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.

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