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6 Tips to Ace Your Next Cert Exam
We've all heard tips about studying for different exams, which run the gamut. Eat healthy; allot a certain amount of time to studying per day, take practice exams, and make sure to take breaks. These may help you ace the SAT, but they are not as useful tips for preparing for IT exams. There's really no hack to shortcut solid, structured prep. Remember, exams are an inevitable part of your career and we recommend approaching them with that Jedi level of rigor — best to get it right the first time.
By understanding a few of the simple principles by which our brain operates, you can maximize your learning and be successful on test day. Let's explore some of our favorite tips for passing IT cert exams.
What Makes IT Cert Exams Different
Unlike the exams you took in high school and college, IT certifications are intended to test skills you need or are using on the job — not necessarily just skills you learn for your test. There's a big difference between college and IT exams.
For one thing, there's a hands-on component for many IT certs. You may have to drag and drop network components around a virtual network, or input commands into a virtual command line.
There's also lots of memorization, not unlike high school or university. For example, there are a lot of ports, commands, and channels to memorize, just to name a few. There are also hands-on components to some exams, which are more like lab exercises.
Finally, the test questions are highly technical — and often misleading if you don't know how all system and network components operate together. So, here's what you can do to be better prepared come exam day.
1. Follow the Standard Exam Prep Advice
Well before, or least early on in your studies, create a schedule that works with your personal learning style. Then create a study plan. Don't rush to learn everything at the last minute, as that is not a good strategy for success. CBT Nuggets trainer Garth Schulte constantly stresses that IT isn't something that can be learned overnight.
Instead, dedicate at least 30 minutes a day for several weeks for studying. Or if your schedule is less flexible, a couple of hours each weekend. But resist the temptation to overstudy. Your brain can only absorb so much information at a given time. Pace yourself.
2. Know Your Exam Inside-Out
The first thing you should do before you begin your exam studies is to learn as much about your exam(s) as you possibly can. Most vendors provide exam blueprints that lay out the topics and sections contained in particular exams. Those blueprints should guide your study approach.
Also, understanding details like how much time you have to take an exam or question formats can help you be better prepared on testing day. You'll be more at ease because you won't be surprised by what you see.
Check out our Roadmaps to Success and Certification Guides to find information on Cisco, VMWare, Microsoft, Linux, and other certification exams.
3. Determine how YOU Learn Best
It's important to know your preferred learning style — not just for IT certification exams, but any kind of learning you may undertake. Identifying how you learn best can help you align your exam preparation with your brain's inclinations.
Learning styles are modalities through which people find that they learn best. Visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic learning are examples of some common learning styles.
If you are a visual learner, for example, you probably would learn best through watching videos. For example, CBT Nuggets' online training is delivered via a whiteboard style, providing a one-on-one feel with our industry-expert trainers. Visual learners may also benefit from color coding their notes or using flashcards so they can easily see, and organize, important concepts.
On the other hand, if you are an auditory learner, it may help you to walk through a concept out loud or read text out loud, so that you can better understand it. Don't hesitate to use a tape recorder to record a lecture or read your notes out loud later.
Tactile/physical learners do best with hands-on learning such as tutorials or practical exercises. Most CBT Nuggets videos include built-in quiz questions that pop up every few minutes. Quiz questions can help ensure you are retaining the proper information from the content.
Realistically, you should rely on all three types of learning in order to ensure you are ready for your exams. However, knowing your learning style can help you better understand the best ways that you learn, and adapt the studying process to best fit your learning style.
4. Use Assessment Tools to Help Identify Weaknesses
Assessments can help you locate problem areas and help you develop a strategic study plan to minimize knowledge gaps. Early on in the exam preparation process, you should take an assessment to get an idea of improvement areas.
For example, you can take Kaplan IT Training full-length, timed practice exams to help you get a feel for how things will go on test day. For network exams, such as the Cisco exams, you will need to choose a network simulator or emulator. Check out our top five suggestions for the Cisco CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE exams.
After studying for several weeks, you should retake the practice exam or take a different assessment to determine what knowledge still needs to be reinforced. It's a good idea to take assessments that are similar to what you will see on test day — with the same time limits and content that is as similar as possible — in order to ensure that you are adequately prepared for test day.
5. Develop Study Routines and Stick to Them
When studying, make sure your study space is somewhere that you feel comfortable and where you can focus. You are much more likely to absorb information if you're not distracted by details such as an uncomfortable chair or a poorly-lit room. Figure out if you study better listening to music or working in silence. The bottom line here is that your study space is a pleasant space for you where you can concentrate and learn.
On test day, you may not be able to listen to music or make sure you have enough light to feel comfortable, but make sure to stick to any habits that you have become accustomed to. For example, if you are a coffee drinker, don't skip your morning coffee on test day. Likewise, if you've prioritized getting a good night's sleep during your studying, make sure you do the same the night before your exam,
Yes, setting dedicated time to study is important, but your study environment matters, too. Make it part of your overall routine and keep it consistent.
6. Be Ready for the Big Day
Make sure you check out all of the rules and requirements for your exam. Determine where you will be going on test day, and plan out your route, making sure to add in extra travel time in case you get lost on the way to the testing center. You do not want to arrive late, as some exams do not allow test-takers to take the test after a certain time. In general, you do not want to feel rushed on the day of the exam — it can interfere with your test performance.
Prepare all of the things you will need for your exam the night before. Make sure to eat a healthy, filling dinner and get enough sleep. Being tired and/or hungry can affect concentration and test performance.
The Bottom Line
At first, preparing for an IT certification exam may seem daunting, maybe even impossible. Let's be honest, there's a lot to learn, rarely are exams a cakewalk. That said, consistent and incremental progress will move you toward your goals and a successful exam outcome.
Even the smallest progress adds up over time and, from a learning and test performance perspective, is much more effective than cramming for an IT exam a few nights before. Good luck studying for your next IT certification exam.