Stretch your cert dollars with careful shopping
As of January 5, you can once again take advantage of Microsoft Learning's Second Shot promotion when you register for qualifying MSCA, MCSE, MCSD and Microsoft Specialist exams. The deal is this: You use a special sign-up for the test through the MS website, and when you book (and pay for) the exam with Pearson VUE, you get the option to retake that exam free of charge if you don't pass on your first attempt.
Certain conditions apply: Not all MS exams are covered by the promotion, and your free retake of a qualifying exam must be scheduled within 30 days of your first attempt. You can read all about it through the Microsoft Learning Special Offers page, then use this Exam List to start the sign-up process. Choose the Schedule Now for Free option to get your Second Shot deal.
That's all there is to this particular deal, but it got me thinking about the value of shopping around for the best cert deal, or of keeping an eye out for similar offers as you prepare to spend money on IT certification. Whether you're shelling out for training, prep materials, practice exams, or real exams necessary to earn those credentials, there are often money-saving arrangements available.
At a minimum, it's wise to use shopping tools to compare deals online, and look for the best prices. Beyond that bare minimum, however, if you look for promotions or offers, you can often find discounts above and beyond what you might expect.
Case in point: Numerous certifications require candidates to pass multiple exams before they can be conferred. Sponsors, partners and resellers are all aware of this and often throw discounts at so-called "bundle deals" as a result. Let's say you're chasing an MCSA, or the two-exam version of the CCNA (CCENT/ICND1 and ICND2). Sure, you can knock those exams off one at a time, and pay for them that way as well.
If you look around a bit, however, you'll often find anywhere from modest to appreciable discounts on bundles. You have to be willing to spend more up front, but if you're going to eventually spend the money anyway, then it makes sense to pay for all of your exams at the same time.
You can also get packages that include training, whether it's courses or self-study materials, and sometimes practice exams, along with vouchers to cover the cost of your actual certification test. Such package deals are often available from big-name training companies like New Horizons or Fast Lane, or from bootcamp boutiques like Intense School (MS) or Lammle.com (Cisco).
Here's the thing: If you're already committed to chasing a certification, then it behooves you to look around on your own, and ask around in general, for the best deals you can find. And you should also compare costs when weighing best-of-breed preparation materials and/or training, as well as when considering the actual exams that follow them. There's a chance to save a little, or sometimes a lot, at every step, and a chance to bargain harder if you roll everything up into a single transaction.
If you do choose the all-for-one-transaction approach, then do your homework in advance. Be sure that the provider who takes your money has an established history of actually providing the value, materials and support you'll need to see yourself across the finish line. In the end, it's all about earning the cert. As the notorious Mr. Bosworth once informed us so archly: "Anything less is simply unacceptable!"