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Basic SQL Guide

Contents

Basic SQL

This SQL guide is meant to help you get started with SQL. It’s helpful for absolute beginners but better for beginners that need a reference when coding. This guide is adapted from Mode Analytics Intro to SQL which is a great introduction to SQL, however, this guide with the accompanying datasets provide a more hands-on experience that allows you to code live with tools used in industry. All tables found in the Mode Analytics guide are loaded in our databases but we added dozens more to get you better acquainted with SQL and analytics.

Basic SQL

Anatomy of a Basic SQL Query

The anatomy of a SQL query is the same every single time. The clauses (e.g., SELECT, FROM, WHERE) are always in the same order, however, many of the clauses are optional. In this section, I’ll explain the SQL clauses that are always required to pull data as well as a few operators and math operations that help convert raw data into something useful.

Note: The SQL code examples use the Strata Scratch database and is executable on Strata Scratch through your web browser. I would recommend copying and pasting the code, executing it, and taking a look at the output.

At the Bare Minimum: SELECT and FROM

There are two required ingredients in any SQL query: SELECT and FROM — and they have to be in that order.
Back to SELECT and FROM SELECT indicates which columns of the table you’d like to view, and FROM identifies the table you want to pull data from.

SELECT 
    year, 
    month, 
    west
FROM datasets.us_housing_units

Note that the three column names were separated by a comma in the query. Whenever you select multiple columns, they must be separated by commas, but you should not include a comma after the last column name.

If you want to select every column in a table, you can use * instead of typing out the column names:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.us_housing_units

Column Names

If you’d like your results to look a bit more presentable, you can rename columns to include spaces. For example, if you want the west column to appear as West Region in the results, you would have to type:

SELECT west AS "West Region"
FROM datasets.us_housing_units

This gives us the following output:

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Note that the results will only be case sensitive if you put column names in double quotes. The following query, for example, will return results with lower-case column names.

SELECT west AS West_Region,
       south AS South_Region
FROM datasets.us_housing_units

Output:

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An Important Tip: Explore the Dataset

Now that you understand the basics of query data from a table, the next step is to query, format, and aggregate data so that it’s useful. What’s difficult is that there are often no way to preview the data in the tables. Before diving too deep in any SQL query or analysis, I will always explore tables before starting to write complex queries. All you need to do is perform what I call a SELECT STAR or

SELECT 
    * 
FROM datasets.us_housing_units

This will allow you to see all the columns and some data in the table so that you better understand the data types and column names before writing any complicated query.

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Slicing Your Data: WHERE

Now you know how to pull data from tables and even specify what columns you want in your output. But what if you’re interested only in housing units sold in January? The WHERE clause allows you to returns rows of data that meet your criteria.

The WHERE clause, in this example, will go after the FROM clause. In the WHERE clause you need to write a logical operator. For example, if you’re interested in pulling data from month 1, simply write month = 1 in the WHERE clause.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.us_housing_units
WHERE month = 1

Output:

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Controlling the Output: LIMIT

The LIMIT clause is optional and is used to control the number of rows displayed in the output. The LIMIT clause goes at the very end of your SQL query. I find this clause useful when exploring data. The following syntax limits the number of rows to only 100:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.us_housing_units
LIMIT 100

Super Powering the WHERE Clause

The WHERE clause is powerful. You can leverage operators and mathematical operations to slice your data into different views. In addition, you can chain together all these operators to efficiently narrow in on the data.

Comparison Operations on Numerical Data

The most basic way to filter data is to use comparison operators. The easiest way to understand them is to start by looking at a list of them:

These comparison operators make the most sense when applied to numerical columns. For example, let’s use > to return only the rows where the West Region produced more than 30 housing units

SELECT *
FROM datasets.us_housing_units
WHERE west > 30

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Comparison Operators on Non-Numerical Data

Some of the above operators work on non-numerical data as well. = and != make perfect sense — they allow you to select rows that match or don’t match any value, respectively. For example, run the following query and you’ll notice that none of the January rows show up:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.us_housing_units
WHERE month_name != 'January'

Output:

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More Operators to Super Power the WHERE Clause

Here’s a list of additional logical operators to use in the WHERE clause:

LIKE allows you to match similar values, instead of exact values.
IN allows you to specify a list of values youd like to include.
BETWEEN allows you to select only rows within a certain range.
IS NULL allows you to select rows that contain no data in a given column.
AND allows you to select only rows that satisfy two conditions.
OR allows you to select rows that satisfy either of two conditions.
NOT allows you to select rows that do not match a certain condition.

LIKE

LIKE is a logical operator that allows you to match on similar values rather than exact ones.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE "group" LIKE 'Snoop%'

Wildcards and ILIKE

The % used above represents any character or set of characters. In this case, % is referred to as a “wildcard.” LIKE is case-sensitive, meaning that the above query will only capture matches that start with a capital “S” and lower-case “noop.” To ignore case when you’re matching values, you can use the ILIKE command:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE "group" ILIKE 'snoop%'

Output:

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You can also use _ (a single underscore) to substitute for an individual character:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE artist ILIKE 'dr_ke'

Output:

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IN

IN is a logical operator in SQL that allows you to specify a list of values that you’d like to include in the results.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year_rank IN (1, 2, 3)

Output:

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As with comparison operators, you can use non-numerical values, but they need to go inside single quotes. Regardless of the data type, the values in the list must be separated by commas. Here’s another example:

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE artist IN ('Taylor Swift', 'Usher', 'Ludacris')

The output here should only yield data corresponding to artists named Taylor Swift or Usher or Ludacris.

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BETWEEN

BETWEEN is a logical operator in SQL that allows you to select only rows that are within a specific range. It has to be paired with the AND operator, which you’ll learn about in a later.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year_rank BETWEEN 5 AND 10

IS NULL

IS NULL is a logical operator in SQL that allows you to exclude rows with missing data from your results.

Some tables contain null values—cells with no data in them at all. This can be confusing for heavy Excel users, because the difference between a cell having no data and a cell containing a space isn’t meaningful in Excel. In SQL, the implications can be pretty serious.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE artist IS NULL

AND

AND is a logical operator in SQL that allows you to select only rows that satisfy two conditions.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year = 2012 AND year_rank <= 10

You can use AND with any comparison operator, as many times as you want. If you run this query, you’ll notice that all of the requirements are satisfied.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year = 2012
   AND year_rank <= 10
   AND "group" ILIKE '%feat%'

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OR

OR is a logical operator in SQL that allows you to select rows that satisfy either of two conditions. It works the same way as AND, which selects the rows that satisfy both of two conditions.

SELECT *
  FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
 WHERE year_rank = 5 OR artist = 'Gotye'

NOT

NOT is a logical operator in SQL that you can put before any conditional statement to select rows for which that statement is false.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year = 2013
   AND year_rank NOT BETWEEN 2 AND 3

Output:

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SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
WHERE year = 2013
   AND artist IS NOT NULL

Output:

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Sorting Data: ORDER BY

Once you’ve learned how to filter data, it’s time to learn how to sort data. The ORDER BY clause allows you to reorder your results based on the data in one or more columns. First, take a look at how the table is ordered by default:

SELECT * 
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
ORDER BY artist

You’ll need to specify whether you want the data to be displayed in ascending order or descending order.

SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
ORDER BY artist ASC

Will output data alphabetically by artist

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SELECT *
FROM datasets.billboard_top_100_year_end
ORDER BY artist DESC

Will output data reverse alphabetically by artist

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Sometimes you’re not necessarily interested in an output of all the data. Your question that you’re trying to answer is simpler like how many rows are in this table? or how many top 10 songs did Usher produce in 2012?. In these cases, we don’t want a list of values but would rather have one value — the answer. You can process data in the SELECT clause.

DISTINCT

You’ll occasionally want to look at only the unique values in a particular column. You can do this using SELECT DISTINCT syntax.

SELECT 
    DISTINCT month
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

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DISTINCT is handy when you want to count the number of unique values in a column (e.g., distinct months or distinct users).

SELECT 
    COUNT(DISTINCT month) AS unique_months
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Output: 12

AGGREGATIONS IN THE SELECT CLAUSE

Counting all rows

COUNT is a SQL aggregate function for counting the number of rows in a particular column. COUNT is the easiest aggregate function to begin with because verifying your results is extremely simple.

SELECT 
    COUNT(*)
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Output:3527

Important note: count(*) also counts the null values. If you want to exclude null values, refer below.

Counting individual columns

Things start to get a little bit tricky when you want to count individual columns. The following code will provide a count of all of rows in which the high column does not contain a null.

SELECT 
    COUNT(high)
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Output:3527

SUM

SUM is a SQL aggregate function that totals the values in a given column. Unlike COUNT, you can only use SUM on columns containing numerical values.

SELECT 
    SUM(volume)
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Output:73442072063

MIN and MAX

MIN and MAX are SQL aggregation functions that return the lowest and highest values in a particular column.

SELECT MIN(volume) AS min_volume,
       MAX(volume) AS max_volume
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Output:

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AVG

AVG is a SQL aggregate function that calculates the average of a selected group of values. It’s very useful, but has some limitations. First, it can only be used on numerical columns. Second, it ignores nulls completely.

SELECT 
    AVG(high)
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price

Running the code above will give an output of 506.5.

Simple Arithmetic in SQL

You can perform arithmetic in SQL using the same operators you would in Excel: +, -, *, /. However, in SQL you can only perform arithmetic across columns on values in a given row. To clarify, you can only add values in multiple columns from the same row together using +.

SELECT year,
       month,
       west,
       south,
       west + south AS south_plus_west
  FROM datasets.us_housing_units

The output will contain as many rows as are in the table. Only west and south will be added together on a row level.

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SELECT year,
       month,
       west,
       south,
       west + south - 4 * year AS nonsense_column
  FROM datasets.us_housing_units

Output:

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GROUP BY

SQL aggregate functions like COUNT, AVG, and SUM have something in common: they all aggregate across the entire table. But what if you want to aggregate only part of a table? For example, you might want to count the number of entries for each year.

In situations like these, you’d need to use the GROUP BY clause. GROUP BY allows you to separate data into groups, which can be aggregated independently of one another.

The GROUP BY clause always comes towards the end of the SQL query. It technically goes after the WHERE clause but if the WHERE clause is missing then the GROUP BY will come after the FROM clause (or JOIN clause, but we haven’t learned that yet).

You’ll know which column name to include in the GROUP BY because it’s listed in the SELECT clause. You only want to include column names that are not being operated on in the GROUP BY clause. In the example below, you do not add COUNT(*) in the GROUP BY because COUNT is an operator.

SELECT year,
       COUNT(*) AS count
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price
GROUP BY year

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SELECT year,
       month,
       COUNT(*) AS count
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price
GROUP BY year, month

Output:

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GROUP BY with ORDER BY

The order of column names in your GROUP BY clause doesn’t matter—the results will be the same regardless. If you want to control how the aggregations are grouped together, use ORDER BY. Try running the query below, then reverse the column names in the ORDER BY statement and see how it looks:

SELECT year,
       month,
       COUNT(*) AS count
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price
GROUP BY year, month
ORDER BY month, year

Output:

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HAVING

However, you’ll often encounter datasets where GROUP BY isn’t enough to get what you’re looking for. Let’s say that it’s not enough just to know aggregated stats by month. After all, there are a lot of months in this dataset. Instead, you might want to find every month during which AAPL stock worked its way over $400/share. The WHERE clause won’t work for this because it doesn’t allow you to filter on aggregate columns—that’s where the HAVING clause comes in:

SELECT year,
       month,
       MAX(high) AS month_high
FROM datasets.aapl_historical_stock_price
GROUP BY year, month
HAVING MAX(high) > 400
ORDER BY year, month

Output:

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