Book Review: Microsoft Official Academic Course 70-443 / 70-450

When preparing to take certification exams, I always purchase test preparation materials no matter how ready I feel that I am.  I do this for two reasons:

  • There's no such thing as being too prepared (being a Boy Scout taught me this many times over)
  • I can be sure of what topics will be covered

As I was getting ready to take the 70-450 exam (MCITP: SQL Server 2008 Administration)  I couldn't find any official training kits available for that test.  Even as I type this 4 months later I still see none when searching for "70-450" on  Figuring that something was better than nothing, I purchased the Microsoft Official Academic Course booklet.  This booklet covers not just the 70-450 exam but also 70-443, the equivalent for SQL Server 2005.

The Package

This is what you get

When I ordered this book I had in my mind what I consider to be the "standard" training kit, a 600-700 page book around 2″ thick either paperback or hardcover for $50 or $60.  With this book being nearly double the price, I wasn't sure of what to expect.  Should you order it, you'll actually get two books, both of which remind me of "workbooks" from high school or college.  (They even come with the college price!)  The "textbook" component is 297 pages, with a separate lab manual coming in at 110 pages.  Also included is a CD-ROM with practice exams.

The Contents

In short, the book didn't do a whole lot for me.  Unlike the other training kit books I've read, most topics are covered in very little detail, and there's usually a "pointer" to look the topic up in Books Online for further study.  Well heck, if I wanted to read BOL, I'd just sit and read it for free instead of paying a ton of money to be told to look it up anyway.  This book also has the "feature" of denoting 2008 topics from 2005 via color.  Any sections covering a 2008-only topic has blue-colored text, whereas anything about 2005 is in black.  To me, this screams that they took a book originally about 2005 and shoehorned a bunch of 2008 content in there instead of writing a new book.

The lab manual contains a dozen labs with step-by-step instructions and screenshots for accomplishing the task at hand.  Literally step-by-step instructions, such as "From the Start menu, select All Programs then Microsoft SQL Server then SQL Server Management Studio."  Oh and most labs starts out that way, not just the first one.  I can understand the benefits of writing the labs assuming minimal knowledge of the topic so that they don't need to be completed in order, but at the same time both tests this kit is preparing you for are considered "advanced" and have prerequisites.  If you don't understand how to open SSMS, you probably shouldn't be thinking about taking these tests as your time may be better spent getting familiar with SQL Server first.

The Extras

I was not at all impressed by the practice tests included on the CD.  My first clue that I probably wouldn't find it very useful was the quality of some of the questions.  As much as I'd love to include a screenshot of one of them in particular, the license agreement prohibits me from doing so.  Here's an extremely similar example though:

You have a 20GB database that grows by 200MB each month.  How large will the database be in 2 years?
A) 14.8
B) 24.8
C) 40.0
D) 50.0

Did you come up with 20 + (0.2 * 24) = 24.8GB, or B?  That's what I got.  Guess what, we're both wrong!  According to the answer and explanation, it's actually A, because according to their answer key "20 + (0.2 * 24) = 14.8".  That's right folks, the 20GB database that they claim is growing actually ends up smaller 2 years from now.  Maybe they're just using a different number system.  Sadly, this wasn't the only question with a blatantly incorrect answer.  A little bit of proofing on the practice tests would have gone a long way.  The engineer in me also cries out for some units in the answer choices.  14.8 what?  GB? MB? Smoots?  We'll never know, because they didn't label it.

After completing the exam, I can also say that these questions didn't give very good examples of what was on the test.  They helped to review what the book covered, but as I've already said, I wasn't very impressed with the book either.

The Conclusion

To sum it all up, as you can see this was definitely not the best certification training kit I've ever laid eyes on.  I place half the blame on myself for not completely understanding what a Microsoft Official Academic Course was when I bought it.  It's not intended to be a "do it yourself" training kit – it's meant to be taught by an instructor.  This is stated right in the preface:

"The Microsoft Official Academic Course series is a complete program for instructors and institutions to prepare and deliver great courses on Microsoft software technologies."

The rest of the blame I place on the book.  The style didn't do a whole lot for me and the practice exams were particularly disappointing.  I've seen many textbooks that (like this one) were meant to be part of a course taught by an instructor that I've learned much more from on my own than this.

For purposes of full disclosure I should add that I did in fact pass the test.  I'd like to think that I knew most of the material anyway and really didn't need this test preparation manual, but there's really no way to tell.