Third Time's A Charm: Lessons from Exam Failures

John Deardurff (Regional Lead - USA)

The world is coming to an end, the sky is falling, and all is lost. How do I know this? Because I just failed a Microsoft exam. Well, at least that’s how I felt when I failed the exam. To be fair, to accurately test your knowledge and skill, exams are meant to be difficult. And even the most knowledgeable and skilled exam takers sometimes fail. As long as the goal of finishing your certification is still on track, it isn’t a failure—it’s a learning opportunity.

A little more than a year ago, I challenged myself to earn the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) SQL Server 2012 certification. To accomplish this goal, I needed to pass three exams. Having a background in databases and having been certified in the last three versions of SQL Server, I figured this would be an easy task. I would soon find out how wrong I was.

The first exam seemed fairly simple, and I passed on my first attempt. However, the second exam was a little more difficult. I got very close to a passing score but, sadly, not close enough. I was more than upset with myself for rushing into that exam and probably even more frustrated by being so close to success.

When you fail an exam, you must wait 24 hours to take it again. From my exam report, I was able to review the area where I did not score very well. After being humbled and taking the extra time to study, I was able to pass the exam on the second attempt.

Again, my goal was to earn the MCSA certification. Although it would be nice to pass every exam on the first try, failing an exam does not mean failure. It really is just another step in the learning process. It is only failure if you give up. I say this because that third exam tested my resolve even more than it tested my knowledge.

Not only did I fail the third exam, I failed it twice! And the second attempt was with an even worse score than the first. Admittedly, I was more fatigued than frustrated at this point. After the second time you don’t pass an exam, you must wait 14 days to retake it. Since there was nothing I could do about that exam for two weeks anyway, I figured I might as well use that time to relax. Sometimes you can get too close to the material, and time away can help you to regain focus.

Jumping back on the horse, my next step was to again review the score report to see which areas I needed to improve. From there, I went back through my courseware, as well as an older book I had about data warehousing. And, as they say, the third time was the charm. I had earned my MCSA, and I eventually went on to earn my Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) Data Platform certification.

I can tell you from experience that there may be setbacks, there may be frustration, and there may even be a sense of doom. The challenge is to not give up. To be honest, those setbacks helped me appreciate how difficult this certification journey can be sometimes. But it is a journey that is worth taking, no matter how many times you might stumble. And if you stumble… all is not lost, the clouds are still in the sky, and failing an exam is not the end of the world.

  • Rogerio Prudente
    | |

    Man, I know exactly that feeling! The second time one fails in an exam is the worst to me, not only to the quarantine time you mentioned, but also because you need to overcome the psychological blow after reading the "you failed" on the exam screen.

    When I got that I even stop for weeks, reevaluating everything but always with that impression back on my neck : "where it went wrong?".

    I am not sure about you, but I get an extra pressure after the second failure: "It can't have a third one!". Probably that is why I over study the material.

    Congratulations anyhow! When one fails it is just like you said: it is all about if one will have the endurance to keep going.

  • Tim Lorge
    | |

    Great, great post. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. As I tell my students, embarking on an IT career isn’t so much a job but a craft. In turn, that makes us technology craftsmen or craftswomen. There is always something to learn; new or new to you.

    Some concepts will be easy to pick up; others will be hard.  Then, one day, something clicks on that hard subject and it’s owned by that craftsman or craftswoman.

    As you say, it is important to keep moving along the continuum. An exam is simply a yardstick by which we measure how well we can recall the matter at hand at that moment in time. That’s why the Second Shot program is so important and needs to be extended beyond the May 31st end date. That is a whole other topic.

    Again, great post. Thank you.

  • George Monsalvatge
    | |

    Been there and done that. Great post.