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5 Reasons You Might Fail to Learn SQL

Learning SQL isn’t hard, but that doesn’t mean you’ll sail through, problem-free. Here are five things that might cause unwary SQL learners to fail.

For me, learning SQL wasn’t always about the joy of discovery. Learning itself is not all about curiosity and the satisfaction of succeeding. Sometimes there is a sense of failure.

We’re often told it is better to focus on positives. I believe this. However, it is also crucial to find out what went wrong when we don’t succeed at something. We need to know the reason behind our failure and figure out how to avoid it in the future. Perhaps the reason why we weren’t successful is different than what we thought.

You can treat this article as a set of tips or the anti-best practice kit. Read it and try not to repeat the mistakes I made learning SQL.

Soft Beginnings and Tough Reality

Some time ago I started to learn SQL. I chose a beginners course from LearnSQL.com. I didn’t know anything about SQL; it was like a foreign language that I’d never even heard of.

I remember my anxiety when I started the first lesson. I was sure it wasn’t for me. I had no technical or IT background, and I was positive I wouldn’t understand a single word. (Actually, I didn’t have a clue of what text in SQL looked like.)

After going through the introduction, I gained some confidence. The course was logical and clear. I could complete exercises and understand what I was doing. With the help of hints, I started my way through the basics of SQL. I took notes and tried to memorize as much as I could. After completing the whole course, I decided I was on an exciting journey to a new language.

But when I started the next level of SQL training, something happened. I am not sure what it was, but I did not complete another SQL course. I stopped learning SQL. Worse, I started to forget what I’d learned. How did I go from being full of satisfaction and self-confidence to doubting my knowledge? Why, after a very good start, did I basically walk out of my course?

After a closer look, I defined five reasons why I didn’t succeed in learning SQL. Some of you have had a similar experience; these are universal obstacles that appear when we are trying to gain new skills, whatever those skills might be.

Why Didn’t I Ace that SQL Course?

1. No regular SQL practice

At the beginning, I was disciplined. I had something completely new to learn. The novelty of discovering SQL had me spending every spare hour on my course. But when I hit the next level (with its more difficult exercises), I spent less and less time on it.

From perfect regularity, I went to once every few days, then once a week, and – finally – only occasionally. When I lost regularity, I also started to forget where I’d stopped. I needed to start each session with searching my notes and going a few lessons back to see what it was all about. I lost effectiveness and could not track my progress.Soon there was no progress to track. This discouraged me and I wound up quitting.

2. Time management (or lack thereof)

Looking back, another thing I can see is that I was spending too much time learning SQL. Almost all my free time went to it. Why was this a mistake? First of all, our brains need to rest! New skills and knowledge need time to digest and solidify.

In other words, learning is a process that needs to be managed. Spending a lot of time on the basics was one thing, but it got a lot more difficult as I moved on to the more advanced stage. I wanted to learn as fast as possible, so I was increasingly frustrated when I saw that the next level up was not as easy. When I started my next SQL course, I should have modified my time organization and adjusted my expectations to the new challenge.

So, slow down. Give yourself space to make smaller steps – they’ll still be effective. Sometimes a solid hour of learning is just enough to make good progress. That’s why most online courses are divided into parts; learners can stop after a short time and still have a sense of completing something.

3. The wrong approach to learning SQL

When I started to postpone learning sessions, it was the beginning of the end. If you feel that you have no time to do another lesson, stop and plan when you will do it. Maybe today is out, but you can do it tomorrow. Or later in the week. But if you find yourself continually cancelling your learning plans, there’s a very good chance you’ll never learn!

What was the problem? For me, I hadn’t made learning SQL a habit. And that’s what you need to do. It takes time to set up new habits for yourself, so you have to be consistent. When you start to learn SQL, you don’t have to do a daily session. Maybe you can only do a couple of hours per week. That’s fine, but set a schedule and stick to it. Find exercises and do some each week to sharpen your skills.

Another key factor is motivation. I think this was actually one of my biggest obstacles to learning SQL. I could not think of how I’d use my new skills. I did not find a way to develop this area in practice. Strong motivation will shape a positive approach to learning. For example, when we want to change our career path, we’re motivated to get the skills we need to do it.

4. The wrong knowledge source

After completing my SQL Basics course online, I decided to try the book approach. The SQL book I chose was more like a manual; I didn’t understand much of it. Of course, this didn’t help my motivation. I wasted time. Looking back, I should have completed another online course. They have a big advantage: they combine several learning tools. You get definitions and explanations, but you also get interactive exercises, challenges, and podcasts. Plus, learning SQL online allows you to check your answers in real time – not even the best book can do that!

Choosing the wrong knowledge source happens a lot. The internet is full of online courses and it’s difficult to choose the right one. I recommend checking user reviews and, if available, taking advantage of a course’s free trial. Or find someone (online or in real life) who has done the course and ask them what they thought. Another good resource is SQL blogs. They often have posts by people who’ve had a similar dilemma and overcame it.

5. Going it all alone

Learning online might seem lonely: you sit in front of the computer, log in, check your progress, and start going through the exercises. Everything is fine until you get stuck. There are hints, but they don’t always give you enough help. It can be very frustrating – unless you have someone to help you.

One thing I like about LearnSQL.com is that there is a lot of support. You can go on the learning forum and ask questions. You can even contact SQL pros and get help. I also recommend reading LearnSQL’s blogs and watching their video tutorials. You can learn and have some fun. And it’s also quite motivating.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When I was learning online, I never consulted anybody. Do not make this mistake! Use all sources available and get as much help as you can. You are a SQL learner, not a subject matter expert. As a student, it is your privilege to ask about everything. Make the most of it and you’ll see some progress.

Bitter Conclusion, Sweet Perspective

After analyzing my SQL learning path, I can say only one thing: I made every possible mistake. But as Alfred said to young Bruce Wayne: “Why do we fall? So we could learn how to pick ourselves up”. I’d say the same to myself and to everyone who wants to learn something new. First rule: Do not give up. Mistakes are human nature.

What I really like about learning online is that I can always go back to the course and do it again. Focus on what previously was difficult and resolve to learn more wisely.

Here’s a short list of tips to learn SQL. I will use it myself:

Tips to learn SQL

Learn from My SQL Mistakes!

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