MCM Lab exam this week

December 18, 2012

In two days I’ll’ve finished the MCM Lab exam, 88-971. If you do an internet search for 88-971, it’ll tell you the answer is –883. Obviously.



It’ll also give you a link to the actual exam page, which is useful too, once you’ve finished being distracted by the calculator instead of going to the thing you’re actually looking for. (Do people actually search the internet for the results of mathematical questions? Really?)

The list of Skills Measured for this exam is quite short, but can essentially be broken down into one word “Anything”.

The Preparation Materials section is even better. Classroom Training – none available. Microsoft E-Learning – none available. Microsoft Press Books – none available. Practice Tests – none available. But there are links to Readiness Videos and a page which has no resources listed, but tells you a list of people who have already qualified. Three in Australia who have MCM SQL Server 2008 so far. The list doesn’t include some of the latest batch, such as Jason Strate or Tom LaRock.

I’ve used SQL Server for almost 15 years. During that time I’ve been awarded SQL Server MVP seven times, but the MVP award doesn’t actually mean all that much when considering this particular certification. I know lots of MVPs who have tried this particular exam and failed – including Jason and Tom. Right now, I have no idea whether I’ll pass or not. People tell me I’ll pass no problem, but I honestly have no idea. There’s something about that “Anything” aspect that worries me.

I keep looking at the list of things in the Readiness Videos, and think to myself “I’m comfortable with Resource Governor (or whatever) – that should be fine.” Except that then I feel like I maybe don’t know all the different things that can go wrong with Resource Governor (or whatever), and I wonder what kind of situations I’ll be faced with. And then I find myself looking through the stuff that’s explained in the videos, and wondering what kinds of things I should know that I don’t, and then I get amazingly bored and frustrated (after all, I tell people that these exams aren’t supposed to be studied for – you’ve been studying for the last 15 years, right?), and I figure “What’s the worst that can happen? A fail?”

I’m told that the exam provides a list of scenarios (maybe 14 of them?) and you have 5.5 hours to complete them. When I say “complete”, I mean complete – you don’t get to leave them unfinished, that’ll get you ‘nil points’ for that scenario. Apparently no-one gets to complete all of them.

Now, I’m a consultant. I get called on to fix the problems that people have on their SQL boxes. Sometimes this involves fixing corruption. Sometimes it’s figuring out some performance problem. Sometimes it’s as straight forward as getting past a full transaction log; sometimes it’s as tricky as recovering a database that has lost its metadata, without backups. Most situations aren’t a problem, but I also have the confidence of being able to do internet searches to verify my maths (in case I forget it’s –883). In the exam, I’ll have maybe twenty minutes per scenario (but if I need longer, I’ll have to take longer – no point in stopping half way if it takes more than twenty minutes, unless I don’t see an end coming up), so I’ll have time constraints too. And of course, I won’t have any of my usual tools. I can’t take scripts in, I can’t take staff members. Hopefully I can use the coffee machine that will be in the room.

I figure it’s going to feel like one of those days when I’ve gone into a client site, and found that the problems are way worse than I expected, and that the site is down, with people standing over me needing me to get things right first time…

…so it should be fine, I’ve done that before. 🙂

If I do fail, it won’t make me any less of a consultant. It won’t make me any less able to help all of my clients (including you if you get in touch – hehe), it’ll just mean that the particular problem might’ve taken me more than the twenty minutes that the exam gave me.


PS: Apparently the done thing is to NOT advertise that you’re sitting the exam at a particular time, only that you’re expecting to take it at some point in the future. I think it’s akin to the idea of not telling people you’re pregnant for the first few months – it’s just in case the worst happens. Personally, I’m happy to tell you all that I’m going to take this exam the day after tomorrow (which is the 19th in the US, the 20th here). If I end up failing, you can all commiserate and tell me that I’m not actually as unqualified as I feel.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. woodgreg

    Good Luck!

  2. Thomas LaRock

    Best of luck.
    This is just an exam. It doesn’t define you. Your clients won’t know the difference between you having an MCM or not. It likely will not be the hardest thing you will ever do in this life. I find that being a father and husband has been the most challenging "lab exam" I have ever taken on in my life, but my life is full of a different set of experiences and priorities than others.
    I think you will do just fine, considering everything else I’ve known you to accomplish.

  3. Adam Machanic

    I love your double-contraction in the first sentence! 🙂

  4. Edwin Sarmiento

    I totally agree with Tom on the most challenging "lab exam" ever. They don’t come with manuals nor are you given any study guides for those.
    I wish you all the best. Now, if only I can find a sponsor so I can take the lab exam 🙂

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