Thursday, July 23, 2015

I knew all the answers, but I still failed my Oracle certification test!

Recently I received the following question from one of my readers about their results on an Oracle certification exam:

"There was not a single question on the exam that I did not know, but I still got only 54 percent. How did this happen?"

I spend a lot of time answering questions on various Oracle forums from certification candidates. One of my foremost personal rules is to avoid sounding like a jerk in my answer. However, another of my primary rules is to be honest.  Unfortunately, in this case honesty is likely to sound like I am being a jerk. All that I can say is that this is not my intent.

The person in question was referring to an exam that had been in production for over a year. If the exam had been in beta at the time he took it, conceivably there could have been several questions for which there was no correct answer. That said, even in a beta, there is no way that the exam team would have put something out where 46% of the questions had no correct answer. For an exam that far into production, it is simply inconceivable that the exam itself would have a statistically significant number of questions with no correct answer. Certification candidates would be failing the exam in huge numbers if this were the case. The problem therefore is not the test itself.

If the exam questions have valid answers, there are only four possible options for a multiple choice/multiple-answer test:
1. You know how to answer the question and select the correct choices.
2. You do not know how to answer the question, but guess and select the correct choices.
3. You know how to answer the question, but mistakenly select the wrong choices -- either through a mis-click or mis-reading the answer.
4. You do not know how to answer the question and select the wrong choices (or no choice).

The candidate in question indicated he 'knew' the answers to all of the test questions (and that is what this post is about), so the first two options can be dismissed. That leaves only two options -- either he knew the correct answer, but selected the wrong choice(s) by accident (e.g. a typo), or what he 'knew' to be the correct answer was in fact wrong.

It is difficult for me to imagine someone miskeying the answers to almost half of an exam. I will grant that it is just barely conceivable if they were in a great rush and not being careful.  However, I consider this to be a very unlikely scenario. By far the most plausible explanation for failing a test is that you do not have sufficient knowledge to pass it. The very reason that tests exist is to provide a means for measuring the knowledge of the people taking it.

Obviously the best-case scenario is to take an exam and pass it. However, second best is to take it and fail it, but in doing so to recognize where your knowledge deficiencies are. In that situation, you can hit the books again to rectify those problems so that you can retake the test and pass on your next attempt. The absolute worst possible outcome is to be in the position defined by the article title -- failing a test that you believe you knew all the answers to. If the test is not flawed, then the only reasonable explanation is that what you 'know' to be true, is not. This is a significant problem for a couple of reasons.  First, if you do not realize which portions of your knowledge are flawed, it is difficult to target your study efforts to fix them. Second, people who have an attitude that they know everything are much less willing to learn.

If you feel that the article title applies to your personal situation, the best advice I can offer you is to immediately dispense with the certainty that you know all the answers. Your certainty is misplaced and it will only get in the way of you passing the test on your next attempt. Make use of the feedback provided by the exam results page to study the areas where you missed one or more problems. Be extra vigilant when studying to look for differences in what the documentation or other study resources say when compared to what you believe to be true. This is the best way to find and fix the knowledge that caused you to fail the exam.