Six Tips to Help You Pass Your Next Certification Exam

The right preparation can help you nail your next certification exam.

There are good reasons why IT professionals invest considerable time and effort to become certified in their chosen area of specialization. According to the 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report published by Global Knowledge, certified professionals generally earn more than those without a certification in all regions included in the survey.


The report states that certified IT pros in North America earn around 7 percent more than their uncertified counterparts. Certification also isn't generally limited to a single credential: Close to 70 percent of those who took part in the survey have at least two IT certifications.


Employers value certifications because they validate the holder's hands-on expertise and knowledge. Earning a certification can give you an edge over a candidate who has similar education and experience, but no relevant certification.


Some certification exams, particularly those for professional- and expert-level credentials, can be tough. They require serious preparation. It's worthwhile to devise an exam prep approach that works for you. Here are six tips that will help you prepare for your next exam. Best of luck in your certification efforts!


1) Research Exam Objectives and Details


The first thing you need to know is what topics will appear on the exam. Review the syllabus or exam objectives, which are usually available on the certification exam web page. Each objective has sub-objectives, which in turn have sub-objectives that cover a number of skills.


Note down each and every objective, sub-objective and skill. The extent to which each objective will be represented on the exam is typically mentioned on the website. You can prepare based on the percentage of representation for each domain.


To be well prepared, you need to study each listed skill. It's possible that the exam may include questions on sub-topics not mentioned in the list. You should be able to answer most of the questions, however, if you make the effort to understand all the listed skills.


You can get advice and a lot of useful information from friends and colleagues who have earned the same certification. You can also connect with others in the field by searching out message boards, forums, and other online gathering spots connected to the certification you're pursuing.


Find out whether there are any prerequisites, recommended or mandatory professional experience, and other requirements. Make sure you also know the current version of the exam, duration of the test, exam format e.g. multiple choice, multiple answer, performance-based etc., passing score, and delivery method.


2) Select Mode of Learning and Study Material


It's important that you select a training option that fits your schedule and learning style. Some prefer to study on their own whereas some prefer classroom training. For most certifications, you will have a choice of study guides, eBooks, eLearning courses, video training, instructor-led training (live or virtual), labs, and practice tests.


Choosing the right study material is crucial. Leading certification providers normally offer their own study materials, which usually map to exam objectives. Keep your list of skills handy when you study so that you don't miss out on any skill.


Third-party study guides are also available. Some are credible, some are not. Before buying another publisher's guide, find out if it's reliable and approved by your certification provider. Steer clear of brain dumps. Brain dumps are generally frowned upon and anyone who has reproduced or published exam content, or who has used such content to prepare for certification exams can have their credentials revoked.


3) Make a Study Plan


The right preparation can help you nail your next certification exam.

The importance of drafting and adhering to a suitable study plan cannot be overemphasized. Without a proper exam prep strategy, you might find yourself insufficiently prepared and end up retaking the exam.


How many months ahead should you start preparing for the exam? This depends on the extent of your familiarity (or lack of same) with the subject of the exam, as well as how much time you can devote each day. If you're new to the subject and work full time, then it's advisable to start preparing several months ahead. Certification aspirants who have professional experience in the area of specialization may need less time.


Draw up a weekly schedule, including the number of study hours per day. Many candidates devote fewer hours per day during the first few weeks and increase study time gradually, spending maximum time during the last two or three weeks before the exam.


You can also draw up a rough estimate of time to be allotted for reading the study guide, virtual or live training, labs, practice tests and any other mode of learning.


4) Practice


Both certification providers and veterans who've earned multiple certifications maintain that the best preparation for a professional certification exam is practical experience or hands-on training. This is the most effective way to gain in-depth understanding of concepts. When you understand techniques, it helps you retain knowledge and recall that when needed.


It's a good idea to install the technology that you will be tested on and practice at home so that you know the process inside out. Set up a lab environment on your computer and practice all the skills required or enroll for a course that includes labs. Labs promote active learning, which helps candidates understand and remember core concepts.


You also need to practice taking exams. It's important to know how to take exams. Take practice tests offered by your certification provider or other authorized practice tests. This helps you become familiar with the testing procedure. Also, read the answer explanations that come with the practice tests. Practice tests help you identify weak points that you can review later.


5) Take Notes on Technical Information


If you're new to the topic, read the study guide at least twice. And whether you're experienced or a newbie, take notes while studying. Typing or writing down technical information — such as scripts, commands, utilities, configuration settings, and framework components, and any other technical detail that may figure on the exam — focuses attention, promotes understanding, boosts memory, and facilitates recall.


It's helpful to read a specific topic once or twice and then summarize it. Similarly, you can summarize classroom lectures. Summarizing can be helpful because it requires you to reconstruct what you've read, think about it, and decide what is important to note down. Processing information in your mind enhances learning, retention, and recall.


Some studies indicate that writing is better than typing. Ultimately, it's up to you to determine which works better for you.


6) Know How to Take Exams


Time management is very important. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you've spent too much time on a few questions and have no time to answer the rest of the questions. What you need to do at the outset is calculate the time available for each question by dividing the exam time by the number of questions. This will help you avoid spending too much time on some questions and running out of time.


Don't spend more than two or three minutes on each question. If you can't understand a question, mark it and move on to the next question. You can go back to it after you've answered the ones you know. Also, most certification exams only require you to earn a specific passing score (which you should know going in) that is typically well below 100 percent. So if you can't answer two or three questions, don't fret.


Read questions carefully in order to spot keywords and understand the meaning. Some questions can be tricky. Also, you may be required to pick multiple answers for some questions. Make sure you pay attention and don't pick just one answer when two or three are required. Double check your answers if you have time at the end of the test.


When exam day finally arrives, relax. Take every question seriously, read every word, but don't get nervous if you don't know all the answers. Anxiety can affect your performance. It's important to stay calm throughout the exam. If you've studied hard and practiced a lot, you should be able to answer most of the questions successfully.


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About the Author
Reena Ghosh

Reena Ghosh is an independent ghostwriter who writes promotional, developmental and explanatory content for individuals and businesses. She came to professional writing with work experience in financial services operations and corporate communication. Reena speaks three languages and hopes to learn Sanskrit.