Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Prepare for Your IT Certification Exam

Are you preparing for a certification exam? Since it’s our specialty at TestOut to help you prepare for your exams, we’ve spent significant time learning what you need and creating training materials that can best help you. Consider these ideas as you plan how best to prepare for your exam.

What type of exam are you preparing for?
Are you preparing for a skills-based or performance-based exam? Skills-based exams test fundamental understanding of concepts and skills, while performance-based exams go a step further to test your ability to actually perform the functions you know. Examples of skills-based exams are the CompTIA A+ Essentials exam and the CCNA exam (Cisco Certified Network Associate). Examples of performance-based exams are the A+ Practical Application exam and the MCITP 83-640 exam (Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory).

If you’re preparing for a skills-based exam, instructor-led training, written lessons in a book or on the computer, and practice exams will help you. In addition, hands-on simulations can also help solidify your understanding of the concepts you’ve studied, either individually or in a group setting.

Kellye Whitney of Certification Magazine wrote about performance-based exams: “Today’s employers need to know that the candidates they examine for contract and full-time employment have the right skills and are capable of executing a job. Accordingly, preparation for these more intense and rigorous performance- or competency-based exams requires more effort and more time to study.”

For performance-based exams, your best option is to train in a like manner—with performance-based study materials, such as hands-on labs.

What type of learner are you?

Different routes are available for different learning styles. For example, if you are a self-motivated learner and don’t mind working through problems on your own, consider a computer-based training (CBT) course. However, if your learning style is more visual, an instructor-led class might be a better fit. In a classroom setting, the instructor is nearby to answer questions. Knowing what style fits your needs best will be to your advantage in preparing for your certification exams.

How much time do you have?

Many working professionals don’t have time available to attend classes, making CBT courses a great route because they allow for self-paced learning. If you do have time to attend a class over a quarter or semester, many colleges and certification prep companies offer courses. Distance learning programs or boot camps might also be the answer for those who have time; certification candidates can familiarize themselves with testing concepts through instructor-led courses. Knowing your time frame will help you select the right certification training.

Do you have a friend or colleague who is also taking the exam?

We all love a study buddy! “Find someone who is interested in taking the exam, has taken the exam or is maybe at a similar level in terms of experience, and challenge each other,” says Marc Vaglio-Laurin of SAS.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Should Colleges Incorporate IT Certification Training into Their Curriculum?

Many colleges across the nation are beginning to offer their information technology (IT) students more practical opportunities—opportunities for learning not just out of a book, but through hands-on experiences—by actually doing what the textbooks teach. Wise faculty and administrators recognize the need for hands-on training to prepare their students for careers in the IT field.

Administrators at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, were recently featured in an article in Campus Technology for their efforts to make their IT curriculum more current and relevant to the needs of the IT industry. The university is incorporating curriculum from IBM to focus more on practical skills. Nicholls State Professor Neset Hikmet explained that the revamped curriculum will “better prepare our graduates to help organizations use technology to intelligently respond to the global trends and disruptions affecting businesses, while also achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.” Students complete four semesters of practicum that include “work in IT service management, an apprenticeship, lab, and simulation.” Students are also eligible to receive accompanying certification through the program.

Nicholls State University understands that they play a key role in the placement and success of their students in careers after graduation. Incorporating apprenticeships, labs, simulations, and certification into the curriculum serves both the students—who are better prepared and qualified for their fields—and the university—which enjoys a better reputation for its IT program and its job placement for graduates.

Furthermore, incorporating hands-on experience and certification training into a college IT curriculum offers students the best setting for learning and practicing the material companies need them to know. Speaking to Certification Magazine, Marc Vaglio-Laurin, manager of certification test development at SAS, recommended that college settings are the best place for students to prepare for certification exams “because quarter- or semester-long college courses offer a longer period in which to study, practice and acquaint oneself with performance-based tasks.”

TestOut works with many college campuses that have incorporated IT certification training into their IT curriculum because the training teaches their students what they need to know—not only for their IT education, but also for their careers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

High Schools Should Add Certification Training to Career and Technical Education Programs

Many high schools have incorporated IT certification training into their technology curriculum, giving students practical, hands-on experience along with their more traditional theoretical education. Walla Walla High School in rural Washington State and the King Career Center in Anchorage are perfect examples. Other schools are still debating, and some haven’t even given it serious thought. So why should high schools incorporate certification training into their curriculum?

Less than a year ago, Sean Cavanagh in Education Week wrote about high school career and technical education (CTE) programs. He said, “Critics have long questioned whether [CTE] programs challenge students academically in subjects like math and science. Are CTE students being given skills that will help prepare them for challenging, and potentially high-paying jobs? Or are these courses serving to relegate them to low-paying work and outdated career tracks? How can CTE courses be made more academically demanding?”

In response to the important questions Mr. Cavanagh posed, IT certification training may be one of the very best additions to any CTE program exactly because it challenges students academically in a highly relevant science/technology field and prepares them for high-paying work and cutting-edge career tracks. For example, CompTIA’s A+ certification exam—the exam for which most high school and college IT curriculums offer training—“tests for the fundamentals of computer technology, networking and security, as well as the communication skills and professionalism now required of all entry-level IT professionals.” As a profession, IT work continues to grow in demand like few other fields, even in a struggling economy (http://redmondmag.com/salarysurveys/). Preparing students for the information technology field, with hands-on experience and training, is preparing them for success.

Incorporating certification training into an IT curriculum can be made most academically challenging when teachers combine multiple teaching tools. For example, LabSim training courses offer written lessons, video trainings by industry experts, hands-on lab simulations, and practice exams to gauge readiness for the actual certification exam. By using multiple teaching tools like those offered in LabSim courses, teachers educate students thoroughly in the subject matter and prepare them practically both for the initial exam and the subsequent career.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Confidence Comes Through Experience and Makes the Difference in Your Job Search

In a tough economy, students nearing the end of their education begin worrying whether they’ll find a job after graduation. Among the concerns is whether they’ll be able to compete with applicants who already have on-the-job experience. How can graduating IT students have confidence in their skills and their ability to find the job they’ve been training for? A great place to start: IT certifications.

Certifications are designed to demonstrate the specialized skills and knowledge in a field such as information technology. Each certification course has specific objectives and concepts that have to be mastered to pass certification exams. The important thing to remember is that it is the practice and training each certification provides that is important to employers. Through these courses, you are gaining skills that set you apart from your competition. Learning to solve problems and provide answers will make you an asset to your employer.

Early this year, Larry Dignan—editor-in-chief of ZDNet, wrote: “Some 75 percent of IT professionals responding to [a] Kotler study said their CompTIA certifications make them more attractive to employers, while 84 percent believe they now have the skills necessary to fulfill a job’s requirements. Further, some 93 percent agreed or strongly agreed that customers felt they are in good hands when working with them, due in part to their certifications.

“With numerous other factors seemingly out of your control, IT certifications present at least one element you can command,” Dignan continued. “In an age of unprecedented business and economic turmoil, the resulting confidence boost can only help.”

Certifications make it easier to stay on top of a rapidly progressive industry like IT. Updating your skills and getting the experience that is available to you will give you much-needed confidence. Preparing with a certification training product like LabSim, with hands-on simulations that work together with the video instruction, written lessons, and practice exams, gives you realistic experience to go along with your certification.

The IT industry is unique because it promotes constant learning; the more you know and the more experience you gain, the more employment opportunities you will find. Now go build some confidence!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The LabSim Experience: A Blog about Learning through Experience

Welcome to The LabSim Experience, the new blog of TestOut Corporation. We’ve started this blog to begin a conversation about your training experiences.

How do you learn best? Did you use LabSim within a school classroom, online, or on the job, and did you work on your own or as part of a group? How have you used training materials as you’ve prepared for your certification exams, and what have been your experiences taking the exams—did you prepare sufficiently, or do you wish you had done something different?

With a focus on education and online learning, this blog should be a resource of relevant, current ideas and articles where you can share what you’ve learned by experience, and others learn from the experiences you share. Whether you’ve already completed 12 certifications, 1 certification, or you’re just thinking about certifications for your future career, The LabSim Experience should offer valuable insights about learning through experience.

Writers, instructional designers, and developers at TestOut Corporation will contribute original entries to The LabSim Experience blog, and we’ll also post entries from instructors who teach courses that include LabSim training products. We’ll write some about the hands-on LabSim IT certification training products, but more about the training and education experience as a whole—both the technical and the theoretical. Watch for new entries, and move the conversation forward by leaving your comments, feedback, and ideas.