Zero to SAS Certified Base Programmer in 3 months (Part II)


A few days after I posted part 1 of this blog post, an interesting message popped up on Twitter from @annmariastat:

Confused. If you can get #SAS certification in 3 months what exactly are you being certified as? How much can anyone learn in 3 months?

A fair question, and without trying to brag, I'd like to say that I can learn a lot in three months. It just takes some dedicated time and hard work. I spent six days in class (Programming 1 in March and Programming 2 in May), wrote lots of programs, and studied for ten hours/week for five weeks. It reminds me of my college days where terms were ten week quarters rather than the traditional collegiate semester.

So, might I have any advice for someone preparing for SAS Base Certification? I'm glad you asked:

1) Study within the exam objectives. The exam objectives define the content that will be tested. You may be a very good programmer and proficient in PROC SQL and macros, but if you can't read a raw text file or know the difference between a Do While and Do Until loop, you will struggle with the base certification exam. Focus your preparation on the exam objectives.

2) Understand SAS code. The base exam covers a lot of content, and you have to know it well to complete the exam within the 2-hour time limit. For me, this meant I had to write flash cards from the course content. Writing down the syntax helped a lot, and then I could discard topics that I mastered and focus on the topics that caused me grief.

3) Understand the concepts. Code is important, but so is knowing what occurs when a program runs. What happens at compile time? What happens at execution time? How is the PDV populated? You will see snippets of code during the exam and must understand what will happen when it runs.

4) Program, Program, Program! Learn by doing. Hopefully your day-job provides you opportunity to write programs. In addition, there are a ton of exercises in Prog 1 & 2 courses, try working through all of them without referring to the course notes. Another good learning technique is what my friend Elizabeth calls "what if...." programming: take a working program and change it. Re-order the statements. Use a Select Group in place of a subsetting if statement. Add a syntax error and see what happens in the log file. Mistakes and errors can be the best teacher.

5) Check the calendar. I decided to prepare for certification during both the NHL and NBA playoffs, and I missed many games while studying at the dining room table...poor me. Well, at least I finished in time for the FIFA World Cup.

So, do you have any advice for technical people who need to earn SAS Certification credentials? What worked for you during your preparations?


About Author

Mark Stevens

SR Certification Specialist

Mark Stevens is a Certification Specialist for SAS Global Certification and has been working in training and certification since 2004. A SAS Certified Base Programmer since 2010, Mark enjoys every opportunity to dive into new SAS products and features. When he isn’t working on the next SAS certification, he can be found digging in the gardens in his back yard.


  1. Hi Mark,

    Can you direct me?My 12 year old just finished SAS essentials. He is wanting to do SAS Data manipulation techniques that costs $1200. Is it worth doing? Can he understands it? Is there anything else he could he E learn to gain more understanding that is free?

    • Congrats to your son for working through SAS Essentials (Programming 1)! If he found this material comprehensible, I would expect he could also grasp the material in Data Manipulation techniques (AKA Programming 2). As far as worth, I would ask, "Did he like the first class?" If he likes the language and wants to learn more, I would say it is worth it. Teaching kids coding skills is great (my son picked up his first language about the same age, and is now gearing up to go to college to study computer science), and learning base SAS covers all of the fundamentals of a language, with data in/out, functions, conditionals, loops, arrays.
      One thought on other free eLearning is the STAT 1 course. While programming is all about data prep, STAT 1 gets into the analysis. You can start to understand what can be learned from the data and it starts to get into some pretty cool statistical graphics. Even if he doesn't get all the way through STAT 1, early on you see PROC UNIVATIATE and see some great data visualization graphics. I think you'll know pretty quick if you've got a budding statistician on your hands.

  2. Varundev G V on

    Hi Mark,
    I have done MBA in Finance & System in Bangalore From India & am working in Investment Banking Sector for 2 years 8 months. I Planning to change my field to Analytics. I already went for Training SAS Program on CISP with Statistical tools From Imarticus Learning Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore. Now am planing to take SAS Base Certification , But i little bit Forget SAS Base Course i.e am again started to learn SAS but i want to know which Free site is their to learn SAS Base Tutorial and planing to take SAS Certification Exam on August. Please Kindly help me.

    Varundev G V

  3. Hi

    I have done my MBA in Finance and I am fond of playing with Data. I have done a certification in Business Analytics and R as well. Now I want to do Base SAS but not sure if java knowledge is required for this or not? If Java knowledge is required then I might have to learn few programming languages as well. Please advise if programming languages is necessary for Base SAS certification?

    • Tapas,

      The first bullet point in the blog is "Study within the exam objectives." and provides a link to the exam objectives. Take a look there and see if there is a requirement for Java (Hint: there isn't).


  4. Hey Mark
    I have done my Masters in Biotechnology from India and worked in Biochemistry research for three years. I moved to Netherlands recently. I wish to change my field to Analysis and Clinical trials. I only have basic knowledge of computers but really keen to do a certification. Do you think I could do a SAS Base Programmer Certification and eventually clinical trail programmer certification on my own with my educational background? Do you think I need training?
    Thanks in advance

    • Akila,
      Thanks for your interest in SAS. Without knowing you personally and your skills and aptitude, it is difficult for me to rate your chance of success on the certifications. However, it is easier than ever to gain SAS skills, with SAS University Edition available for you free and also the eLearning for Programming 1 and Stat 1 also available free. There is really no reason not utilize these training resources on your path to SAS certification. Learn more at: Good Luck!

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  6. Hi Mark,

    I will appear for the Base SAS certification exam. Regarding exam, I would like to know if we can have a pencil and a blank paper so that we can write down or evaluate a question before answering.


    • The proctor for the exam will provide you with either paper and pencil, or more commonly a small erasable white board and marker are provided. All materials are returned to the proctor at the end of the exam.

  7. Hey Mark,
    I have a question. I am considering to take the first certification exam in SAS programming this year and build myself up. My area of interest is to do Actuarial/Risk Analysis with SAS and other statistical packages. At my university, I have taken statistical courses that covers SAS (like Time Series and Regression Analysis). Earlier, you mentioned taking SAS courses 1 and 2. Is it really required for me to take those two since I have already basic knowledge of SAS programming? I already bought the SAS Base Certification Book (that was posted from the SAS website) and use the book to prepare for the exam. Do you have any suggestions? I value your opinion! Thanks!

    • Training is not required. If you are preparing for certification on your own, be sure that you cover all of the material listed on the exam content page of our website. The prep guide is a good resource to ensure you have covered all of the required content.

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  9. Hi Mark

    My name is Richa from India and I am Marketing professional with 7yrs exp mainly in manufacturing and retail sector. I am very keen on SAS programming but i am not sure whether it works for someone like me who has marketing expertise but no technical expertise. also where do i begin is such a vast field. I graduated in Economics with Statistics and Math as minor subjects 12 yrs back. Does that count. Thanks

  10. Hi Mark

    My name is Richa from India and I am Marketing professional with 7yrs exp mainly in manufacturing and retail sector. I am very keen on SAS programming but i am not sure whether it works for someone like me who has marketing expertise but no technical expertise. also where do i begin is such a vast field. I graduated in Economics with Statistics and Math as minor subjects 12 yrs back. Does that count? Looking forward to your reply.

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  12. ousmane niang on

    thanks Mark
    my C++ experience is gravitating me towards SAS base programming.....
    i appreciate your honesty.

  13. Mark Stevens on

    It all depends on the direction that your interests are. If you enjoy working with data and writing programs that manipulate and analyze the data, SAS Base Programmer is an excellent choice. Platform Administration is good if you want to work with the set-up of the SAS system at the enterprise level. Programming may provide more employment opportunities than administration, as administration is more specialized.
    CCNA (a credential I've held at two different times) is excellent if you want to work with networking equipment and making computers and servers talk to each other, but doesn't provide much opportunity to program computers. It is more about router and switch configuration. SAS Certification vs CCNA really depends on your interests.
    Good luck on your journey back into the tech world!

  14. hi Mark,
    my name is ousmane,from new york city. i learned about sas three days ago,beleive or not lol.
    i am really interested in the platform administrators and the sas certified base programmer.
    Now here my million doollar question:
    it's been 5 years im a nyc taxi driver.i have associates degree in computer science and was senior towards my bachelor. have A+ certification
    i wanna get back in the tech field. do you think SAS will be right for me? (looking also about ccna)
    ps i love learning new things when it comes to technology.
    thank you.

  15. Mark Stevens on

    Thanks for the comment Stacey....I doubt I'll be tackling Advanced Certification. I look forward to learning about macros and SQL...but not to the depth and competence required for cert.
    I see in PROC CERTIFY that you have exams scheduled for October....Good Luck!

  16. Stacey Hamilton on

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the great posts on your certification journey (and for calling out our PROC CERTIFY; project). Looks like you did it the right way. All good tips as well. We have just covered the Do While and the Do Until (at least I can distinguish between those). I think that the short time frame probably worked better for you than our long window of preparation. We find that we forget things we covered last month because we study more infrequently.
    Anyway, congratulations on the certification. Are you going to go for Advanced Certification now?
    Best wishes,
    Stacey Hamilton

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