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A Classic Revisited: Totally Free Certification Training

You don't have to spend a ton of money to get certified. Actually, with a little luck, a sound knowledge of your subject matter, and some breaks on exam fees, you might not have to spend anything at all!

 

Editor's Note: GoCertify's original article about totally free certification training is one of the most popular articles in the history of the site. (No pressure, new guy.) It's also been around since 2001. So this was probably overdue.

 

Preparing to pass an IT certification is not only a time-intensive process, but can also be prohibitively expensive. For example, consider this learning plan one of my colleagues recently undertook in studying for the CompTIA A+ certification:

 

5-day classroom training class: $2250
CompTIA textbooks: $250
Practice exam software: $200

 

My colleague spent $2700 before she registered for the exams. To earn the A+, for instance, you have to pass two tests priced at $199 apiece per attempt. The costs here are simply beyond the reach of many IT certification candidates, especially those who are new or transitioning into IT from school or another industry.

 

In this article I’d like to show you several ways to gain top-quality IT certification training legally and without spending a single penny. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and an e-mail address!

 

I’ve chosen to separate the learning resources according to the VAK learning modalities developed by Walter Burke Barbe and his colleages. The VAK learning styles are:

 

Visual learner: Learn by reading
Auditory learner: Learn by listening
Kinesthetic learner: Learn by practicing

 

Let’s get started!

 

Resources for Visual Learners

 

If you’re a strong visual learner, then you’re into studying text and pictures to absorb new information. To that end, let’s start with free computer eBooks! My first suggestion is to visit the major technology publishers’ blogs regularly so you can learn about free chapter or even book offers.

 

For example, as of this writing (Jan. 2016) Microsoft Press offers a number of technical titles for free download through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, as shown in Figure 1:

 

Figure1

Figure 1: Microsoft Press makes sample chapters and entire eBooks available for free download.

 

Let me give you a list of the most popular IT publishers so you have a head start in your search for free eBook/chapters:

 

McGraw-Hill
Manning
No Starch Press
O’Reilly
Packt
Pearson IT Certification
Que
Sams
Sybex/Wiley
Wrox

 

Now let’s turn our attention to free online IT certification study guides. In my experience, the quality of these online resources varies much more widely than it does with known tech publishers. The reason for this is simple — tech publishers put all their content through technical edit, copyedit, and sometimes peer review as well. You generally don’t have that type of quality control with individuals who post their own study guides.

 

To that end, I recommend that you visit IT certification-related discussion forums to see what the community feels are the highest-impact online study guides. Here are some of the major IT certification forums as of this writing in January 2016:

 

CertForums
Cisco Learning Network
MC MCSE
Professor Messer
ProProfs
Reddit – Certifications
Reddit – IT Cert Study
Tech Support Forums
TechExams \ Total Seminars

 

What I like about online discussion forums is that you’ll hear unfiltered, unpaid opinions from people who are in your position—aiming at getting certified for the lowest net cost.

 

I also suggest that you hone your “Google-Fu” to find targeted search results. For example, we use quotation marks in Google to match on phrases. Let’s say I’m looking for Windows Server 2012 MCSE study guides. I’ll get good results with the following query:

 

“windows server 2012” “study guide”

 

If I’m looking for PDF files specifically, I can add the filetype: advanced operator:

 

comptia “network+” “study guide” filetype:pdf

 

If I want to search a particular domain for results, I can add the site: advanced operator:

 

CCNA “study guide” site:ciscopress.com

 

If you’re turned off by the geeky advanced search operators, don’t forget that Google offers an advanced search page where you can specify all your options by using friendly form controls.

 

Resources for Auditory Learners

 

When I think of auditory learners, I imagine people who learn best by watching and listening to a live or recorded instructor. You’re going to pay for live instructor-led training in most cases, so let’s constrain our discussion today to prerecorded IT certification video.

 

First, let’s hit up (you guessed it) YouTube. With the volume of videos that YouTube makes available, using their filtering options is absolutely critical. As you can see in Figure 2 below, I’m honing my search for Cisco CCNA training videos by filtering on the View count property:

 

Figure2

Figure 2: YouTube lets us hone in on the highest-impact video search results.

 

Let me speak just for a moment on the importance of respecting intellectual property and copyright law. I can essentially guarantee that you’ll come across knowingly or unknowingly shared copyright-protected resources.

 

For example, I’m a published author, and I see pirated copies of my work literally every day. I strongly suggest you avoid using copyrighted resources illegally and instead focus on using properly shared assets. The reason for my suggestion is relatively straightforward—If content creators aren’t compensated for their work, then they lose an incentive for creating the work in the first place.

 

One of the coolest things about the global Internet today is that you can go to college for free. What do I mean? I’m speaking of colleges and universities that make entire courses, including lectures, assignments, tests, and so forth, available online for free. You can broaden and deepen your IT knowledge, and consequently further your IT certification goals, by studying these courses. Here’s a list of my favorite sites:

 

Alison
Coursera
GCF LearnFree.org
Harvard – Introduction to Computer Science
Microsoft Virtual Academy
MIT Open Courseware
MITx
Open Culture
Michigan
com
UC Berkeley – Computer Science
Unix and Linux Tutorial Center

 

While the previously given online learning resources are awesome, you may want free online video training that’s tailored specifically to a particular IT certification. Let me share with you my favorite choices for many popular IT certs:

 

Cybrary
Free Cisco CCNA Training
Free ITIL Training
IT Free Training
Professor Messer

 

Resources for Kinesthetic Learners

 

Kinesthetic learners enjoy hands-on exercises in order to build and practice new skills. How can you gain practical experience with the technologies on which you want to certify?

 

For many IT certification programs, building a practice lab is a “must do” procedure. The good news is that you can build a fully-functional, virtualized virtual network with literally no additional investment beyond your existing computer and a solid Internet connection. Here’s the recipe:

 

● Free hypervisor (Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 include client Hyper-V; Oracle VM VirtualBox is cross-platform and also free)
● Linux is free and open source; Ubuntu is a good choice for an IT cert practice lab
● Microsoft offers fully functional evaluation versions of their operating systems
VyOS virtual router allows you to create a routed internetwork

 

As long as your hardware computer has a decent amount of RAM (at least 8 GB), you can build an excellent, multifunctional practice virtual network like you see in Figure 3:

 

Figure3

Figure 3: You can build this practice lab entirely using software.

 

In case you’ve never worked with desktop virtualization before, I’ll provide you with a few tutorial links:

 

Set up a Hyper-V VM lab on a home network
TechNet Virtual Labs
VyOS routed lab tutorial

 

I’d also like for you to consider getting involved with the technology user groups available in your area. For instance, I live in Nashville, Tenn., and you can see in Figure 4 how many user groups I have at my disposal:

 

Figure4

Figure 4: Your local technology user groups can be an invaluable resource in your IT certification studies.

 

Speaking candidly, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today in my IT career were it not for the influential people I’ve met in social situations, particularly in technology user groups. You may be able to find volunteer and/or internship opportunities that give you the practical experience you need to conquer your next IT certification and qualify for your first or next IT job.

 

We’ll finish up by considering legitimate practice tests. Note that I’m not talking about the so-called “braindumps,” which are illegally obtained transcriptions of actual IT certification exam questions. I recommend testing any practice test providers you find online against CertGuard’s vendor database; they’ll let you know if your source is legitimate or a braindump.

 

The major legitimate IT certification practice test vendors (Transcender and Boson are the vendors I recommend) aren’t free, so let’s sharpen our focus to free practice questions. As usual, I’ll provide you with a links list:

 

4Tests
Cisco Practice Exams
ExamCompass
GoCertify quizzes
Knowledge Buster
MC MCSE practice tests
Practice Test Central
ProProfs practice tests

 

Next Steps

 

Since 1997, when I began in IT, I’ve taken and passed literally dozens of IT certification exams. My distilled wisdom with regard to cert prep is that you need to develop your skills along three interdependent lines:

 

Understand the theory.
Practice the technology hands-on.
Drill yourself by taking practice tests.

 

I hope that this article gives you confidence to master each of the previous cert-prep tasks regardless of your learning style. Remember what the great philosopher Socrates said: “Know thyself.” By understanding how you learn, and applying some basic Internet research skills, you can build your own learning path entirely for free. Good luck in your certification preparation journey — all the best to you!

 


Tim WarnerABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.