5 min read

I remember deciding to pursue my first IT certification, the CompTIA A+. I had signed up for a class that lasted one week, per exam, meaning two weeks.  We reviewed so much material during that time that the task of preparing for the certification seemed overwhelming.  Even with an instructor, the scope of the material was a challenge. 

 Mixed messages 

Somedays, I would hear from others how difficult the exam was; on other days, I would hear how easy the exam was. I would also hear advice about topics I should study more and even some topics I didn’t think about studying.  These conflicting comments only increased my anxiety as my exam date drew closer. No matter what I read, studied, or heard from people about the exam, I felt like I was not prepared to pass it. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material, anxious from the comments of others and feeling like I didn’t do enough preparation when I finally passed the exam, it didn’t bring me joy so much as relief that I had survived it. 

 Then it was time to prepare for the second exam, and those same feelings came back but this time with a little more confidence that I could pass it. After that first A+ exam, I have not only passed more exams, I have also have helped others prepare successfully for many certification exams.  

 Exam hacks 

Below is a list that has helped not only me but also others to successfully prepare for exams.  

  1. Start with the exam objectives and keep a copy of them close by you for reference during your whole preparation time.  If you haven’t downloaded them (many are on the exam vendor’s site), do it now.  This is your verified guide on what topics will appear on the exam, and it will help you feel confident to ignore others when they tell you what to study. If it’s not in the exam objectives, then it is more than likely not on the exam. There is never a 100% guarantee, but whatever they ask you will at least be related to those topics found on the objectives. They will not be in addition to the objectives.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  2. To sharpen the focus of your preparation, refer to your exam objectives again.  You may see this as just a list, but it is so much more. Put differently, the exam objectives set the scope of what to study.  How?  Pay attention to the verbs used on the exam objectives.  The objectives never give you a topic without using a verb to help you recognize the depth you should go into when you study. e.g., “configure and verify HSRP.”  You are not only learning what HSRP is, but you should know where and how to configure and verify it working successfully.  If it reads to “describe the hacking process”, you will know this topic is more conceptual. A conceptual topic with that verb would require you to define it and put it in context.                                                                                                                                                                                       
  3. The exam objectives also show the weighting of those topics for the exam. Vendors break down the objective domain into percentages. For example, you may find one topic accounts for 40% of the exam. This helps you predict what topics you will see more questions for on the exam. That means you can know what topics you’re more likely to see than other topics.  You may also see that you already know a good percentage of the exam as well. It’s a confidence booster and that mindset is key in your preparation.                                                                                                                                   
  4. A good study session begins and ends with a win. You can easily sabotage your study by picking a topic that is too difficult to get through in a single session. In the same manner, ending a study session where you feel like you didn’t learn anything is also disheartening.  This is demotivating at best.  How do we ensure that we can begin and end a study session with win? Create a study session with three topics. Begin with an easier topic to review or learn. Then, you can choose a topic that is more challenging.  Of course, end your study session with another easier topic.  Following this model, do a minimum of one a day or maximum of two sessions a day.                           
  5. Put your phone away. Set your emails and notifications, instant messaging, and social media on do not disturb during your study session time. Good study time is uninterrupted, except on your very specific and short breaks. It’s amazing how much more you can accomplish when you have dedicated study time away from beeps, rings, notifications.  


Prep is king 

Preparing for a certification exam is hard enough due to the quantity of material and the added stress of sitting for an exam and passing. You can make it more effective by using the objectives to help guide you, putting a session plan in place that is motivating as well as reducing the distractions during your dedicated study times. These are commonly overlooked preparation hacks that will benefit you in your next certification exam. 

 These are just some handy hints for passing IT Certification exams. What tips would you give? Have you recently completed a certification or are you planning on taking one soon?  Packt would love to hear your thoughts, so why not take the following survey? The first 200 respondents will get a free ebook of choice from the Packt catalogue.* 


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