Saturday, February 22, 2014

The *right* way to take an Oracle beta exam (finally)

Oracle beta exams and I are not the best of friends.  I have already noted that on my blog in two earlier posts:

However, the GBU article was about my first experience with an Oracle beta, which was bad largely due to insufficient preparation on my part. The 'Worst-laid plans' article was really more about how monumentally bad planning, preparation, and follow-through for an exam can spiral into a horror story. This is true even when the exam is not a beta or not, but bad preparation for an exam with three times the questions is more than three times the horror.

For both of the previous beta exams, the opportunity to take them for free was something that happened at the last minute. I had the choice of either taking the exams without being prepared or missing out entirely. In this case, I was offered a free voucher for the 1Z1-497: Oracle 12c Database Essentials exam via the Oracle Partner Network in early January. This allowed plenty of time to research the topics for the exam fully. The initial draft of my study guide for the exam was completed a couple of weeks before the scheduled exam date.

This time I followed my normal testing routine by arriving at the testing center a full hour before the scheduled exam start. I checked in with the desk to ensure it was the correct testing location and that everything was prepared. The remaining time until the exam was spent re-reading the portions of my study materials for the sections I was least comfortable with. Once done with that, I put the materials up, returned to the desk and was able to start the exam fifteen minutes early. The difference in mental attitude and clarity was light years off my last beta testing experience in December where (largely through my own errors) I started the test an hour late, frustrated, and angry.

This exam went very smoothly and I am comfortable that the result will be a passing score. I will not claim that this experience has completely reversed my opinion on betas.  They are still really long. You still have less time per question (this exam was around a minute per question). You will still encounter errors in the exam. You still have to wait at least eleven weeks to learn whether or not you passed the exam. However, when you go in for a beta exam well-prepared for the material you will be tested on, the experience is only mildly more painful than the production version of the exam.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How you prepare for an Oracle exam is NOT a private matter

A recent poster on an Oracle certification forum was extremely upset. He had studied for the Upgrade to Oracle Database 12c exam but failed it by a significant margin. As he put it in his post, the exam results made it appear as if he had not prepared. There was one question in particular that he was positive that he had answered correctly, but the exam results indicated he had missed the question on that section. He knew that the question was answered correctly because he had found the question and answer on the Internet. In fact, to prove his point, he posted the question and answer right there in the forum.

I replied to his post, letting him know that the information in question was from a brain dump and that using these materials was prohibited by the Oracle Certification Program. Further, I let him know that the Oracle Fraud team would probably be contacting him.

He responded that how people prepared for exams was a private matter.

And from that... a blog post was born.

The short answer to his response is 'No' -- possibly with an exclamation point. Oracle, as the certifying authority, can define what preparation methods are acceptable in order for them to grant a certification. If you would like to learn how to use Oracle on your own and never attempt to obtain a certification for your knowledge, you can make use of any materials you care to. It only becomes Oracle's business when you are preparing for one of their exams. In any event, whatever lies people who use brain dumps tell themselves or others, the long and the short of it is -- using actual questions and answers to prepare for an exam is cheating.

After letting the poster know that using brain dumps was unacceptable, I did some checking on the Q&A he had put in the thread. Sure enough, it was out on all of the usual brain dump sites. I then did some actual research on the question in the... (wait for it) Oracle documentation. As it turns out, the information in the documentation clearly showed that the brain dump answer was wrong.

Shocking, right? It's hard to believe that a company that steals copyrighted test questions and uses them to create study materials for people that want to cheat on exams might employ people who know nothing at all about Oracle to create the answer keys.

So take a minute to think about the person that created the forum posting. He spent time memorizing all of these questions and answers. He paid for, and failed, the exam. At least some of the questions that he memorized were wrong. Which ones? There is no way to tell. His Oracle certification status is now in jeopardy. Since he was taking the 12c upgrade exam, presumably he is an OCP for an earlier release of Oracle. The Oracle Certification Program can legitimately strip him of that certification and ban him from the program. Even if they decide not to do this, his preparation for the 1Z0-060 exam the second time is going to be much worse than if he never used the brain dump. He has no idea how much of what he 'knows' to be the right answer is actually incorrect. Ouch.