Cry, Baby, Cry! Failing the MCM Test

Two things happened to me this morning.  First, I woke up and took the written test for the SQL Server Microsoft Certified Master.  Second, I failed said exam.  While that might be a circumstance for pity, we should all be glad.

Where’s the bar?

First off, the exam is tough.  Anyone that thought that the changes were going to inappropriately lower the bar for this certification should guess again.  I consider myself fairly knowledgeable and I struggle – not too much.  But failing definitely means I wasn’t at one with the knowledge required for the exam.  Knowing myself, I don’t know how comfortable I would have been with passing the test had I made it first time out.

Cramming versus Knowing

Next, I crammed a lot in this past weekend.  How much of that will I retain?  It might not matter to all, but it really matters to me whether or not I know what I am being tested on.  Will I know what I have been certified as knowing six months from now?  I come from the school of thought that you can count on it that I will.

No Fear

One benefit of taking the exam today is that when I take it next time, I know what to expect.  Sure the questions will be different, but the domains and the depth to which the questions go – I know that now.  This is a powerful tool because I’ve validated that the things I thought I didn’t know very well – I certainly don’t know those things very well.

I have always given myself permission to fail.  If you don’t it’s hard to accept and face risk.  At the end of the day it is just a test – pick an answer and move on.  Or sometimes at the end of the day – it’s just karaoke.

What’s Next

Now that I know where I need to go, it’s time to really start learning again.  I can’t retake the exam for 90 days, but I will be there on February 20, 2011 to take the exam again.  Right before the MVP Summit – so if I fail again I am sure to face some level of (deservedly) public humiliation.

I’m excited.  I’m jazzed.  Hell, I’m watching an MCM video right now.  Dang, Paul has a soothing voice.  Love the accent.

51 thoughts on “Cry, Baby, Cry! Failing the MCM Test

    1. Ah, believe me. Failing is the easy part. The thing with this exam is that it is a measurement of where you are in what you know. Honestly, I would have felt cheated if I passed the first time. Passing this the second time, though, felt great and appropriate.


  1. Thanks for sharing!

    I have two questions for you if you don't mind:

    How much of the allocated 4 hours did you use for the exam?

    How long was it before you knew the results for your exam? (MS says up to 30 days.)

    I wish there were more testing sites, if there was one locally I would have only taken it just to see how far off I am.


    1. I took about two hours for the exam. This is up from the 45-60 minutes that I would usually take for the TS and MCITP exams.

      The results I had immediately were PASS/FAIL and my score. The missing piece that I didn't get was the breakdown of failure.

      I am pretty certain where I didn't make the grade.


      1. So will they send you the break-down in the next couple months, or do you just have to go based on your gut?


      2. I believe that I will get a breakdown after a month or so. There are some things though that I know were glaring holes. Things I could get by without knowing but picking those up will get me through the next go round.


  2. Jason, the SQL MCM tests are among the toughest I've ever taken. I remain amazed that I got through them (especially considering the jet lag from three weeks in Asia, recoving from a case of the screaming feces, & my notebook's HDD failing in the middle of the first week).

    Bless your heart not only for trying, but also for being so forthcoming about it. I'm reminded of the words of Teddy Roosevelt–not my favorite president, but I love these words or inspiration:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    Yet you're one up, not merely a man in the arena who's been vanquished by the dust and sweat and blood. You're a man who knows great enthusiam who is actually getting up & going at it again & who WILL know in the end the triumph of high achievement. That's trememdous! Looking forward to your joining our ranks!

    Jimmy May, MCM & Aspiring Geek


    1. Jimmy, what fantastic words could better describe this. Brilliant!

      Jason – This blog really touches a few strings. My advice is Attend the training and maybe pass. The words above ensure that you will never fail in yourself. But, do attend the training. The certification isn't in the exam. It's in the class.

      Here's my experience:


      Rob, MCM DS


      1. Thanks, Jimmy and Rob.

        I plan on joining the ranks soon. I am hoping to be up to par for teh written test early next year. It'll probably be late in the year before I am up for the lab.

        The downside to not having time for the full training course is definitely a loss of focus and access to some incredible sources of information. Fortunately, self study has always been my strongest suit.


  3. Ditto Buck Woody and pretty much everyone else who commented thus far.

    No shame in failing. Shame should be on "not trying", and because you did, KUDOS to you.

    First off, it takes courage to try (anything, really). Second, it takes more courage to share an experience. And there's no such thing as failing – it's just one more lesson you tuck under your belt that makes you stronger, wiser.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It's just a matter of time and you'll be an MCM. And a very deserving one at that.


  4. Hat’s off to you sir as I applaud you for sharing your experiences in public, that takes courage.

    Don’t sweat it Jason. My old kick boxing coach used to say that the measure of a real champion fighter was in how they overcame their setbacks on the way to the top. After all, if the title is handed to you on a plate then where’s the sense of achievement right. In the long run, I have no doubt that this will make you an even stronger Data Professional than you already are.


  5. Jason,

    Did you get to find out HOW badly you failed? Like, whether MCM is just a pipe-dream, or whether you actually need to just brush up on a couple of areas? I'm thinking that taking it cold is a whole lot less useful if you only get told PASS/FAIL, than if you get told how close you came.



    1. I got the score and then the PASS/FAIL. I didn't get the break down by study area, so I don't know for certain where I sucked it. But I could tell when I was taking the exam when I was in unfamiliar territory. The usefulness to me was now know the level of detail to study going forward and areas where I drew a blank were obvious areas to study.


  6. Hey Jason,

    I don't think people celebrate their failures enough. Michael Jordon would sink less than half the shots he took according the the internet. When you pass it and you will, it will mean that much more.



    1. Thanks, I've always been keen to celebrate failure – or at least accept it. It's always one for the W column when it comes to ways things don't work.


  7. Jason.. my hat is off to you for attempting the exam, AND the POSITIVE vibe you have with your failed attempt, if we all passed everything on our 1st attempts and it wasn't ridiculously 'HARD' then it wouldn't hold the value the MCM certification was designed to show who are the masters.

    I'm sure you will pass the exam & lab in due course, I'm aware that a large percentage have failed even with 3 weeks FT intensive study just before the exam.

    I'm in "Serious Training mode" probably @ least for the next 6-12 months, maybe longer and then I will be getting close to being ready, don't get me wrong I love studying SQL and even to the real "internal" geekish levels I can fathom..

    Hoping that in 2011/2012 to join the hollowed MCM ranks myself

    assuming I'm up to the task.

    Best of luck with your continued MCM studies



    1. Thanks, I've definitely got a lot to learn. My understanding is that the exam is fairly easy compared to the lab. So… I might have another failure early next year after I get through the exam. If you haven't done it yet, download the MCM videos – they are gems and worth every minute. I listen to them on my Zune during the commute.


  8. My local testing centre is a long way away… Malaysia. I'm not sure I'm going to have the luxury of sitting it hot or cold.

    Good on you for trying, Jason. You'll get it eventually.


    1. Is there a testing center in Seattle? PASS would be a great time to take it. I bet you'd have unlimited drinks that night after going that route.


      1. It might be doable, but then I'd have jetlag to fight against too. I may have to just wait for a testing centre to open in Australia. I'm working on that already…


  9. As somebody else who went through the program in public, I feel your pain! I remember thinking a lot about what I'd say if I didn't pass, and you did good. You have nothing to be ashamed of – it's monstrously tough.

    I'd echo Kalen and Paul's recommendations – there's very few people that should try taking this test cold. I tell everybody to just iron-man the MCITP tests because they're not terribly difficult, but this test is different.


    1. MCITP are pretty easy compared to this. Definitely not something to try cold. For a few minutes I considered re-scheduling because I knew I wasn't ready.

      The classes would be great. My downfall is I suck in a classroom – even when I am digging the topic it's hard to keep focused for more than an hour. I'd be one of those guys browsing the internet when I should be listening. So far, your MCM videos have been spectacular and have led to quite a bit of doodling in SSMS.


  10. Best of luck on the retake, in 90 days or so it will make the pass that sweeter tasting!!!

    Like Paul, I think the Advanced classes are the best way – I wouldn't have the discipline to self study to that level. What could be cost effective is just taking the Advanced courses in focus areas if your above the bar or can self study in others.


  11. Thanks for sticking your neck out for the rest of us! I'm glad you took the test for what it was – a measure of your knowledge today. I look forward to joining you in early 2011 for the written exam.


  12. In my MCM rotation, I was only one of 4 (out of 12) that passed on the first round. With a 75% failure rate even WITH the three weeks of training, I would not recommend anyone attempt these MCM tests without an advanced MCM training course. Take Kalens advice, and then sign up for an MCM course!


    1. Hi Jason

      You're a big man taking that exam! It's not for boys.

      With reference to Kalen and Pauls advice, I would strongly recommend attending the training. This isn't an upgrade to an MCDBA.

      I am not an MCM SQL but managed to succeed on the MCM DS. The rotation befor me saw 1 person pass out of 21 candidates (mostly MS employees). It is tough, very tough.

      Personally, I think the public offering of the MCM SQL exam without attendance based training is great from MS to make this affordable. However, maintaining the bar at the same time is always going to result in (my opinion) a 99% failure rate (unless the bar is moved).

      The success and value of the MCM is not the certification. It's the training. Meeting brilliant minded individuals and being trained by the best in the world.

      If you are interested, have a look at my experience here:




    1. I would love to take the class, but know that I wouldn't be able to fit it in. I am though spending the rest of this week with you SQL Server 2008 Internals book.


  13. Tim, let me know how it goes on February 29, 2011. I can't seem to find that date on next years calendar.

    Actually, I wish you luck when you retake the exam!


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