I admit that certification doesnt make one an IT superhero
but its something every developer should consider. While I was earning a
handful of certifications back in the late 1990s some of my colleagues were
inclined to minimize their importance but I can honestly say Im glad I put
forth the effort and expense to get certified. It helped me then and its a
good idea now in these days of fierce competition over jobs.
Unfortunately, time marches on and the exams I once passed
have been retired, making my certifications somewhat meaningless. That was my
motivation for making 2009 the year to return to the certification track. I
decided to ease my way into it by taking the Microsoft Access 2007
Application Specialist (MCAS) exam. The following is what I learned along
the way that might prove helpful for others seeking an MCAS certification.
Some people dont believe that certification is worth the
time and expense but they would do well to consider a few of its benefits.
and employers are impressed by certifications.
Right, wrong or otherwise, the fact that youve demonstrated a level of
competence by passing an exam is recognized and appreciated by those who pay
for certifications teaches you things you would otherwise never learn.
I learned a dozen keyboard shortcuts and other UI tricks while preparing for
the Visual Studio exam, not to mention other very important stuff that Ive
an exam elevates you professionally.
It makes you feel great to nail an exam, as well it should. Obtaining
certifications helps you reach higher as an IT professional and can add
direction to your career.
What Certification(s) for Access Developers?
Some might argue that the real answer to this question is
that there arent any certifications for Microsoft Access application
developers and they would be correct. The exam I took was #77-605, Using
Microsoft Office Access 2007. Note that this is a curriculum for users,
not developers. A complete explanation of the exam is available through this
One reason I wanted to take this exam is because I havent
had much occasion to use Access 2007 in production and I wasnt as familiar
with the new user interface as I really should be by this time. I found the
exam preparation to be good motivation for me to familiarize myself with this
version of Access.
The other reason I wanted to take this exam was to
jump-start my certification process. The other exams Im looking at as an
Access developer are actually SQL Server exams. The majority of my current desktop
applications use SQL Server as a data store so I work with SQL Server all day
long. The next exams on my list are:
#70-431 SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance
#70-441 SQL Server 2005 Database Solutions Design
#70-442 SQL Server 2005 Data Access Design and Optimization
How to Prepare for Certification?
The first stop should be at the source of the exam:
Microsoft. The following links will get you started and even direct you to
exam study resources, some of which I used in my preparation.
Another way to prepare for certification is to take a course
from one of the many accredited training companies. Ive done this before, but
only when the technology was completely new to me and I was effectively
starting from scratch. Training can be expensive and it usually caters to the
lowest common denominator with respect to level of complexity, so Ive tended
to stay away from paid coursework. However, if training is included in your
company benefits package then by all means, take advantage of it.
Exam preparation books, in my opinion, provide the best
return on investment. A decade ago, Sybex books and Exam Cram were hands down
the best resources and I currently possess a Sybex book for each of the SQL
Server exams mentioned above.
For the Microsoft Office Access 2007 exam, I relied upon a
book with a long title, published by Wiley:
Microsoft Official Academic Course
Microsoft Office Access 2007 Exam 77-605
I could not have been more pleased with this resource. Its
well written and generously illustrated. Lessons covered are mapped to the
matrix of skills tested on the exam. It comes with a CD which includes copies
of all the database files referenced in the lessons. The text is focused on
preparing you to do well on the exam. The scenarios you are asked to complete
are the exact sorts of things you are asked on the actual exam, though its
clearly not the result of a collection of brain-dumps.
Brain-dumps, by the way, are created by those who, upon
exiting an exam, jot down all the questions they can remember. Get enough people
to do this and you will, ostensibly, have all the questions ever asked on an
exam. It is neither legal nor ethical, and I dont endorse it as an exam
This brings me to the exam experience itself. This was a
hands on exam, quite unlike those I took a decade ago. The exam asks you to
perform an action that a typical Access user might be asked to do. Add
conditional formatting, create a query, compact a database, etc. You perform
these tasks in an actual working copy of Access 2007, with all the user
interface features and menus, including the Help menu. The exam is timed, so
the more you read the help file, the fewer questions youll get through, but
youre free to click around until you find the correct answer before you submit
I experienced two issues while taking the exam that
undoubtedly lowered my score. One question asked me to apply conditional
formatting to change the text color to brown. I was told that the color brown
was in the upper left corner of the color pallet. However, the color in the
upper left corner was white, not brown and that left me uncertain what to do.
I chose brown (in the lower right corner of the pallet) and I believe it was
counted as incorrect.
The other issue was that the computer on which I was taking
the exam lost Internet connectivity while I was on a question that required
pulling a database template down from the Microsoft website. The create
database action failed and I could not complete the question. The computer was
subsequently restarted and the exam resumed at the following question. Another
one probably counted against me.
How Did I Do?
In the end, I scored 87 on the exam and passed. (I believe
I was told that a score of 65 was the required minimum.) In the end it didnt
matter in my case. The exam is pass/fail and you dont get any benefit for a
higher score, but I was able to vent my frustration over these questions in the
exam exit interview.
Overall, it was a great experience for me. The book sells
for around $70, the exam cost me $89 and I spent about a week of evenings in
preparation. I can now add the Microsoft Certified logo to my emails and tell
the world Im an application specialist. But more importantly, Im on my way
to gaining more certifications. With one win under my belt and a resolve to
better myself, Im ready to take on the SQL Server 2005 exams.
See All Articles by Columnist Danny J. Lesandrini