Monday, June 30, 2014

A Lifeline for 9i & 10g OCAs -- Oracle Releases Two OCA-to-OCP Upgrade Options

Historically, Oracle Certified Associates in the Administration track for one release of the database have had only two options for earning the Oracle Certified Professional designation in a later release:
  1. Complete the OCP credential in the release they hold the OCA in. Then take one or more upgrade exams required to bump their OCP to a more current release.
  2. Start from (almost) scratch to earn the OCA and then the OCP in the later release.

Both options require a minimum of two exams. For people that hold the OCA in 9i, the only option since that track was retired last year has been to start over with the OCA in a later release. The introduction of two new exams by the Oracle Certification team has changed the game. Either exam will allow Oracle Certified Associates to upgrade directly to the 11g or 12c Oracle Certified Professional credential. The beta period for the two exams started June 7th:
  • 1Z0-034: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g OCA to Oracle Database 11g OCP
  • 1Z0-067: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g/11g OCA to Oracle Database 12c OCP

I had speculated in a previous blog post that an exam of this type was on the horizon.  I will freely admit that I did not expect OU to create two exams.  I envisioned a single hyped-up version of the 1Z0-060 exam to upgrade candidates to 12c.  I have been developing study guides for these exams since learning of them. After going through their topic lists, I have to wonder if the Oracle Certification team has a recent new hire named Victor Frankenstein, PhD.  1Z0-034 and 1Z0-067 have been pieced together from a number of earlier exams and both are monsters.

While I had not foreseen that OU would create this exam, the topics list matches what I would have expected... had I been expecting anything at all. The test mixes and matches topics from the 11g Admin II (1Z0-053), Admin I (1Z0-052),  and New Features (1Z0-050) exams as well as some from the 10g Admin II (1Z0-043) and New Features (1Z0-040) exams. In all, this exam has 112 topics in 25 sections.  I was stunned by the sheer scope of the exam, until I realized how much 034 is eclipsed by its big brother.

I am reasonably certain that this exam is the largest by topic count of any that I have ever seen from Oracle University.  The test contains over 220 topics under 42 different sections. The topic list contains most everything that is in the 1Z0-034 exam plus a heaping helping from the three 12c administration exams (1Z0-060, 1Z0-062, 1Z0-063).  Oracle professionals who are upgrading from a 9i OCA in particular will be introduced to a wide array of new features.  Candidates preparing for this test need to plan on setting aside a significant amount of study time in order to have a reasonable chance of passing on the first attempt.

As I assumed in my earlier post, neither of these exams eliminates the hands-on training requirement to earn the OCP designation. The new exams will not eliminate that expense, but they can save candidates the expense of at least one exam. In addition, even though both are heavyweights, preparing for a single test will consume less time than preparing for two or more separate ones. If you decide to pursue one of these exams, make sure that you understand from the outset that while they represent a simple way to upgrade your credentials, that is not at all the same thing as an easy way.  You will need to put in some work for these.

Despite their length, I expect that these exams are likely to be fairly popular.  Certainly I see posts by OCAs fairly regularly asking how they can upgrade their credential to a current release of Oracle.

For people who are interested, I have started gathering links to certification-safe study materials on my website for these exams:
1Z0-034: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g OCA to Oracle Database 11g OCP
1Z0-067: Upgrade Oracle9i/10g/11g OCA to Oracle Database 12c OCP

Monday, June 16, 2014

End-of-Chapter Questions and Oracle Certification Preparation

An Oracle exam candidate sent me the following question recently after reading my study guide for the 1Z0-117: Oracle Database 11g Release 2: SQL Tuning exam:

"One thing which I felt is that there should be mock Q&A's or Quiz to test the knowledge gained after finishing each chapter. Having these gives confidence and a practice before going for the exam."

This is a subject that I have a strong opinion about. I thought it deserved a detailed response rather than a brief email. I will state up front that my study guides will never have practice questions in them for several reasons.

The first problem with adding end-of-chapter questions is economic.  My guides present the information on exam topics in a very concise fashion.  Adding questions that adequately cover the same subjects would easily increase the size of my guides by 50-75%. In addition, creating realistic questions and answers is extremely time consuming. Adding these to my guides might well double the amount of my time required to create them. Either the price of the guides would need to increase significantly or I would need to take a reduced royalty payment (from the increased page count) while simultaneously putting in more hours to create each guide. I do not believe that most of my readers would consider the practice questions to be worth a significant price hike. I know that putting in that much more time for less return would make me considerably less interested in spending my time creating them.

The second issue is that I am not a proponent of studying for exams by answering practice questions. The goal of preparing for Oracle certification exams is to gain as much knowledge about the tested topics as possible. Focusing on learning the answers to specific questions is a terrible habit to fall into. For example, imagine a chapter in a certification preparation book that has five end-of-chapter questions. On taking the self test, someone misses four out of five. This strongly implies that they did not understand the material and should re-read the whole chapter more carefully.  However, many candidates will simply look up the sections in the chapter that dealt with the four questions they missed. Once they have memorized all five answers, they will be under the impression that they are fully prepared for the real test. In reality, it is unlikely they fully understand much of the information outside what the questions covered. If the actual test questions are much different from the practice ones, they are likely to get them wrong.

Finally, the largest problem that I have is that end-of-chapter exercises cannot be close enough to the real test to provide candidates a reasonable measure of how prepared they are for the actual exam. There are several reasons for this, including the following:

  • Generally people answer the questions right after reading the material. This does not mean they will recall it days later when sitting for the exam.
  • Often (as noted above), the exam candidate will check their information in the chapter before answering.  The real test is not open book.
  • The questions are grouped together by topic (i.e. what the chapter was about). This makes answering them easier. The real exam jumps around topics randomly.
  • End of chapter questions have no time constraint.
  • There is absolutely no pressure involved. Test takers are not worried about failing, or whether they really put down the right letter on that one really hard question they answered a few minutes ago.

In my opinion, the primary benefit that practice tests provide is to help exam candidates determine if they are ready for the real test. This is the 'confidence' spoken of in the original question. For that confidence to have any basis in reality, the environment of the self test must be as close as possible to the real exam. It should have the same number of questions and the same time limit as the real test. Exam candidates should treat the practice just like the real exam and not peek in the book or use the internet to help on questions they do not know. I would even recommend taking it at the same time of day and at a terminal close to what will be in the testing center. If all of that is done, the results of a well-written practice exam may be a reasonable approximation of what candidates will get on the actual test.

What all of this adds up to is that I do not believe that end-of chapter exercises provide sufficient value to candidates to be worth the considerable effort that would go into adding them. This is not to say they have zero value. End-of-chapter questions make more sense for the Oracle Press series. The chapters in those books are considerably longer than those in my guides. It is possible -- especially late at night -- to read a complete chapter without actually absorbing the information. If you miss a majority of the practice questions and use that feedback to recognize you should re-read the chapter (perhaps the next day), then they can add value to your study process.