29 Mar 2011: Replaced obsolete links that pointed to IBM Certified Developer -- XML and Related Technologies (Test 141) with links to current version of IBM Certified Solution Developer -- XML 1.1 and Related Technologies (Test 142). For information about the current IBM certification Test 142, see the XML and Related Technologies certification prep 5-part tutorial series.
IBM was the first organization to provide certification for XML and related technologies. As XML has grown more popular, this certification has also gained respect, and now it is one of the most sought-after certifications for developers. According to IBM, the goal of this certification is to equip developers with the knowledge necessary to design and implement applications that make use of XML and related technologies such as XML Schema, XSLT, and XPath.
IBM-certified XML developers also:
- Have a strong understanding of XML fundamentals
- Have a knowledge of XML concepts and related technologies
- Understand how data relates to XML, in particular with such issues as information modeling, XML processing, XML rendering, and Web services
- Have a thorough knowledge of core XML-related W3C recommendations
- Are familiar with well-known best practices
The exam, which has undergone several revisions since its inception, is titled "IBM Certified Solution Developer -- XML 1.1 and Related Technologies." It covers all the relevant objectives from a developer's point of view.
Here, I'll show you how to clear this examination successfully. The article itself offers a range of tips for answering the questions, and includes a list of extremely useful Resources and a number of sample questions -- all of which should be more than sufficient to help you boost your score.
Let's start with the syllabus of the exam. You can see a detailed list of objectives covered in the exam at Test 000-142: XML 1.1 and Related Technologies Objectives. It lists five sections:
- Information Modeling
- XML Processing
- XML Rendering
- Testing and Tuning
These sections are scored as follows:
|Topic||% of exam total|
|Testing and Tuning||11|
The technologies covered within these sections are:
- XML (concept and well-formedness)
- XSL (both XSLT and XSL-FO)
- W3C Schema 1.0
- DOM 2
- SAX 2
- XPath 1.0
- Web services (SOAP, WSDL, UDDI)
- XML security
I have made this list in descending order of importance -- that is, XML, XSL, and Schema are the most important technologies to know in order to pass the exam, while the last ones (Web services, XML security, and such) are less critical. A very basic understanding of Web services and XML security is sufficient, but it is critical that you understand the first 10 topics and practice them in depth.
In the exam's scenario-based questions, you will frequently find that more than one correct answer is possible for a given question. In such cases, you are asked to choose the most likely or least likely options. This makes this exam a little tougher than similar exams, like that for Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP -- see Resources).
The test consists of 57 questions, and you need to get 58% (which is 33) of them correct to pass. All questions carry equal weight. Time allotted for the test is 90 minutes. The fee for the certification test is $150 US (or locally priced). Please visit the IBM Professional Certification site for more details.
This exam requires a little more preparation than similar exams, (such as the SCJP test). The number of technologies covered, as well as the type of questions asked (scenario-based), make it a little difficult. On an average, you'll need anywhere from three to six months to prepare, assuming two hours of preparation every day. You can assume six months if you are completely new to XML; otherwise, if you have some knowledge of XML, three months should be sufficient.
You don't need to pass any prerequisite exam to qualify for the IBM XML certification exam. However, there are some things you should know if you are serious about the exam. You should have some background in programming/scripting and an understanding of basic computer science models and data structures. In particular, a working knowledge of XML is a big plus. XML is used extensively for various types of documentation both online and offline; therefore, you need to be familiar with concepts like browser, client-server, and formatting/styling. You should also have a firm grasp of e-commerce related processes such as:
- Taking orders online
- Fulfilling those orders
- Conducting financial transactions over the Internet
- Exchanging data with suppliers and clients
- Maintaining inventory information
Please visit the IBM XML certification site for more information on prerequisites for the exam.
Most of the questions on the exam are scenario-based, which means you are asked to analyze comparisons, limitations, and capabilities of a given architecture and state how well it suits a particular scenario. Thus it is essential to have experience in designing and implementing applications. Since data structures play a crucial role in any data-intensive application, it is important to have a clear understanding of how information is stored in databases, how various parts of information are linked to each other, and what relationships exist between them.
If you are a beginner, your preparation should start with a basic overview of XML, such as a good textbook or a basic introductory tutorial/article (see Resources). XML and its related technologies cover a vast number of topics and you should tackle them step-by-step. Though most of this material is not very complex, it can take some time to fully understand the way XML is used in various applications and the benefits it offers. Elliotte Rusty Harold's XML Bible (see Resources) can serve as a good starting point.
Once you are familiar with the fundamentals of XML, move on to developing some actual applications so you can better understand the nitty-gritty of how to use the technology in your applications. For this, you can pick up a more advanced text, like Professional XML, 2nd Edition (see Resources), which is the best book for this test. Though it is not written to prepare readers for this particular certification, Professional XML covers all of the appropriate topics and does so in good depth. Go through this book as thoroughly as you can; pay special attention to the examples and work to understand not only the technology, but also its use, advantages, and disadvantages. This book also contains links to free tools/IDEs that you can use to make sample applications similar to the examples in the book, and use them in your everyday work. It is critical for you to have this practical experience.
Once you have gone through Professional XML as I've described, you've completed most of the preparation. Next you'll need to refine your knowledge. For that, I recommend going through various articles and tutorials available on the Web. W3C specifications can be particularly helpful here. Though it is not absolutely critical that you go through them all before the exam, they can add a lot to your understanding of the finer details and help you to grasp the concepts in no uncertain terms.
At this point, the only thing left to do is practice, practice, practice. You should make as many sample XML applications as you can. Read about the use of XML in various scenarios. Talk to your peers about how XML can be used in different architectures. Investigate the advantages and disadvantages of the various XML-related technologies. For example:
- Why is SAX used in a particular situation and not DOM (or vice versa)?
- Why is a DTD used and not XML Schema (or vice versa)?
- How can you overcome a particular limitation of DTDs by using XML Schema instead?
- What advantages does XLink offer over HTML links?
- What advantages does XSL offer over CSS?
- What are the capabilities of XSL and why it is so much more powerful than any other styling language?
Rather than approaching them hypothetically, find out how these issues affect practical applications -- otherwise, you may not be able to apply them to the scenarios presented in the exam.
Finally, it's time to get some practice with questions like the ones in the actual exam. I've included a series of sample questions for you to use as a starting point, and then practice with as many mock tests as you can find. You can also practice with a number of test simulators on the market. And, of course, the IBM sample test is a must. You'll find links to all of these mock tests and test simulators in Resources -- use them to find your weaknesses and focus your efforts on strengthening those. It is better to confront such weaknesses ahead of time rather than face them in the exam and get undesired results. To help you improve your weaker areas, you might even consider hiring a personal coach, which I highly recommend if you are less confident in many of the critical areas described above.
The time allotted for this test is 90 minutes, and many of the participants I've heard from have indicated that this time is just sufficient to get through the exam. Most participants take 70 - 80 minutes to attempt all the questions, so there is not much time left for revision. This means you should make every effort to answer the questions correctly on the first attempt. When you start getting a good score on the practice exams and feel confident about most of the topics listed above, you are ready for the XML Certification Exam.
Here are a few final bits of wisdom to help you plan your exam strategy:
- In studying a particular topic, try to understand the big picture and avoid getting stuck in the nitty-gritty of it. Most of the exam questions test your understanding of the concepts, not your syntax. Learn the various components of an XML application:
- How do these components fit together?
- Which component plays what role?
- What are the various components of Web services and how do they work as a whole?
- Try to see the use of every technology from a practical point of view. Simply reading about concepts won't do the trick -- you have to make sample applications. Learn how these technologies actually work by investigating questions like these:
- What will be the results of a particular XPath query?
- What will be the output if a given XSL style sheet is applied to a given XML document?
- Will a particular XML document be validated against a given Schema or DTD?
- How can you use XLink to make linking documents much more efficient and easy to maintain?
- Don't learn these technologies in isolation. Compare them with their alternatives and get a thorough grasp of the pros and cons of each. For example, DOM vs. SAX, XSL vs. CSS, DTDs vs. XML Schema.
- In which situation is DOM better than SAX, or vice versa?
- What can you do in XSL but not in CSS?
- How does XML Schema remove the various limitations associated with DTDs?
- What are the advantages of XML Schema compared to DTDs?
- Learn not only the features of XML and its related technologies, but also how they are applied in the real world and how they are changing the way things are done. For example:
- How can XML reduce the integration overhead costs with suppliers and clients?
- How does XML make it easier to cater to clients with different platforms and different devices, but the same information?
- What is the core value behind Web services?
Clearly, XML is here to stay, and the number of people with special skills in XML is increasing along with the number of XML-related technologies. This certification exam is a bit challenging, and fewer resources are available for it than for other technologies, but plenty of people have done it and it's becoming increasingly popular. Though the IT industry has been in a downturn, it will soon be moving at full speed once again. The people who reap the fruits will be the ones who are proactive and prepared. So get yourself motivated, make a plan, and get your feet wet now!
Best of luck with the process -- and most importantly, have fun!
Books, articles and tutorials
- Professional XML 2nd edition covers all the relevant technologies in the syllabus and in appropriate depth. It is a must from a certification point of view.
- XML Bible is a good starter, but don't rely on it for full preparation.
- W3Schools.com offers a range of very good tutorials to help you get on with things faster.
- ZVON.org also offers a good collection of XML tutorials and articles.
- Doug Tidwell's developerWorks tutorial, "Introduction to XML" provides a solid foundation for the novice. (August 2002)
- Pradeep Chopra has also written a primer for the Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP) exam (developerWorks, October 2002).
- Venu Vasudevan's A Web Services Primer provides additional detail on the subject.
Web sites and groups
- IBM offers its own list of recommended educational resources for this exam.
- The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is the first and the best place to go for XML-related content. You will find all the relevant specs here.
- Stop by Javaranch, where you'll find a whole lot of people ready to help you out. This discussion group is extremely active.
- XML-CERT is another discussion group for XML certification.
- Visit saxproject.org, where you can find all the details regarding SAX, the Simple API for XML.
- The developerWorks XML zone features a wide range of tutorials, articles, columns, and tips on XML and related technologies.
- XML.com is one of the most authoritative sites for XML content.
- XML.org features a community of XML developers and high-quality XML content.
- PerfectXML.com is another good XML site.
- XMLpitstop.com is yet another good XML site.
- XML WebRing includes a good collection of XML sites.
- The author has written a series of sample questions similar to the ones you would see on the IBM XML certification exam.
- IBM has its own free, multiple-choice Pre-Assessment/Sample Test to help you prepare for the exam.
- XML Spy is one of the best IDE's available on the market for XML.
- The Apache site includes a very good collection of tools to work with XML.
- XML@Whiz is the only test simulator available on the market for XML certification. It's a great help for scoring well in the exam.
Pradeep Chopra is the cofounder of WHIZlabs Software, an e-learning organization focusing on the development of IT certification test simulators and enterprise skills assessment systems. A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India, Pradeep has authored numerous IT certification test simulators, tutorials, and articles in the J2EE domain. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.