Feeling prepared is one thing. Being prepared is another thing entirely. Some IT pros breeze through certification without breaking a sweat. Some never feel ready.
There’s no single way to know when you’re ready for an exam. There are certain concrete indicators that you can identify as you get close to your exam day. Even with all the small milestones you’ve achieved in your study plan, you might not feel prepared — but you are.
Here are a few ways to know that you’re ready for your IT certification exam.
You’ve earned all the validated minutes
It’s not enough to just watch a CBT Nuggets course. It’s highly recommended that you earn every validated minute, as well. Most recent courses have in-video quizzes that test your knowledge on key topics. (Here’s a full list.) Learners earn validated minutes from answering these quiz questions correctly. Developed by the trainers, questions are often pulled from the course objectives to help you retain information. Here’s how that works.
Research shows that it’s easier to absorb and maintain information in small, discrete chunks, rather than all at once. There’s a reason that course videos are less than five minutes. One video covers cover one idea, and each idea builds on the previous. Validated minutes are a continuation of that process because they require you to recall the information you learned in the last 60 to 90 seconds of viewing.
In sum, validated minutes put your brain in an active state of learning. You’re awarded points that are visible by your team — and even the global leaderboard.
You’re able to pass the practice exam
Practice exams are crucial for exam success, and you should take one before you start studying for the exam.
It might seem counterintuitive to take the exam before cracking the material, but you know more than you think, particularly as an experienced IT pro validating your current knowledge.
By starting with a practice exam, you’re able to manage your time wisely. CBT Nuggets practice exams are derived from course objectives. While it might not be apparent when you’re taking the practice exam, you’ll see the benefit when you’ve completed a practice exam. The results are broken out by course objective. From that report, you can focus on and prioritize your trouble areas and skip or skim the topics you know.
Accountability coaches help hundreds of CBT Nuggets learners develop study plans for their IT certifications, and they’re available for every subscriber. Accountability coaches advise learners to schedule practice exams throughout their study plans. In 12 weeks, you might take four practice exams — once every three weeks.
If you’re passing the practice exams as you conclude your study plan, you’ll know you’re ready for the real thing.
You’ve built a lab and feel proficient
There are two types of labs common to IT certifications, home labs, and virtual labs.
Home labs consist of physical hardware. They’re associated with CCNA and CCNP R&S, CCNP Collaboration, and cybersecurity certifications. More often than not, home labs will be at home. (You can build one for a few hundred dollars.) Maybe it’s an old rack at work. In any case, they are invaluable study tools for hands-on certifications.
Virtual labs are provided by CBT Nuggets for select courses, including MCSA SQL Server 2016, CompTIA CySA+, and vSphere 6.5. For each of these courses, CBT Nuggets trainers set up virtual lab environments to demonstrate the concepts behind course objectives.
Unlike practice exams, which grade your work, virtual labs are much more subjective. You’ll have to work toward a feeling of proficiency rather than a grade. The best indicator will be whether or not you can perform the tasks by yourself — and then you’re ready.
You’ve reviewed the entire course — again
Once you’ve completed the course and earned all the validated minutes, then review the course one more time. There are two reasons for this. The first is functional, and the second is psychological.
First, the material in CBT Nuggets courses progresses from basic to advanced topics. If you’re at the end of a 12-week study plan, then it’s been a month or more since learning the basics. By watching through the course one more time, you’re refreshing early concepts while contextualizing the more advanced topics you just finished.
During your final review, you don’t have to take notes. You don’t even have to pay that close of attention. By watching the course one more time, you’re providing a sense of finality to your study plan.
Second, going through the material again provides a sense of finality in your studies. These psychological factors are not to be understated when studying for an exam. Feeling ready is as important as being ready for your exam.
You start finding better ways to do things
Studying for an IT exam is about earning the certification. IT certifications are designed to validate the knowledge you’ve acquired, not teach you how to do your job better. Though, the things you learn will eventually seep into your day-to-day job responsibilities.
When studying for an exam, you’re learning basics and best practices. Often, you’ll find shortcuts to the way you figured out how to do things — or the way you were taught.
Once you start finding better ways to accomplish tasks at work, you’re ready for the exam. Using your new knowledge means you’ve learned the material.
These signs are applicable without CBT Nuggets training
Even if you’re not a CBT Nuggets subscriber, you can still recognize the signs that you’re ready for your exam. Whether you’re going through one of the certification guides or using another online video training platform, the same principles apply.
As long as you’re building a study plan, sticking with it, and feeling good about the material, chances are you’ll pass your next IT certification exam.