Monday, December 24, 2018

Preparing and Taking a Certification Test

Despite how many people hate it, we judge education and skills with standardized tests most of the time. As a result, most certification tests are standardized tests. Of course there are exceptions, but in most cases you will run into standardized tests. Personally, I've always had poor test taking skills. Despite this, I've passed all but one certification on the first try and the one I failed was in the beta phase anyway. So here's my advice on how to pass.

Now the first obvious thing to do is study. Today you have a huge selection of options to choose for studying. You can choose between instructor-taught courses to self-study. In my opinion, instructor taught courses are over priced and offer very little added benefit for anyone who is at least a hobbyist in the subject matter. That is not to say you shouldn't try it out, I just think most of them are fairly expensive for what you are getting and co-workers that use it do not seem to have any more of a leg up. Then of course there are books you can buy and study guides you can download.

I've done all of my certifications through CompTIA so far and I use the Certmaster tool. I find there are two main benefits. The first is that since it is made by the people that make the test, it covers almost all the material necessary. The second thing is they also word the questions in a similar manner, so it mentally prepares me to be able to read and understand the questions on the test. The wording of questions is the big thing, because I wonder if English is their first language or somewhere down the line a fifth of sixth.

Study guides and topic outlines are also useful to read over. They often can include things you can do your own research into. For me, this research leads to tools and techniques to actually try.

Actually trying the techniques, tools, and methods that you are studying is probably the best way to hammer the ideas into your head, coupled with an understanding of the practical application involved. Say you read about nmap and have never tried it before, simply do some googling and then try out the tool. In some instances, it's hard because you might not have access to the tool or program or have a setup to try the technique. In those cases, you may still have a way to set it up with some virtual machines or maybe find demos and screenshots online. Anything to further familiarize yourself with the content.

Books. I like having physical books. Problem is, they eventually go out of date. Make sure if you buy a book that it is a version that is useful to you. Check the publication date, any reviews, and any information that indicates that they are worth reading. Then make yourself a library. Knowledge is power.

Time. Take your time studying. Study a little bit every day.

Refresh earlier information as you go. Read acronyms as the words they represent. Take practice quizzes and try to answer without looking at the multiple choice answers. Try to teach others around you what you've learned, even if they yell at you to shut up or keep saying they have no idea what you're talking about.

So now you are prepared to take the test. How can you take a test any different to optimize your chances? The first thing is to go through the whole test, even questions you are not sure of. When you come across a question you are not sure of, first eliminate all the answers you know are wrong, then guess with the remainder. Make sure you pay attention as you go, as one question may have an answer for another question in it. I've had questions where after I eliminate all possibilities I know are wrong, I have one answer left which helped me answer another question by eliminating one of the two options I had narrowed it down to.

Okay, so you got through the test, and look! Still time on the clock. Do not end the exam yet, go back to the beginning and start over. More often than not, I find questions that when I'm on my second run, I look at the answer I picked and realize that I had misread the question. So go through and look for errors, look for answers other questions gave you, look to find what you did wrong.

Now you made it through again. Maybe there's still time on the clock. Use it. Go through again and again until that time runs out. Maybe you're just clicking next and not changing anything, but each time you go through you should be more certain of your answers than the next.

Times up, exam ended. You passed? Great! You failed, don't fret. If you do fail, even after all that work, try to keep all the questions you can remember. Go home, try to get the right answer. Go through all your study material with all the questions of that test in mind, then try again.

There's no magic method that will make you always pass, no perfect study material. You just have to be willing to try.

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