A Classic Revisited: Totally Free Certification Training


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:



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
? Professor Messer
? ProProfs
? Reddit – Certifications
? Reddit – IT Cert Study
? Tech Support Forums
? 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:



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:



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:



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!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Tim Warner

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.