1. Choose the Right Certification For You
There’s no surer way to success than picking the certification that is right for you. Many students let the certification choose them, rather than the other way around. Your decision to take one or more certifications should be based on more than just salary surveys or what your someone else is doing. If you decide to take the certification plunge without thinking through this step you could realize months down the line that the certification you picked is not the right one for you. That could be a very expensive waste of money and time.
Ask the following questions to yourself before choosing a certification:
1. Why do I want this certification?
2. Will the certification exam match my interests and new goals?
3. Will the certification add value to my existing skills and experience?
4. How often will I have to take the certification exam?
5. What certification can I choose to get a high salary and prove my knowledge?
Choosing the right certification is half the story. Keep in mind that most people in technology earn good money. Salary surveys may show that a person with certification ‘X’ may be slightly more than a ‘hotter’ certification, but most people also want to enjoy what they are doing. Happier employees are generally more enthusiastic and typically earn more money in the long run.
2. Research the Certification
Once you have decided on the certification you want to earn, dig deeper. Find out what skills are required to pass the certification, if there pre-requisites to be met, the experience required, the format of the exam, the number of questions and so on. All of this information is available on the website of the certification vendor, or from the website of a reputed, certification exam preparation company such as uCertify.
3. Analyze your Skill Inventory
Take the time to clearly identify the gaps in your knowledge as compared to the required exam objectives. Go through each exam objective to determine how much preparation you will need. A quick diagnostic test can give you an idea, although a thorough and honest analysis is more likely to tell you where your strengths and weaknesses in the subject are. This exercise will help provide focus once you begin studying for the exam.
4. Pick a training method that works for you
Not everyone learns the same. Formal classroom training has its advantages, but it’s not an option for many people due to price, availability, and scheduling conflicts. Self-study using books is cheaper and more flexible, but it can be monotonous and very boring. E-learning options can be a good balance. It does require a good sense of discipline and self-motivation. Much less than expensive than traditional classroom training, yet extremely flexible, the better E-learning solutions provide you the best of both worlds. An excellent choice for e-solutions is test preparation software. Many offer guided learning, study tips, pop quizzes, tests that adapt to your level of difficulty, instant feedback in a private, non-competitive setting.
5. Set a Deadline
Set a deadline, but be reasonable. If you are brand new to the subject and have no experience in the area, expecting to learn the subject and pass in one week, may not be the best of ideas. On the other hand, although studying at your own pace and taking the exam “when you are ready” has its merits, it doesn’t work for most people, for whose busy lives are filled with distractions. When you decide to embark on your certification journey, set a deadline for the day you want to take the exam. Again, be sure to set the time based on the amount of time you will have to study and your level of experience. Define a daily or weekly schedule, including a time-line for each exam objective, how much you will read each day, when will you start studying, setting aside time for topic-wise review, lab time, and above all, practice, practice, practice!
6. Understand the Exam – be aware of brain dumps
To discourage memorization of answers, and to make the exams representative of real world environments, certification vendors make sure the test formats don’t encourage ‘brain dumps’. The exam formats are specifically designed to ensure your understanding of real world scenarios. Expect lots of troubleshooting questions, complex scenarios, and interactive questions that require you to execute a specific task on a simulated control panel.
Be particularly aware of brain dumps that give you a false sense of security. More importantly, you are likely learn very little. Even if you do manage to pass the exam, it will quickly become apparent to a prospective employer that you do not understand the subject well enough to apply to a job.
7. Use the best study material you can afford
The vast majority of IT certification seekers need help preparing for exam. Choices abound, but the question is, which provider offers the best product at the best price? Certification exams are expensive – don’t short change yourself. Choose carefully. Use this simple checklist:
- Product quality is key. The best measure of product quality is the vendor’s track record.
- Ask about their pass rate
- What are their customers saying about them?
- Do they stand by their products? Is their guarantee simple and straightforward? Many offer a money back guarantee with too much fine print.
- Does the product cover all exam objectives? Compare against the certification vendor site if possible
- How many practice questions do they offer? Remember, practice is key to passing, no matter how experienced you are.
- Be sure the practice questions cover a variety of questions and question types, typically found in the corresponding exam.
- Detailed Study Notes
Does the software provide a mechanism to learn, in addition to just practice? This guarantees you know the subject, not just enough to pass the exam
- Customizable Tests
How flexible are their tests? Can it be customized to your time and learning levels?
- Feedback mechanism
Does it offer instant feedback? Be sure the feedback mechanism provides both correct and incorrect answers with detailed explanations and reference sources for each answer. Does it offer progress tracking by exam objective?
What about after sales service? Do they offer support?
A good way to evaluate a product is to get a free, trial version and check out the features.
8. Learn as much as you can
The idea is to learn as much as possible about the subjects covered under the certification. While there is no substitute for training, Books, blogs, and certified study guides all provide plenty of useful information. Search the internet and read as much as you can by way of articles, blogs, free practice tests and free certification advice. Good study notes are invaluable sources of learning. Articles and blogs may be used as supplementary notes to increase your knowledge of the subject.
Many test preparation software vendors provide detailed study notes along with their product. Be sure to completely familiarize yourself with this material. This is the learning process, which is very important. It differentiates you from those who use a braindump type of preparation tool, which simply does not provide you with the knowledge required on the job.
Go through the review questions and lab scenarios in each chapter taking notes as you go through each objective. It’s hard to memorize an entire book, so focus on fully understanding exam objectives. Many books and test preparation software do a good job of creating review questions for each exam topic. They also offer callouts of “Exam Tips” or “Alerts” for tricky questions. Here’s where test preparation software has a big advantage over books and even classroom training. The feedback mechanism provides for detailed explanations for both correct and incorrect answers. Review all answers to get a good grasp of the subject.
Join forums to get advice on technical questions and/or share your knowledge. Forums can offer useful information by way of current updates or changes to your certification exam. You can share ideas and read posts from other people studying for, or experienced in the certification process. Get answers to technical problems and help others. Working through technical problems will not only help increase your confidence, but also will motivate you to fill you knowledge gaps.
9. Practice, Practice, Practice
This is the single most important step to passing certification exams. IT certifications require a lot of study and practice. Many students spend weeks, if not months preparing for the exam. Once the student has completed all the study material, the focus should be on practice, practice, and still more practice. There is simply no substitute for it. Even for a professional with experience in the subject, getting used to format of the exam and the time constraints is very important. This skill can only be achieved through practice. Do not compromise in this area. It is the crucial difference between passing in the first attempt and failing.
10. Stay motivated
Most people start their certification journey with the best of intentions. But dedicating time every day for days at a stretch can be hard. Procrastination is much easier! If you are having a hard time staying motivated to study, you are not alone. You do have options. Get a certification buddy, a study partner or a study group. Make it as competitive as you wish it to be – maybe you can start a friendly contest to see who passes their exam first, or gets the highest score. Meet on a regular basis, and talk about exam topics and review questions.
If group study is not your thing or you simply do not have the time to find a study partner or group, choosing the right training software becomes all the more important. Pick one that makes learning simple and fun. You want the software to be simple and intuitive to use – after all, who has the time to learn how to use the test preparation software?
11. Scheduling your exam
Increase your chances of success by scheduling the exam at a time of day . For most people, this is between 10am – 2pm. If you are more of an evening person, try scheduling the exam as late in the day as possible. Weekdays are typically less crowded than on Saturdays. This means less distractions during the exam. Try to give yourself a few hours of free time to run through your review questions and study sheets just before you take the test.
12. Be relaxed
Being calm and relaxed is critical to success on the day of the exam. Study and practice constantly the days prior to the exam, but the night before the exam, take it easy. Don’t stay up too late the night of the exam. This can have an adverse impact on performance. Eat a light, healthy meal to keep you fresh and energetic. Keep yourself hydrated well.
On the big day, arrive about 15 minutes early, bring 2 forms of photo ID, and an additional pen if you need one. Take the spare time to clear your head, at the testing center. Some people arrange a “study sheet” of important exam concepts and review it in the parking lot just before they take the exam. Printing out practice test questions and reviewing them just before the exam can be helpful as well.
13. Before you start...
The test does not start until you start on the computer. Take blank sheets of paper and note down any tables or additional information you believe you may “draw a blank on” throughout the test. It features the different types of questions you will come across, as well as the new interactive and drag and drop questions. Be calm before you start. When you are ready to start the real exam, take a deep breath. It is simply a test.
14. Test Taking Strategy
When looking at a multiple choice questions, keep in mind to read the entire group of answers before just clicking on the first right one you come across. Vendors are looking for the “most correct” answer, and there may be 2 near correct answers. If you are confused by a question, try to eliminate the obviously wrong answers first. This will improve your probability of selecting the right answer from the remaining options.
15. If you fail, retake the test within 2 weeks
It is important to get right back if you failed by a slight margin. Observe the test as a learning experience. As soon as possible after the test, mark the questions that confused you, so you don’t forget them. Study some more, and retake the test as soon as you feel comfortable. If your performance was nowhere what you expected it to be, study and practice harder.