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Books as containers of knowledge have withstood the test of time. Learn how to choose them and use them to achieve certification.

They've been around since antiquity, and though they now stream off of high speed presses instead of being handwritten by monks, books as containers of knowledge have withstood the test of time. They are currently one of the most popular tools for certification preparation. Prometric/Thomson Learning's 2000 IT Certification Study found that nearly half (49%) of certification candidates prefer to self-study from printed materials to prepare for exams. Books are portable, affordable, and their batteries never run out. They continue to be an excellent resource for certification preparation.

Because books have been a mainstay of learning for more years then there are bugs in beta code, you'd think that the art of instructional book design would have been universally perfected by now. Unfortunately, that's far from true. The format, quality, and usability varies considerably from publisher to publisher, and even, less often, among books by the same publisher but different authors. This is partly because different formats appeal to different readers, but also because publishers are striving to create formats that work well for the specific task of certification preparation.

Technical accuracy can also be an issue. Who wants to pay $50 or more for a book that teaches you erroneous information? Unfortunately, it does happen. To be fair, it's rarely due to simple carelessness. Certification preparation books usually cover intensely technical topics in intricate detail. Often the material is either cutting-edge or very close to it. Authors and publishers have to move quickly to compile, publish, and distribute this information to outlets where we can obtain it. Accuracy takes time - double and triple checking of arcane details, some of which change even as the book is being printed. Even if it was possible, a 100% accurate computer book isn't necessarily desirable - because it would likely arrive long after you had use for it. Thus the need for speed is always vying with the desire for accuracy. The perfect certification book has a high degree of accuracy, is there when you need it, and contains the most current information on the subject at hand. Thanks to the efforts of technical authors and publishers, there are many books that meet these criteria. All you have to do is know how to identify them.

Choosing The Right Book

In your search for the knowledge necessary to pass certification exams, you will encounter books that cover the technology you're studying, and, if the certification has been around long enough, books specifically created to help candidates pass the related exams. The latter are your best choice for the purpose of getting certified. You want to master the subject, but your immediate goal is to learn the information required to pass the exam. The book you choose to prepare for a certification exam will not necessarily be the same book as you'd choose for a desk reference.

Look for a book authored by someone with relevant credentials. Read the about the author page for some guidance, and seek out people who are known to be experts in teaching the subject matter you are studying. It's a good idea to go to an online bookstore such as and read reviews for other books by the author your are considering. Although not a definitive source of feedback, such comments can provide you with a overall picture of the quality of the authors work. If the author has a Web site, visit it and get a feel for what he/she is about. This step, while potentially tedious, can help you connect with a really good writer/teacher you can stick with for years to come.