Someone asked for advice today about preparing for and passing Microsoft Exam 70-761: Querying Data with Transact-SQL – I figured I’d share my experience of this exam.
This is one of the required exams on the way to MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development.
When you sit and take a Microsoft Exam, you are required to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) which means you won’t divulge specific information about the exam, so if you have come for a nitty gritty deep dive, you won’t find it here!
My journey to taking exam 70-761 began at SQL Bits when I attended a talk given by Itzik Ben-Gan (legend!) in the talk Itzik plugged his new book Exam Ref 70-761 Querying Data with Transact-SQL, and I thought hmm I should start thinking about taking these exams! plus my boss had mentioned paying for Microsoft Certifications and I wanted to take him up on the offer. It wasn’t possible to purchase the book around the time I attended SQL Bits, it was new and not out yet, it’s available now though and has been for some time.
Now if you’re looking for a “learn T-SQL” book, then this isn’t the book for you! This book is an exam reference, it covers briefly the topics you can expect to find in the exam. That said, I would not have passed this exam the first time without using this exam reference, so many things you read and you’re like “wait, what?! I didn’t know that!”
I purchased it from Amazon. I like to buy the paperback and the kindle version, the formatting on tech books isn’t normally great but having the option to read it on a second monitor while I have SSMS on the other screen suits me.
Using the book
The way I used this book was pretty simple, I didn’t read it cover to cover, I flicked through scanning pages, ignoring what I was very comfortable with, when I found something I didn’t use often or that I had never even heard of (new 2016 features!) I stopped, and took it all in and where applicable I wrote up examples on my local machine to make sure I really understood. Parts of the book that I had read in detail that I didn’t know much about came up in my exam! So I was like, man I remember this! It was so great having that confidence in the exam, it kept me calm and focused.
I was lucky enough to have a Pluralsight subscription through my employer, the quality of courses on Pluralsight, in my opinion, set the standard for online training and some of the biggest names in the data community deliver the SQL courses, so I highly recommend them.
There wasn’t (and still isn’t) a 70-761 course, but the 70-461 (previous exam) is what I used and contains solid T-SQL theory and demos, so again, I can highly recommend it. I tend to listen at 1.1 to 1.2 speed and then pause or slow it down if it’s something I am not sure about.
Shameless plug, you can get a free 30-day trial and 50% off if you sign up using this referral link and help support running this blog (VPS’s don’t just fall out of the sky you know, hmm but how do they stay in the clouds?)
Also, consider asking your employer, you might be surprised to learn they already have licenses to Pluralsight!
The 70-461 training material is nearly 9 hours long!! So give yourself at least 9 days to study and let it sink in.
Online training with labs and assessments
edx.org is an amazing website that offers free online courses approved by Microsoft, if you view the Microsoft exam page they are listed as an online training provider. The course is free to complete and you have the option to pay $99 to do an online assessment (I did that) at the end and gain a certificate! The format of the assessments forces you to test your skill and see where you have gaps, if you can’t remember the syntax for a pivot, you soon will!
Here is the link to the course that Microsoft recommends!
On the job training
Obviously, if you work in data and your considering taking this exam, you probably (hopefully) write SQL. As a SQL Server DBA it’s surprising how much SQL we don’t write, most of the time were plugging in values into our tried and tested scripts for day to day tasks like setting up AGs, replication and log shipping, I think I write more PowerShell than T-SQL these days. So whilst a few projects really do require a lot of T-SQL, most of the time that’s not the case. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to take this exam, I felt I wasn’t writing enough T-SQL day to day and wanted to force myself to see what was new in SQL Server 2016 and validate my T-SQL skills at the same time.
And finally! A blog post which helped me when I started planning my studying for this exam:-
You can validate my certificates discussed in this blog post here:-