Overview: Preparing for the Oracle Database SQL 1Z0-071 Exam with no prior SQL Experience

Introduction

This post is intended to serve as a starting point for complete beginners to SQL who are seeking to independently acquire the Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate certification. While I do not claim to be an expert on the 1Z0-071 Oracle Database SQL exam, I believe that my recent experience studying for and passing it may be of use to others attempting to do the same. Readers should consult other sources for developing their practical SQL coding abilities, as this overview was exclusively written to outline what I believe to be the most efficient method to pass the 1Z0-071 exam.

Exam Page: http://education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/db_pages.getpage?page_id=5001&get_params=p_exam_id:1Z0-071

What is a certification exam and why should I care?

The 1Z0-071 exam is one of many certification exams administered by the Oracle Corporation. Certification exams can be useful for getting promoted or finding a new job. This is because Oracle will officially vouch for your ability to use software if you pass a certain set of tests related to that software.

Certification exams are not always a good idea. For example, if you are already employed and your boss doesn’t care about certifications when deciding on promotions and raises, it wouldn’t make much sense to devote the time needed to pass a certification exam. Additionally, certifications are generally thought of as a poor substitute for experience. For this reason, you should always choose¬† hands-on work experience with a piece of software over spending time studying for a certification in that software.

Despite the above, there are still situations where a certification can be of value. For example, let’s say that you want to make a career pivot into a different field. Your current job may not offer the chance to gain enough software experience to interview successfully in that field. However, by independently acquiring a certification, you can prove to a hiring manager that you already know the basics. Alternatively, a certification may be useful in salary and promotion negotiations. By keeping your boss in the loop about certifications you are working towards and acquiring, you give them a concrete way to evaluate your performance and improvement over time.

In my case, I decided that a certification would be useful to help me apply for Analyst positions as a recent graduate. While my Economics major taught me much about the techniques used to analyze data, it did not teach anything about how to use SQL to store data. This was a major obstacle because the majority of Analyst jobs involve analyzing data that has been stored using SQL. As a recent graduate, I couldn’t solve this problem with work experience because almost any entry-level job that would teach SQL required me to already have knowledge of SQL to get the job in the first place. Therefore, I decided to gain the next best thing to work experience by passing the 1Z0-071 certification exam. Since doing so, I have noticed a substantial increase in the number of interview requests I have received, especially from positions requiring basic SQL experience.

Why should I take the 1Z0-071 Oracle Database SQL exam?

Oracle is not the only company that provides certifications for SQL. Other companies have also developed their own SQL certification programs, which each use their own type of SQL. While each form of SQL works a bit differently than the others, the entry-level certification exams for each version mostly cover the basics, which are generally the same across versions. Since I do not have experience with non-Oracle exam options, this overview will not cover them. However, you should do your own research on the subject and decide on the exam that is best for you.

The 1Z0-071 exam is relatively new, having become available in mid-2016. For this reason, there is not as much easily accessible information about the exam as I think there should be.

In my opinion, the 1Z0-071 Oracle Database SQL exam is currently the best option available for SQL beginners to independently gain a meaningful Oracle SQL certification. The 1Z0-071 comprehensively covers the fundamentals one needs in order to understand how to begin working with SQL, without spending too much time on obscure topics your employer will not care about.

The 1Z0-071 exam’s main “competitors” in the Oracle certification ecosystem are the 1Z0-061 and 1Z0-051 Oracle SQL Fundamentals exams. The 1Z0-061 and 1Z0-051 exams are both cheaper and less difficult than the 1Z0-071 exam. However, unlike the 1Z0-071 exam, the 1Z0-061 and 1Z0-051 exams do not immediately grant a certification to those who pass. Instead, you have to take another exam on either PL/SQL or Database Administration to get certified, and that certification would be specialized to one of those two areas. Therefore, unless you specifically want to pursue a career as a PL/SQL developer or a DBA, I believe you are better off pursuing the 1Z0-071 exam. It is cheaper, takes less time to study for, and doesn’t force you to specialize.

How should I study for the 1Z0-071 exam?

An important thing to understand about preparing for the 1Z0-071 exam is that it is designed to test how much you know from memory about how SQL works. It is not designed to test how well you can actually code in SQL on your own. This is the source of much of the hate that certifications get online, and is the reason why I would recommend a completely different set of learning materials if this overview was not aimed solely at helping people pass the 1Z0-071 exam as efficiently as possible. While you are free to try and fake your way into a job using only the SQL skills you acquired studying for the 1Z0-071, hiring managers are wary of people who get a certification by just memorizing flashcards. If you want to make it to the second interview, you need to understand that a certification probably will not be enough.

The reason I mention all of this is because astute readers will find that the resources I recommend below are not particularly “hands-on”. This approach came from my personal experience of studying for the 1Z0-071 exam, which included other resources that were more oriented towards writing functional code. While such resources did much to help me improve in that area, I did not find them to be very efficient or effective as exam study materials.

The first major resource I would recommend for independently studying for the 1Z0-071 exam is the official Oracle 1Z0-061 Exam Prep Guide (https://www.amazon.com/Oracle-Database-Fundamentals-Guide-1Z0-061/dp/0071820280/). While I believe that the Oracle 1Z0-071 Exam Prep Guide is a great resource, I don’t think it stands on its own, especially for beginners. It does not cover the fundamentals in enough detail because it assumes its reader is already familiar with them. Study the 1Z0-061 guide in detail, going over any missed answers on the end of chapter quizzes. The 1Z0-061 book comes with 140 practice questions for the 1Z0-061 test, and is sold at a much more reasonable price than the practice test sold by Oracle. Take the first practice test when you are ready, in an environment similar to a real test. Be aware that the practice test and actual exam are much harder than the end of chapter questions. When you finish, write down why you got each practice question wrong before reviewing the book for another day. Then take the second half of the practice questions.

When you have successfully completed the 1Z0-061 book and practice test, take a break for a few days before moving into the official 1Z0-071 Exam Guide (https://www.amazon.com/Oracle-Database-Guide-1Z0-071-Press/dp/1259585492). Don’t skip over the parts of the guide that seem like review from the 1Z0-061 book, as there are a lot of 1Z0-061 elements that are slightly expanded upon in the 1Z0-071 requirements. When you are finished with the 1Z0-071 book, take the practice test questions in the same way you did for the 1Z0-061 book. It is important that you take the practice tests as seriously as possible. There are not many affordable practice questions currently available for the 1Z0-071, as the next cheapest practice test questions available from Oracle cost $99 for 30-day access.

Aside from the two main exam guides, there are a few other resources which can help you prepare for the test:

https://www.techonthenet.com/oracle/ – Tech on the Net has been around for a long time as an Oracle SQL resource. It is a great resource for fully understanding a command or function that doesn’t make sense when the book describes it. This is also a good resource for future progress in learning Oracle SQL.

http://www.oraclecertificationprep.com/apex/f?p=OCPSG:EXAM_DETAILS:::NO::P2_EXAM:1Z0-071 – This resource is useful for people that learn things better visually. However, attempting to study for this exam solely through video will take a long time. Furthermore, the official guides do a better job at sticking to the material that is actually covered on the exam.

https://www.hackerrank.com/domains/sql/ – Hackerrank is an excellent resource for helping you develop practical SQL skills after you pass the 1Z0-071 exam, but it is a bit inefficient for exam prep. If you are just getting into the language and it seems too abstract, try some of the easy coding challenges. If you get stuck, go to the discussion section and someone smart will have posted a solution for you to learn from.

Taking the Exam

When you are ready to take the exam, you will schedule your exam through the Pearson VUE system, which will typically mean going to the exam center at your local community college. The environment will likely be unfamiliar, and others might be taking other certification tests in the same room as you. Your timer will not be paused if you need to use the restroom, so take care of that before starting.

While I didn’t find it necessary, it may help to take the 1Z0-061 test a week before you attempt the 1Z0-071. It is only $25 more expensive than the Oracle 1Z0-071 practice test, and would let you get comfortable with the environment you would take the 1Z0-071 in. Besides, you might just get the 1Z0-061 exam out of the way in the process, which you could build on later into another certification.

When you are taking the 1Z0-071, the 100 minutes you have to take the test will go by faster than you expect. You will be at a disadvantage compared to people who are used to working with SQL at their job, because many of the questions require you to quickly read a large chunk of SQL code and correctly determine how it will function. Studying the proper format of commands extensively before the test will be key to moving through the test at an adequate pace.

You may also encounter a situation where it seems as though the same question is being asked twice in the same exam. Don’t fall for this trick. Just read each question as though it is the first time you have encountered it. Finally, I recommend against marking unanswered questions to come back to later. This may just be personal preference, but it added to the stress of the exam environment to have to keep track of how many questions were really left.

After the Exam

In my case, the exam results appeared online after about an hour. However, Oracle didn’t email me to let me know they were available until a few days later. I recommend taking a few hours to relax and decompress before checking your exam results. However things turn out, you worked hard (right?) and deserve a break from it all.

You should also make sure to understand the amount of variation at play with a multiple choice test that only requires a 63% passing score. If you failed the test, it might have been because you were overconfident or didn’t study hard enough, but there is also a decent chance that it was pure luck of the draw. Obviously you shouldn’t try to take the test again without spending a good amount of time studying the areas you had difficulty with. However, you also shouldn’t feel too bad about yourself if things don’t go your way the first time around, especially if it was close.

If you passed the exam, congratulations! You are now an official Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate! You should be proud for achieving an intermediate-level professional certification on your own. However, don’t get complacent or put too much stock in your certification once you start applying to jobs again. As I mentioned earlier, your certification is a poor substitute for experience, and most hiring managers will still choose a candidate with more work experience over you, certification or not. Continue to work on your practical coding capabilities through Hackerrank and by using SQL to pursue projects that interest you. Becoming an Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate was never the end goal, but just one step on the way to bigger and better things!

Conclusion

I hope that this overview can help at least one person pass the 1Z0-071 exam. If you have any comments, complaints, or suggestions, please email them to SQL@nathandav.is