Training Kit (Exam 70-461): Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 by Itzik Ben-Gan, Dejan Sarka, and Rom Talmage
$43.79 at Amazon ($69.99 cover price)
I’ve been using SQL Server at work for a couple of years now, but I’m not a DBA; I mostly just run simple queries to test that data was loaded correctly by our ETL process. This year I’m leading a small group of coworkers who want to become more proficient in SQL Server, so we’re studying for the MCSA in SQL Server 2012. This certification requires passing exams in three areas; the material on the first exam, 70-461, is the subject of this book.
The book starts out with the obligatory disclaimers: real-world experience is required to pass the exam, and you should already understand how to write a query and run it, even if you don’t know the fine details. Naturally, you’ll need a copy of SQL Server 2012 (a trial copy is fine). The book comes with a CD containing practice tests, an PDF of the text, and a copy of the scripts (which can also be downloaded from O’Reilly). Finally, the book includes a coupon code for 15% off any Microsoft Certified Professional Program exam; the tests normally run $150, so that’s probably a $22.50 savings if you plan to take the exam.
Before getting into the code, we start off with Chapter 1: Foundations of Querying, where we learn a little about set theory and the difference between standard SQL and Microsoft’s T-SQL. (Incidentally, if you’re trying to do a search for how to do something in SQL Server and want to avoid getting results from other flavors of SQL, searching in T-SQL is a good way to do it.) Chapter two brings in some code: the select statement. At this point, you’ll need to have installed the TSQL2012 database (which, as mentioned, is a free download). With the basics down, chapters three through seven discuss various ways of querying and managing the data, including filtering, sorting, combining, and grouping. In chapter eight, we start actually creating our own tables; chapters eight through eleven cover the various data structures (tables, views, functions, etc) that we can create and how to insert, update, and delete the data in them. After that we move into more advanced topics, such as error handling, dynamic SQL, and performance.
My study group has been going through the book at a rate of one chapter per week and found it quite readable. My only real complaint has been that the test questions at the end of the chapter sometimes ask about something that wasn’t actually discussed, but this is a minor irritant. A few chapters are fairly dense, but most of the writing flows easily, and we found a few tidbits that should be helpful at work.
The practice test gives you several options First is study mode, in which you choose how many questions you want and can look at the answers whenever you like; this mode is not timed. In certification mode, you have a 44 questions to complete; this mode is timed (with two hours given) and you cannot stop the timer. In custom mode you can set it up however you like, including specifying the objectives to be included. When looking at the explanation (either during a study mode test or afterward) you also get a reference to the appropriate chapter of the book and relevant pages on MSDN. After completing a test, you’ll see your overall score as well as your sub-score on each of the exam objectives, and can generate a learning plan (that is, links to MSDN pages on what you missed). All of the questions I’ve seen so far are multiple choice, however, which I’ve heard is not true of the actual exam.
I haven’t taken the exam yet (I expect to do so in October or November, though scheduling it is inconvenient) so I can’t say for sure how well the book has prepared me for it, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot about T-SQL by reading it. I’ll update this review after the test, but for now I rate this book a definite buy.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book.