Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Failed my Oracle Certification Exam. What Should I do Now?

First off -- I'm sorry you didn't make it.  That said, if everybody that took any given certification test passed, then the test would have no value.  It's not much of a consolation prize, but this is validation that the certification you are pursuing has relevance.

That aside, over the years I have taken twenty Oracle certification exams plus another ten or fifteen from various other vendors such as Microsoft, Novell, and CompTIA.  In recent years I have dropped into a pattern of preparation for the exams. I wrote these up as an article at Oracle Certification: 10 Tips for any Exam.

That list of tips stops with submitting the test, so it does not cover my 'after-test' routine.  However, tip number nine suggests marking every question that you are not positive about and then going back over them them at the end of the test (if you have time).  I normally do a bit more than that.  When re-reading the questions at the end of the exam, I also try to cement the subject of each question in memory -- not the exact wording, just the base elements.  Once the test is submitted I will return to my car and write these elements down.  One thing needs to be perfectly clear, though, I do not make any attempt to write down exact questions or answers.  That behavior is effectively creating brain dumps and is specifically prohibited by the Oracle Candidate Agreement.  My notes might look something like:

Parameter "X" -- valid values?
"Y" command -- syntax?
How  to perform "Z" operation?
and so on...

With this information, once I am home and have access to documentation, I will look the answers up.  I do this regardless of whether I pass or fail the exam because it is information that I should know even if I passed.  This data is, after all, part of what the test is validating that I know. If I fail a test, the list gives me a starting point in studying for the retake.

If you are reading this, presumably you failed an exam, and probably did so days or even weeks ago. The above information would obviously have been considerably more useful to you before taking the exam. Hopefully you can still remember some of the questions that gave you trouble. You have one big advantage that you did not have before -- you have seen exactly what the exam is like. Make the most of that advantage before time blurs the details. Create a set of notes as I suggest above to the greatest degree possible.  Your score report from Oracle will indicate the topics you missed questions on.  Look over them -- they may help you to recall some of the questions that you could not answer.  Even if they do not, the list of problem topics is a valuable resource to use in preparing to retake the exam. Go back to your study resources and read over portions on these topics again.  If you do this soon enough after taking the exam, the material itself may help you recall questions that you were unable to answer with confidence.

Possibly the single biggest uncertainty after failing an exam is how long you should prepare before attempting it again. The absolute minimum period mandated by Oracle for proctored exams is fourteen days. The amount of time that should be spent preparing is entirely dependent on you. If you were close to passing and feel that all of the problem areas have been identified and resolved , then fourteen days may be sufficient. Keep in mind, however, that you are very unlikely to get the same questions. You may find the set of questions on the retake harder or easier than the first attempt.

If you read my GoCertify article at the link above, the first tip suggested calculating how many questions can be missed while still passing the exam.  The same basic technique will allow you to figure out how many questions you were from getting a passing score.  Oracle rounds the percentages, so it is only possible to estimate the number of questions.  However, if you scored 61% on a 70 question test, you probably got 43 questions right (70 * .61 = 42.7).  If the passing score was 66%, you needed to get about three more questions correct in order to pass. You should use that information in making a decision about how much additional preparation to budget for. Be conservative. Allocating a week more study time than you really need is much better than taking the test a second time and realizing (too late) that another week would have made all the difference. Getting certified is not a race.  Take your some and prepare until you are comfortable with all of the problem topics before rescheduling the exam.

If your result was not reasonably close to the passing score, you might also consider making use of a practice test after you have done some more preparation and before you schedule the real exam again. There are a handful of vendors that offer legitimate practice exams, including Self Test Software and Transcender.  Oracle Certification Prep has also started offering low-cost practice tests that can be found at this link.