How to Study for the 70-461 Exam

Preparing for the 70-461 Exam

In order to be successful studying for the 70-461 exam, you’ll need a good strategy and plan.  Before we get into how to study for the 70-461, I want to tell you a quick story.

Back in 2002 I heard a piece on National Public Radio talking about normal people, like you and I, running Marathons.  This really got my attention!  I just couldn’t see how someone that wasn’t an Olympic trained athlete could possibly run 26.2 miles.

What I learned was each participant followed a plan.  The plan was gradual.  It helped the runner build their endurance and confidence to complete the race.

Like running a Marathon taking and passing the 70-461 exam looks impossible.  Yet, I’m here to tell you, that with a plan it isn’t.

When we look at taking the 70-461 it looks daunting.  There are so many topics to cover and most of us have limited time.  I’ve taken a look at all the topics covered and have identified over 100 topics within 23 different subjects which you need to master to pass the 70-461 exam.  Being organized is a must!

For most folks, passing the 70-461 exam isn’t something you decide to do on Monday, and achieve Friday.  It takes time and preparation.

I think preparing for the 70-461 exam is similar to training for a marathon.  Both seem very impossible to achieve, but they really aren’t.

In 2009 I ran my first Marathon by following a training plan.

Today, let me walk you through the plan you can use to study for the 70-461.

SQL Server 70-461 Study Plan

Preparation

Before you start studying you need to prepare.  By that I mean you need to get the right equipment together to make you study time effective.

Before I started training for a marathon, I made sure I have a good pair of running shoes, running shorts, and several T’s.  Also, I needed a way to keep hydrated on long runs.

When preparing for the 70-461 you’ll need to make sure you have a dedicate work space and a computer in good working order.  Specifically, here are the items you should have at your disposal before you begin your studies:

70-461 Exam Study Space

Dedicated Work-space

If you’re trying to study at work, then work with your supervisor to see if you can study away from your desk. This will avoid distractions.

If you’re studying at home, then make sure you have a place where your family or roomies won’t interrupt you when you’re studying.  You want a work space that is distraction free, has a good work surface with room to hold your laptop and study materials such as a book.

Computer running Windows 7.0 or later

You want a computer that runs windows 7.0 or later. It can be a laptop or desktop.  Windows is required so you can install and have your own local copy of Microsoft SQL Server and the AdventureWorks 2012 database for practice.

Note:  You can also use a iMac, but to do so, you need to create a virtual machine with Parallels or similar software.

SQL Server 2014 Express Edition

You want to install a local copy of SQL Server express edition. This software is free.

SQL Server Management Studio

This is the software you’ll use to write queries and view your database.

AdventureWorks 2012 Sample Database

Many examples found on the web and on essentialSQL.com use this database.

Reference Book(s)

There are several great book on SQL that you may like. My favorite is SQL Queries for Mere Mortals.

70-461 Exam Training Plan

When I ask people what is the #1 thing stopping them from studying for the 70-461 the answer is nearly universal:

“I don’t have enough time.”

The second most popular answer is:

“I’m afraid I won’t pass.”

Time and Fear…

These are pretty much the same reasons most people who can, don’t run marathons.  You just don’t decide one weekend to run a Marathon and complete it the next.  Also, it is a long race and most people fear they won’t finish!  In my case, I was paranoid I wouldn’t run fast enough and the finish line would close before I could cross it!

What helps every marathon runner to prepare and complete a marathon is a training plan.

When it comes to studying for the 70-461 you’ll want to make sure you have a really good training plan.

A good plan lays out what you need to study and in what order.

Just like don’t start running 16 miles in your first training run, nor do just “get” common table expression on your first go with SQL!

Your training plan should start you out learning easy to understand and learn concepts.  It should help you build confidence to tackle harder and more comprehensive topics.

And once you get to the really tough items, it should help you understand which areas to focus on and provide you feedback on whether you are learning the topics correctly.

Once you get a plan put together, set up a schedule so you know what topics you’ll cover each week.  This will help you keep on schedule.

Once you know roughly how much time you’ll need to study, commit yourself.  Immediately sign up for a test date.  Having a commitment helps keep your studying on track.  Knowing you’ll be taking the exam in two months will motivate you to study on those days you really don’t want to do so.

OK, now that you are committed to the exam, it’s time to get started!

SQL Server 70-461 Study Plan

Execution

Execution is where the rubber meets the road.  Without proper execution all your preparation and planning goes out the window.

When training for a marathon execution comes down to discipline.  It means following your training plan and not wavering.  Every mile you train is money in the bank.  Each one contributes towards your success.

In studying for the 70-461, every productive hour you put into studying contributes towards your success.

Here are the general steps to take to execute and succeed:

Follow your plan

Since the 70-461 covers so many topics, it is important to follow your plan to ensure you cover every topic.  You may think you “get” common table expressions, but are you comfortable with recursive CTE’s?

Following the plan not only serves to help you to cover all the material, but it can help you understand what you need to study today.  When you have a half hour to study, it’s important not to waste five minutes figuring out where you left of.

Keep track of your progress on your plan, and you’ll know where to begin.  Besides, your plan also serves to keep you on schedule.  It should outline what topics you’ll cover, week by week.

Take practice quizzes

As you are working though the plan take quizzes whose questions are about those topics to get feedback.  Know what you know is key.  There is no need to spend time on topic you understand.  Taking quizzes will help you understand where you lack.  Also, getting in the habit to reading and answering questions is good training for the final exam.

Work sample problems

Working problem sets is a great way to put your knowledge to use and commit it to long term memory.

Identify weak areas and focus

After you study a topic and taking a practice quiz, look at what which questions you’re missing.  Double back on those subjects and review.  It important that you gain a solid understand of a topic before moving on.  Many topics in SQL build upon each other.  That’s why the plan is so important.  It outlines what you need to learn first.

Do a mock test

Once you have completed your studies, do a complete mock test by doing all the practice quiz problems.  The practice quiz won’t be the same as the final 70-461  exam, but the training is invaluable never-the-less.

Doing a final practice quiz helps you gain confidence in knowing you can sit for a long time and answer questions.  Believe it or not, taking a test can be really fatiguing.

Also, it is a confidence booster. It gives you confirmation that you know the material and a final chance to see any weaknesses and address them the week before the exam.

Relax and Rest

take a couple of days off before the 70-461 exam.  Do some light review, but don’t cram!  By the time you get a couple of days before the exam you should have all your studying completed and be ready.  Just rest and don’t stress yourself out.

Rock the 70-461 Exam!

Get a good night’s sleep, clear your day of any stressful work, have a nice healthy breakfast, then just do it!

Good luck!

SQL Server 70-461 Study Plan