Recently I completed the MCSE: Data Platform Certification. Since I already held the SQL Server 2008 Developer certification, I was able to take fewer exams to upgrade to this latest version. Normally it would take passing five exams for the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert), but the upgrade path only requires three exams.
So the certification path has changed a lot since I obtained the 2008 certs in 2011. There isn’t a developer-only designation, there is Data Platform which includes designing and administering databases. Part of the upgrade path involves obtaining the MCSA(Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) for SQL Server 2012. This certification includes the developer, administrator and business intelligence areas.
So here are my observations and lessons learned along the way:
1) The upgrade exams will test on multiple areas of database knowledge. Exam 70-457 covers developer and administrator areas, and exam 70-458 covers administration and business intelligence. These two exams will upgrade you to the MCSA for SQL Server 2012.
2) Exam 70-459 will upgrade to the MCSE: Data Platform. This exam is split into two sections, developing databases and designing solutions.
3) You have to get a passing score on both sections of each exam in order to pass. So you can’t load up on one area to make up for weakness in another section, you’ll need to know each area well enough to pass.
4) Prometric will stop proctoring the exams at the start of 2015. At that point, you’ll have to go though Pearson VUE to register and take the exam with in person proctoring.
5) The MCSE isn’t associated with a particular version of SQL Server. As of today (December 2014) the 70-459 exam will cover SQL Server 2014 items. The exam material will be updated as new versions and/or features are added.
6) Since the MCSE isn’t version specific, it will expire after three years. We’ll need to take a recertification exam in order to maintain the certification.
7) There is a separate MCSE for Business Intelligence, but you will need to know the BI items in order to pass exam 70-458.
8) Test takers aren’t allowed to discuss to discuss the exam material, but I can say that I wasn’t surprised by the items covered on the exams. Each exam lists a ‘Skills Measured’ section that lies out the areas that will be covered. Anything covered on the exam was on those lists.
9) Preparation materials are hard to come across for the upgrade exams, but they cover the same areas as the standard exams (70-461 through 70-465) so items that cover those exams can be used to prepare. I prepared by going over the ‘Skills Measured’ listed for each exam, and then referring to MSDN for any areas that I wasn’t familiar with. There is also a SQL Server Virtual Labs site that can allow you to work with certain features (if you don’t have access to Enterprise or Developer editions). I found this useful for going over Clustering and AlwaysOn features.
10) It’s worth checking for special offers for exams. I was able to get 15% off the exam fee. In the past, Microsoft has run deals where you can retake a failed exam for free (Second Shot).
11) Microsoft is beginning to make some exams available online, where they are remotely proctored. The upgrade exams aren’t available via this method yet, but many other exams are.
12) You’ll get your score and pass/fail status as soon as the exam has been completed. For the upgrade exam, you’ll see the lower of the two scores of the two sections. The proctor will give you a score report where you can see the score from each section.

We’ll see how useful the certification themselves are, but I did enjoy broadening my SQL Server knowledge, preparing for the exams makes you cover a wide area of features that you may have not worked with before.

Updated – Jan 6:
Microsoft has brought back the “Second Shot” where you get a free retake if you don’t pass the first time. The offer is good through May 31, 2015.