Top 5 Things to do When Studying or Taking Certification Exams
Submitted by: Josh Williamson
Many of us are in fields that change constantly and have a need to keep technical skills up to date while learning new and more marketable skills simultaneously. One of the most popular methods to this end is to study for and take certification exams from such vendors as CompTIA, Cisco, Juniper, and Red Hat. Here are a few tips to help keep you current:
- Buy the Book: It is a good idea to buy a book on the subject matter you intend to study; normally the cost of the book is somewhere around $50 – a solid investment to ensure you only take the exam a few times as possible. However, there is generally no need to buy a new book for each new exam that comes out; a CCNA book from the 2015 exam will be just as relative and useful as the new, 2017 book.
- Build a Lab (if possible): Building a lab for the relative subject matter is likely the single most important aspect to studying for an exam. Doing so is not always possible, it’s hard to build a CISSP lab, for example. However, pieces and parts can be built to help you learn and retain the subject matter. Be careful not to go overboard with your simulations and just concentrate on understanding the subject at hand. Virtual lab software has come a long way in recent years as well. It’s often fairly easy to install a virtual machine and even simulate an entire network with applications like GNS3. The point is, wherever or however possible, build a lab and use it.
- Be Cautious About Practice Exams: As a rule of thumb, if you find a link on the Internet for “XYZ Practice Exam” it will be of little, or even negative, value and will often introduce you to malicious code in a very personal way. Other practice exams, like those included in study books, are more useful but still lack relevance and content making their ultimate value questionable. It’s a good idea to go ahead and take those tests anyway, make sure you keep score and see how you did, but remember to take any result, good or bad, with a grain of salt. The real value of those practice tests is that they introduce you to the vocabulary and the way test questions are worded and written.
- Set a Schedule: Not only is it important to set a studying schedule, but it’s equally important to set a timeline. For example, it may be a good idea to study for 1-hour every Tuesday and Thursday night after work, but it’s also important to say “I want to pass this exam before March”. Otherwise, there is potential for an endless cycle of studying for nothing. Set a date, even if it slides to the right, set a date and you’re much more likely to meet your goal.
- It’s OK to Fail: Some certification exams are extremely difficult, CCNA/CCNP and CISSP come to mind. There is no shame in failing an exam, and there is absolutely no doubt that you will learn far more from a failed exam than a passed one. Don’t be deterred, use that knowledge and keep striving for your goal – ultimately it’s the difficulty level that makes these certifications worth earning