Get set: How to study for your next certification exam

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Studying for certification the right way can improve your chances of success.In the world of IT, certifications are indispensable for demonstrating your skills, competencies, and knowledge to employers. Their value stems from the fact that the exams are designed to be rigorous and comprehensive, testing broad and often difficult IT-related disciplines. The point is to ensure that those who pass such tests do, in fact, have the abilities necessary to apply the skills they are intended to teach. Because IT is as competitive and rapidly-changing as it is, proper credentials are a must to any aspiring IT professional seeking to build a strong resume and advance his or her career in IT.

That being said, the key to success with certification exams lies almost entirely in preparation. While a number of study-related truisms and clichés (don’t cram, don’t procrastinate, and so forth) most certainly apply to preparation for IT exams, the unique nature of IT certification tests means that there are several things that are specific to  IT certification exam preparation. Knowing how to study will maximize your ability to succeed.

Evaluating Your Learning Style

Before you begin preparing for your test, it is important to properly establish what kind of learner you are. Exam preparation is a highly individualized endeavor, and taking the time to figure out what learning styles resonate with you will lead to a significantly more efficacious and efficient preparation process. For example, individuals who are highly visual may find interactive learning modules, videos and flashcards an effective means of exam preparation. Others may learn better when they employ rigorous memorization and rote hands-on repetition throughout the course of their studying. Identifying and harnessing your learning style will optimize your studying process so that you maximize the amount of information you will retain.

Selecting a Method of Study

After evaluating your learning style, it is important to select a proper mode of study. Due to the technical, internet-based nature of IT, a wide range of certification exam study material exists, including books, online courses, vendor videos, training videos, free online how-to videos, labs (both online and simulated) and instructor-led courses. These methods of study range in quality, price and compatibility with your learning style, and as a result, it is important to select a means of study that will be effective for you.

Before you select any mode of study, do a bit of research and see what others have to say about the instructor, technical school, video, module or book you have chosen. Five minutes of research can save you hours of unknowingly learning incomplete or incorrect material.

Instructor-led courses are excellent for individuals who enjoy a traditional course-based mode of learning, consistent access to IT professionals, and a highly hands-on learning experience. Classes are typically held at a school or other educational facility and combine theory with invaluable interactive study, making them an excellent option for studying IT disciplines that are highly hands-on. IT-training providers and technical schools are becoming increasingly flexible, with many allowing individuals to take only the courses they need to pass their specific exam, as well as offering online versions of onsite classes.

Computer-based learning involves a wide range of study methods conducted on a computer that include but are not limited to free videos, vendor videos, virtual labs and online courses. While media-based training materials are often very cost-effective, they vary highly in quality and the accuracy of information they provide and as a result, it is doubly important to see what others have to say about the content you are thinking of using.

Virtual labs can be an excellent alternative for individuals taking tests that are hands-on, but who lack access to a college or technical school, because they entail a much more affordable avenue for remote hands-on practice. Computer-based learning can be incredibly effective and convenient, and an immeasurable amount of well-developed and highly effective videos, online courses, interactive study websites, and virtual labs do exist and are undoubtedly worth checking out.

Books and study guides are a time-tested and unanimously-upheld means of preparing for IT certification exams and constitute the majority of study material available for certification exams. Unlike instructor-led courses, books allow individuals to learn at their own pace and have a constant reference to important material and information they may need for their exam. When selecting a study guide or book, avoid newer or smaller publishers and opt instead for well-established publishers such as Pearson VUE or O’Reilly, to ensure that the material you purchase is of the highest possible quality.

Whatever method of study you select, always learn from more than one source. Depending on your learning style, this can mean combining an online course with a classroom-based one, or it can mean studying two different books from two different publishers. Regardless, different sources contain different approaches and information, and learning from multiple sources will ensure that you have a broad understanding of the IT discipline you are studying.

General Advice

Studying for certification the right way can improve your chances of success.In addition to properly evaluating your learning style and selecting multiple study methods that align well with it, there are a few general tips and tricks that will optimize your study process for whatever IT certification exam you are taking.

Always be sure to study in accordance with the exam objectives. Certification exam providers will typically have readily-available objectives that state specifically what knowledge and skills their exam is designed to test. Aligning your study with these objectives will ensure that you aren’t omitting any important information and are learning primarily what is relevant to the test.

Forming a study group is always an excellent means of hashing out tough concepts and making studying less monotonous. Additionally, many online IT forums and communities exist where you can ask questions and test your knowledge by answering other people’s IT-related questions as well. While relying exclusively on group study is not recommended, combining it with your solo preparation is highly advisable.

Lastly, the internet contains a plethora of practice exams that are designed to mimic the actual exam you will be taking. You should take several practice exams towards the end of your studying process to identify areas that you either need to improve on, or may have omitted entirely. When taking practice exams, try to emulate the circumstances and setting of the actual exam you will be taking.

Whatever your learning style is, or whatever methods of study you choose, be sure to set realistic goals and allot an appropriate amount of time to studying. While IT certification exams can be difficult, knowing how to study will help you arrive at the testing center prepared. And strong IT credentials will make you eminently more desirable to employers — so study hard and, more importantly, study effectively!

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Nenad Dumanovic


Nenad Dumanovic is the founder and principal of Impressify, a PR company that specializes in delivering PR, content marketing, and business writing services for startups, entrepreneurs, and not-for-profits. He is the editor-in-chief of Konstantine News, a digital politics magazine launching in April 2016.

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