02 April 2012

Final beta test for PL/SQL Challenge 2.2

Dear players,

I invite (no, rather, I implore) you to visit beta.plsqlchallenge.com and help us do a final round of testing for release 2.2 of the PL/SQL Challenge website. We've added many new features that will help you get more out of our growing repository of quizzes and resources.

You can log in using your normal username and password; the beta database contains all quiz results and player data through the end of March. The quizzes you can play, of course, are not the same as those you will find on the production site.

Feel free to give us feedback through the form on the website or in comments to this post.

Many thanks in advance,
Steven Feuerstein

Activity Points

Up through 2.1, the only reflection of your activity on the PL/SQL Challenge was your ranking in the daily PL/SQL quiz, or some other quiz. Of course, the vast majority of players will never find themselves in the top rankings for these quizzes, but they nevertheless spend lots of time and effort at the PL/SQL Challenge improving their skills. In 2.2, we now award points to players for all of their activities on the site (taking quizzes, submitting quizzes, reviewing results, engaging in discussions about quizzes, etc.). Your points total now appears next to your name. Click on the Players menu button to see the points of all players.

Practice Quizzes

Prior to 2.2, you could take a quiz when it is initially offered, and then review results and answers through the Library afterwards. You could not, however, take past quizzes if you'd missed them, no could you re-take a quiz. Now, you can set up practices based on past quizzes, specific features about which you want to learn more, or your favorite authors. You can also use the unique Autotune feature: the PL/SQL Challenge will automatically create practices for you, based on predefined criteria.

Quizbook: Quiz as PDF

One of the most long-sought enhancement requests on the PL/SQL Challenge, the Quizbook feature makes it easy for you to generate a PDF document of one or more quizzes. These can be formatted as an offline test (no answer information included), a player scorecard (showcasing your performance) or a knowledge document, containing all answers and resources. You can save and reuse your Quizbooks, as well as sharing them with other players.

Note 1: we are still finalizing the PDF layout and content, so don't be surprised if something is missing or, well, ugly, but also do not hesitate to tell us what you think needs to be changed. And if, by the way, you have experience with Jasper Reports and would like to help improve our report definition, please let me know.

Note 2: You may have to disable your popup blocker to see the PDF document in your browser; we are working on getting this fixed ASAP.

On-Site Discussions

Rather than discuss interesting aspects of quizzes on the PL/SQL Challenge blog, you can now start or answer a thread directly on the Quiz Details page. You can also ask for help (it must be related to the topic of the quiz) or even post an objection to the quiz. In other words, if you think there is something wrong with the quiz, you can register your concern on both the post-quiz feedback page or on the Quiz Details page. You can also easily see if another player has already submitted a request for a correction.

Submit Quiz Wizard

It is now much easier and quicker to submit a quiz. Rather than fill out a long "all or nothing" form - and possibly lose data if there is an interruption, you can now enter a minimum amount of information, save your quiz, and then return later to finish and fine-tune the quiz.

And Lots More...

We have re-designed and re-organized the Quiz Details page (accessible through Library and other pages) to make it easier to navigate through and access the ever-growing amount of information presented. We've moved the Feedback, FAQ and Blog links from the main menu to hyperlinks in top right corner of the page - to make room for our new features. The Winners page is now under the Players tab on the main menu.

Q1 2011 Ends, Time for Next Playoff


Q1 2011 ended on Friday, as far as the daily quizzes are concerned. Which means it is time to prepare for the championship playoff for that quarter. And a congratulations to the hundreds of players who committed a substantial amount of time playing quizzes, learning about PL/SQL, SQL and APEX, and in many cases sharing their knowledge with others through our discussion.

As noted in an earlier post, we are going to change the process for playoff qualification starting with this quarter: some or all of the top-25 ranked players will be required to take special qualifier quizzes to validate their performance in the quarter.

Here's how the qualifier process will work:

1. If you ranked in the top 25 and are not selected to take the qualifier quizzes, then you are in the playoff, with no further action required. Even if you cannot or choose not to participate in the playoff, there is no impact on your rankings or competitive status.

2. If you are selected to play qualifier quizzes, you will receive an email (and a message on the PL/SQL Challenge site) notifying you of the quizzes you must take. They will also, of course, appear on your PL/SQL Challenge home page. You will have three days in which to play the quizzes. If you cannot take the quizzes in that period of time, submit feedback to this effect and we will re-scheduled the quizzes.

3. If you do not want to take the qualifier quizzes, then change your status to non-competitive (visit your Account page, Preferences, and check the box next to "Play for education purposes only?") and notify us of your decision through the Feedback page. If you take this action, any awards you won in the quarter will be reversed.

4. After taking the qualifier quizzes, you will be notified of the results. If you pass, then you have qualified for the playoff and no further action is needed.

If you fail the qualifier, your status will be set to non-competitive and any awards received in Q1 2011 will be reversed. You will remain in non-competitive status for the remainder of this next quarter.

If you previously had your scores adjusted by our "very fast answer" analysis, your account may also be terminated.

For each qualifier failure, rankings will be re-calculated, thereby adding more players to the playoff. Those added to the top 25 may then be asked to take qualifier quizzes (and so the cycle above begins again).

Clearly, this process will delay the date on which the playoff will occur. In addition, the website must be upgraded to 2.2, with its support for qualifiers. We plan to do this upgrade the weekend of 13 April. So during the week of 15 April we will invite some players to take the qualifier quizzes.

Steven Feuerstein