By: Simon Liew MCM
I attempted Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) exam in second half of 2012 and thankfully passed both Knowledge Exam (88-970) and the Lab Exam (88-971) in my first attempt. I’m categorised in the “new” MCM program because I took the exams without having to attend the 3 weeks onsite training in Seattle.
Part of obtained MCM status, Microsoft will request your biography and permission to publish it in their public site, mine as below
Gaining MCM has many benefits and one and foremost (from my point of view) is access to exclusive community of SQL Server database technical experts and online training. Honestly, I’ve been struggling to find good training classes in Sydney, Australia. No offence, Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) is good but they’re not great in depth. Aplenty of good blogs and articles online, and you’ll have to really spend time to read and understand.
Reason for this blog is to share my experience on the exam process for someone preparing for MCM.
Once you have obtained MCITP for both Database Administrator 2008 (70-432 and 70-450) and Database Developer 2008 (70-433 and 70-451), then you’re good to go in attempting MCM.
To be Certified Master, you need to pass 2 exams as below

The Knowledge Exam (88-970) has to be scheduled via prometric. Once you arrive at the exam centre, you’ll be expecting below

–          Costs USD500 when you schedule the exam
–          It is an exam similar MCTS\MCITP (multiple choice)
–          make sure all pockets are empty
–          metal scanner will used to make sure you’re not bringing anything to the exam
–          fingerprint is taken
–          you can’t pause exam so any break time will still count towards the exam duration
–          apparently prometric runs exam score on 15th or 16th monthly. If you took the exam before mid-month, then you can logon to prometric to check your Pass\Fail result sooner
–          you’ll receive the official Pass\Fail via letter and the result is similar to MCTS\MCITP (bar showing strength\weakness by category)

The Lab Exam (88-971) is now delivered remotely. The requirements for remote exam are

–          Costs USD2500 when you schedule the exam
–          It is a lab exam on VM, nothing that you’ve experienced in MCTS\MCITP
–          Exam location can be anywhere in the world i.e. your home, office, etc
–          Must be a quiet place
–          A suitable datetime between yourself and the exam proctor
–          A working web camera
–          Only one monitor is allowed
–          Stable internet access with at least 300kbps of available bandwidth to support the Microsoft Lync client with audio and video
–          Microsoft Lync client (can be downloaded from the Exam Administrator meeting invitation
–          Given 5 hours and 25 mins, which includes\assumes two 15 mins break time
–          Exam is closed book. However SQL book online is available. Due to the time constraint and question difficulty, book online can be a good reference if you forgot commands, etc but it won’t be as helpful if you’re trying to read-through
–          30 business working days period for result
–          Pass\Fail result are informed via email, no letters
Microsoft Certified Solution Master (MCSM): Data Platform is the new MCM equivalent certification for the new SQL platform (SQL 2012). MCSM will probably get released around mid-2013. Reason product version is not included in the exam is because Microsoft may cover more than one version and requires recertification every 3 years. Since Microsoft doesn’t expect each new version of SQL to be vastly different architecturally, this would make a good point to exclude the product version. For example, lots of stuff you’ve learnt on SQL 2008 R2 still apply to SQL 2012 and so on. i.e. SQL OS Scheduler scheduling principles introduced since SQL 2005 are still valid even in SQL 2012, with usually more information exposed in each newer version.
MCM 2008 Knowledge Exam retired Jan 2014 MCM 2008 Lab Exam retired June 2014
So, some might ask a question “Should I still aim for MCM: SQL Server 2008 since MCSM: Data Platform will be available soon?”
Well, it depends on your readiness. But here’s the irony. I didn’t felt ready but I took the exam anyway J So, there’s the tip for your readiness, it was a gut feel. But still, isn’t there a benchmark? I plan and prepare for the Lab Exam but not really putting effort toward the Knowledge Exam. What does this mean? It means I’ve been rather concentrating on the practical side with knowledge as my supplement.
You might be reading heaps about full, differential and tran log backup\restore as much as I do and understand the depth of it. But have you use and implement them in your workplace? Have you reviewed backup\restore practices and noticed strengths\weaknesses and made improvements? Have you implemented comprehensive backup\restore solution and tested your DR? If you have been reading heaps and applying your skill in practice then I’d say go for the Knowledge Exam because this is what’s tested in the Knowledge Exam. It won’t be a question of how to write a command or how this command works, but depends on the circumstance, the how, what, why is more relevant.
I’ve mentioned my focus was on the Lab Exam. This mean I’ve studied heaps of whitepapers, blogs, does many practical and applied them in practice as well. Learning is a 2-way process. You learn from experience to gain knowledge, and knowledge to gain experience. For example, you learn from troubleshooting and that’s learning from experience. To learn from knowledge, you can reproduce a scenario from articles you have read and understood. For example, knowing there’s a 32 outstanding I/O limit for SQL 64-bit transaction log (8 outstanding I/O for 32-bit) and you can re-produce this behavior for learning and gaining experience. You don’t have to wait for such event to occur in your production environment to learn. Such method has helped me a lot in my work because the experience and knowledge can be applied in SQL troubleshooting, design, tuning, solutions, etc.
Hope you find this article useful and comments\questions are most welcome.
In my next blog, I’ll list my study materials and also share things that I have learnt in past years with everyone. Hope it’ll be interesting to you.

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