Studying for certifications can be time consuming. This page describes strategies and techniques to help you consistently focus on studying and making the most of your time while obtaining professional certifications.
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Knowing your long-term plan helps you to maintain a perspective. When you are confident of your career goals, objectives, and strategies, you can more confidently study and pass your certification exams. Failing a test would be less traumatic in light of a long time horizon of many tests. You will know that if you lost one battle, you have not “lost the war”.
Many IT pros may have difficulty focusing on a single certification long enough to obtain them. I think this is often because they do not have enough of a long-term perspective to set aside time for finishing specific certifications. In the words of one time management expert, they allow themselves to be consumed by the “tyranny of the urgent” rather than the important.
If you remember spoken words, begin with audiotapes from Audiowiz or multimedia from Knowledgenet, Learnkey, or other vendors. If your memories are mostly visual, take screen shots and draw diagrams as you study, then refer to them to help you think.
After you sit down at the testing machine, but before you press “begin the exam”, draw on the blank pages given to you the diagrams you've memorized.
Anticipate all the learning activities you will go through. Write them on a Test Prep. Estimate Sheet such as the sample below.
Review your list with others who have succeeded. Ask them whether they think your plan seems like it's enough or not enough time for the subject tested. Doing this early in your studies enables you to pace yourself better.
For a concrete basis for time estimates, count the number of pages in books and the number of items on sample tests. Calculate the hours you should budget for each activity by multiplying an estimate of your rate by the number of pages. Below is an example of a finished matrix:
| Est. Rate|
|Read Job Skills and Test Syllabus||4||4||1|
|View videos on topic||--||--||2|
|Identify words I don't know in Glossary||24||6||4|
|Read Overview book (ExamCram)||90||3||30|
|Attend a class|
|Review pages skipped in class||40||2||20|
|Consume Sybex book (readings & quizzes)||240||4||60|
|Memorize knowledge on flash cards||30||3||10|
|Take/review practice test A||60||4||15|
|Research missed items on flash cards||20||4||5|
|Take/review practice test B||60||4||15|
|Review brain dumps||150||6||25|
|Take/review practice test C the day before the exam||60||4||15|
|Review “Memory Joggers” before the exam||8|
Before you total up the hours, estimate how much time you will realistically be able to devote to your studies each week. If you use 2 hours each weekday morning and an average of 12 solid hours each weekend, you'll have 22 hours a week (on average). Dividing 210 by 22 (and rounding up) means you will need at least 10 weeks.
Extend your end-date to allow for vacations, holidays, birthday parties, weddings, and other possible events that will keep you emotionally charged to tackle stressful tests. To maintain relationships, people usually prefer consistent contact over time rather than have someone disappear and then reappear many weeks later.
You may find using a spreadsheet such the following useful. THis example has me starting studying on January 1st. First, I fill out only the first two columns on the sample Tracking Form below. I use one line per week. Most weeks I estimated 22 hours. Some weeks I anticipate a lighter load. Some weeks (such as when kids are away at a camp), I hope to do more.
|Week Ending Sunday||Est. Hrs.||Cum. Est. Hrs.||Actual Hrs.||Act. Cum. Hrs.|
|Jan 01 '02||22||22||15||15|
|Jan 08 '02||0||22||Vacation|
|Jan 15 '02||22||44||15||30|
|Jan 22 '02||12||56||18||48|
|Jan 29 '02||30||86||22||70|
Download this sample Excel spreadsheet containing the forms presented above. It automatically calculates totals and graphs.
At the end of each day, write down on your planner how many hours you actually spent on planned studying activities and how many pages and items you finished. The few seconds you spend doing this will give you a small but significant recognition of accomplishment. So be honest and don't count time on distractions like social chats.
At the end of each week, add up the pages and total cumulative number of hours you “banked” during your entire study effort to date.
Doing this provides you realistic feedback on your estimating. If you did not get in as much studying as you anticipated, analyze the reasons why so that you can come up with a more realistic plan.
Adjust the numbers on your estimate sheet, calculate a new plan, and keep going toward your new goal! Remember that realistic goals energize you. Unrealistic goals create counter-productive stress.
This is perhaps the most crucial point. More and more, those who come up with exam questions are gearing their test questions toward troubleshooting skills rather than just memorized knowledge. Here are some ways others have used to experience how technology is actually used in a real environment:
Analyze sample questions for the thinking process required to determine the correct answer (and avoid the wrong answers).
By acquiring the discipline of thinking rather than reactive memorization, you become better at taking tests. Indeed, those who design tests aim to test thinking skills rather than memory.
Take mock exams in their entirety to prove to yourself that you can sit in a small room for hours without snacks, breaks, and mp3s. When you sit through the entire exam, have no other application running on your computer except the test simulation program.
Part of the benefit of obtaining a certification is to improve your perseverance, memory power, and analytical ability. Even if you don't score high enough to pass a test, you will still be better for the effort you put into studying. But if you do pass the test, you will have validation of your increased capabilities.
If I have left out a tip that should be on this article or you have any questions or suggestions about this topic, please let me know or submit feedback below.
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