Prioritizing Knowledge: Studying Certification Topics

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Within every body of knowledge, there is a bundle of core subjects. Like the foundation of a skyscraper, this basic underpinning holds all of the information up and allows it to reach greater and greater heights. Without this, the whole corpus is about as stable as a house of cards. In order to achieve mastery in any area, learners should progress through this array of interrelated information by starting with this core information and moving into the more sophisticated and complicated aspects of it.


Take networking. Although there are a multitude of issues within this field, the common thread between networking experts is the core knowledge that they share—such as installation, configuration, maintenance and troubleshooting—regardless of which vendor’s products they’re using, or if they’re even using a vendor’s solutions at all. If they aren’t skilled in these fundamental areas, then they aren’t really complete networking professionals.


IT certifications have core topics upon which their exams are based, which align to the technologies or job roles that they test. Most credentialing programs make the central topics of their tests readily available, and when preparing for exams, this core content is a great place to start your studying efforts. Here are a handful of recommendations for familiarizing yourself with the core topics of certifications:



  • Study by the Numbers: Many certification programs will not only disclose the main topics of their exams, but they’ll also reveal the percentages of questions that cover those subjects. Based on these figures, you can expect to divide your study time accordingly. For example, if troubleshooting a network constitutes 10 percent of the exam, spend about the same portion of the time you allot for your learning efforts on that area.
  • Focus First on What Will Make or Break You: The order in which you study topics should break down according to how much of the test they comprise. Oftentimes, a couple of subjects will be so substantial in terms of what makes up the exam that simply not knowing enough about them can cause certification candidates to fail an exam even if they’re solid in every other respect. These should be at the top of your mind when you are prioritizing and preparing your subjects of study.
  • Don’t Study More Than You Have To: Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a fine idea, but when you’re preparing for a specific objective, don’t take in a whole lot of extraneous information. Focus in on what you know will be on the test. This will prevent you from spreading your mind too thin over a broad area, much of which might not help you on the exam. The last thing you want to say after you bomb a test is, “I did all of that studying, and they didn’t even cover most of the stuff I learned about.” The onus is on you to prepare for the certification, not for them to develop a credential based on what you studied.
  • Use These Areas as a Means of Evaluating the Certification’s Relevance: If you know the ins and outs of the job or technology the certification covers, then you can use the exam’s core topics to method determe how relevant it is to what it purportedly tests. If you think one area is either overly weighted or insufficiently addressed in terms of importance, then you might want to skip it and consider another one. Remember, this has to relate to what you do for it to be of value to you.
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