufficient value to be worth the additional effort on my part and additional expense that I would have to pass on to readers.

That said... in early January I will be making practice tests for several certification exams available via my Oracle Certification prep website. The exams will not be free, but they will be offered at a price that is a fraction of anything else available on the market today. Just to be perfectly clear -- I have not gone over to the dark side. These tests are not and will never be brain dumps. As each exam is completed, I have been submitting them to the Oracle Certification team with an offer to change any questions that they feel are too close to production ones. While the material will not be the actual test questions and answers, the fact that I have seventeen years of experience taking these exams means that mine will be very similar to what certification candidates will experience on the real exam.

My overriding goal for the Oracle Certification Prep practice exams is to create an environment for candidates that is as close to the real one as possible without cheating. The practice tests will have the same question count, time limit, and passing percentage as the exams from the Oracle Certification team. If questions are not completed before time runs out, the test ends and uncompleted questions will be scored as incorrect... just like the real exam. In short, if I have done my job correctly in creating these practice tests, people who fail them are very likely to fail the real exam.

The model I am offering these practice tests under is on a per-usage basis.  A fee of $19.50, will allow any of the practice exams to be taken one time. The intent is that candidates prepare for the exam in question using other study materials. Once a candidate thinks they are ready for the real exam, they can take the equivalent Oracle Certification Prep practice exam to verify this without paying a couple hundred dollars. If the practice exam results demonstrate someone is not ready, they are out a lot less money than would have been the case otherwise. In addition, the practice test will help to highlight any weaknesses and make passing the real exam more likely once these have been corrected.

My target release date for the exams is the second week of January.  I have a fair amount of final tweaking and testing to do between now and then, so I won't guarantee a specific date.  However, I will certainly release the exams at some point in the next couple of weeks.  The initial list of Oracle certification exams that will have practice tests available is:

1Z0-047: Oracle Database SQL Expert (with 12c topics)
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

I recently created a page for Oracle Certification Prep on LinkedIn. This venue will be used in the future to make announcements when I release new practice tests or study guides. In addition, when I make the initial release of the exams, the LinkedIn announcement will include a coupon code for a $5 discount on any exams (i.e. you would pay $14.95 for a single exam after the discount). Anyone who follows my company page on LinkedIn between now and the time I make the announcement will be able to make use of the coupon. For people who miss the initial announcement, I plan to make three follow-on promotions at two-week intervals -- each for $4, $3, and 2$ (and no -- the promotions cannot be combined). Once these are over, I do not expect discounts to be a common occurrence -- the normal price is a bargain already.

I sincerely hope that the Oracle community will find the new practice tests useful in preparing for Oracle certification exams.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Guarding Against Brain Dumps

I have been trying unsuccessfully for some time to get my Oracle Certification Prep site listed as being safe on the CertGuard website. However, I have never succeeded in getting a response back from them.  Until recently I simply left it at that.  However, a couple of days ago I did some more searching and found several signs that the site has been stagnant since around 2011.

I asked a colleague who writes about certifications across multiple vendors, Ed Tittle, if he knew anything about the issue.  Ed did some digging and created an article at GoCertify.  I'm not going to recreate here what he already wrote.  If you are interested in avoiding being caught out by brain dump sites, you should check out his article.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oracle 12c Performance Certification Released to Beta

The first of the new expert exams that I wrote about back in May has just entered beta.  1Z1-064: Oracle Database 12c: Performance Management and Tuning is the 12c update to the legacy exam 1Z0-054: Oracle Database 11g: Performance Tuning. The beta is currently scheduled to run until late February. Betas are often extended if not enough candidates take the exam by the original deadline to provide a good statistical sample. However, I expect this exam will be popular enough that the exam may close on its original deadline.

I compared the topics of 1Z0-064 with 1Z0-054. Not surprisingly, the two lists are closely related, with the 12c exam being largely a refinement of the 11g incarnation.  Some of the difference between the two exams include:

Added topics:

  • Implement Real-Time Database Operation Monitoring
  • Understand and configure the Database Resource Manager


Removed Topics:

  • Identify performance issues & set tuning priorities
  • Interpret tuning diagnostics  
  • Tune for life cycle phase 
  • Using Statspack
  • Use Enterprise Manager Monitoring  
  • Identify the key tuning components of the alert logs 


I find it interesting that Statspack was removed. Obviously AWR is Oracle's preferred performance tuning solution. However, unless that stops being a separately licensed option, a significant number of Oracle DBAs will continue to use Statspack for diagnosing performance problems.  Ignoring this popular tuning option comes across as petty to me.

The 12c exam has considerably fewer topics than the 11g version (32 vs 54). Much of this comes in the form of topic consolidation. In several instances there are subjects that were split into several separate topics in 1Z0-054 that have been rolled into a single topic in 1Z0-064. Some examples include:

  • Configure and manage services 
  • Use services with client applications, Database Resource Manager and Scheduler 
  • Configure services aggregation, tracing, and set performance-metric thresholds

Rolled into:

  • Configure and use services to monitor database performance


Also...
  • Describe the buffer cache architecture
  • Explain the symptoms that indicate a buffer cache problem   
  • Tune the buffer cache for performance issues 
Rolled into:
  • Diagnose and resolve performance issues related to the buffer cache
 
I consider it unlikely that the information being tested on these consolidations has changed significantly. Most likely the questions have all simply been consolidated into a large bucket.

Performance is always a major factor for enterprise databases. No organization ever objects to their applications running faster or data being available more rapidly. This certification provides one more way for Oracle Database administrators to expand on their skill set.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finally! The revised version of my 1Z0-047 Study Guide is complete and published.

When I found out about the changes being made to the 1Z0-047 exam (and reported on it in this blog), I pulled up the master document for my SQL Expert study guide and outlined the changes that needed to be made in order for it to be comprehensive enough for the new exam. It really should not have taken me this long to complete the revisions, but it did. I had originally hoped to get an updated book into print before the revised topics even made it to production. That plan went out the window two months ago...

Be that as it may, the guide is done now.  Part of what took so long was that the deeper I got into the revision process, the further I went beyond my original intent. Ultimately, a hefty percentage of the guide ended up being revised and expanded. This was one of the earliest study guides in the Oracle Certification Prep series. Since creating it, I have gotten much better at the process. In addition, I have created a standard set of formatting rules used in creating books in the series -- which this guide did not follow at all.

While this project took longer than I planned, I am very happy with the result. The organization is cleaner. I have added more examples and reworded some paragraphs that I felt were not clear enough in the original. The guide published this afternoon is 40% larger than the original and none of the new content is 'fluff'. I hope that anyone who purchases the revised guide will find that it is a valuable resource in preparing for the exam.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Causality and Oracle Expertise

I was involved in a discussion on LinkedIn about the proper timing for an Oracle PL/SQL developer to take the 1Z0-146: Oracle Database 11g: Advanced PL/SQL exam. One of the posters was indicating that while it was appropriate for people new to PL/SQL to study for and take the earlier exam: 1Z0-144: Oracle Database 11g: Program with PL/SQL, they should wait until they have some job experience before taking the 146 exam to earn the Oracle Advanced PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional credential. My own opinion is that waiting until you have a few years of experience is not a bad idea, but it is certainly not something that is necessary for everyone.

The difference between our positions lies in how I view Oracle certifications, their relationship to Oracle knowledge/expertise and (as the title suggests) the causality between the two. Causality is an uncommon word -- even for native English speakers (unless you happen to be a theoretical physicist). Basically it refers to cause and effect. The 'effect' that I am referring to this case is getting employers to recognize you as being knowledgeable about Oracle PL/SQL. There is a widespread belief that earning a given certification will cause employers to view you as being skilled with Oracle.

It does not work that way in the real world. I have interviewed people for Oracle positions many times over the years. I can tell you that I do not automatically assume that because someone has earned a certification that they have all of the relevant skills. A certification means that someone may have a certain set of knowledge. During the interview, I will generally ask questions related to their certifications to get a feel for whether they do or not. If a candidate has the Advanced PL/SQL certification and their resume shows a previous job developing PL/SQL, I will be more likely to believe that they are knowledgeable of the language. I will still ask the candidate several questions to verify that to my satisfaction, however.

Employers cannot trust certifications by themselves because there are too many people who focus on the piece of paper. Their goal is passing the exam rather than learning the information being tested. In researching my study guides I run across brain dump sites all the time. Even people who do not cheat with brain dumps may simply memorize enough facts to pass the exam without actually understanding the material being tested. To be fair, I do not completely trust job experience either. It is possible to be PL/SQL developer for several years and still be really bad at it. I know this is true -- I have worked with some of them.

So... if certifications are not the cause for employers viewing an individual as being knowledgeable about Oracle PL/SQL, then what is? Well -- not to put to fine a point on it, but the cause is becoming knowledgeable about Oracle PL/SQL and being able to demonstrate that knowledge. Candidates should take the time to really learn all of the information being tested in the 1Z0-144 and 1Z0-146 exams. Practice writing PL/SQL blocks. Read tutorials and articles from some of the masters like Steven Feuerstein.This will give you a core of knowledge about the language even if you have no job experience using it. In an interview, you will be able to demonstrate this knowledge when asked questions and that will generate the desired effect.

My approach to certifications is therefore that they should be used as a road map for becoming more knowledgeable. The focus is not on 'passing the test' but rather on 'learning the information'. Focusing on the test is what leads to brain dumps and other cheats. This is counterproductive. If you get hired on the basis of knowledge you do not possess, it will rapidly become obvious. After you pass the exams, keep reading and practicing and learning. In the IT industry, the more you know, the more valuable you are. As a fresher, that knowledge will help you to sit an interview with more confidence that whatever question is asked, you will be able to answer it. Your increased confidence and your knowledge will both do much more to land the job than any piece of paper.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

1Z0-047 topics being updated on 15-SEP-14. Don't get caught unawares.

A little less than two weeks from the date I'm writing this post, the topics list for the SQL Expert exam, 1Z0-047, will include a number of new subject areas. Simultaneously, two of the legacy topics will be removed, but their impact to test-takers is minimal. I wrote an article discussing the changes in more detail that was just published at CertMag here.

If you have been preparing for this exam and have purchased any existing study materials such as the Oracle Press OCA Oracle Database SQL Certified Expert Exam Guide by Steve O'Hearn or my Study Guide for 1Z0-047: Oracle Database SQL Expert, they will not cover these topics. I am working on a major update to my guide at this time that should be released in a few weeks. I do not have any information about when (or if) Steve's Oracle Press book will be updated to include the new material.  The full list of topics that are being added is:


  • Using pattern matching to recognize patterns across multiple rows in a table
  • Using the PIVOT and UNPIVOT clause
  • Using the SQL row limiting clause
  • Analytical functions including PERCENTILE_CONT, STDDEV, LAG, LEAD
  • Using 12c enhancements to the DEFAULT clause, invisible columns, virtual columns and identity columns
  • Using explicit default values in INSERT and UPDATE statements
  • Using the new index capabilities, such as invisible indexes and multiple indexes on the same columns.
  • Recursively truncate child tables
  • Create a lateral inline view in a query
  • Using the cross_outer_apply_clause


I have updated the 1Z0-047 Exam Detail page on my website to include links to articles for all of the new topics. As so often happens, many of the new links are from +Tim Hall and point to articles on his enormously informative Oracle-Base website. If you are in the final stages of preparing for the SQL Expert exam, you can use these articles along with the Oracle documentation to learn about the additions.