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How do you study for a cert exam?

Discussion in 'Training & Development' started by Rockets34Life, Aug 17, 2011.

  1. Rockets34Life

    Rockets34Life Bit Poster

    Since I'm bored out of my mind at my current job and not gaining any knowledge while I'm here, I want to get back into the cert world and add onto my current certs.

    Just a general question to the CertForums population - How do you prepare to study for a certification? I mean, when you have bought your books/videos and you are ready to start the video or crack open the book, what is the atmosphere around you? How do you set it? Do you have a room you go to, have a Monster/Red Bull, no music and just concentrate? Do you go to the library and study with no music, no phone calls, etc.?

    I know it's a simple stupid question, but for my previous certs, it took a while for me to prepare, get in a mood, and have the right atmosphere. For me, I don't really have a room in the house to study. I usually have to study in the formal dining room, have my Monster, put on the headphones, and watch/listen to the instructor. But even that, I kind of get bored and then start to surf the Internet.....which then takes me off track and then I have to rewind 5 minutes back to remember where I was.

    Now that I have a 6 month old to take care of, the atmosphere around me is loud and I'm pulled away by my wife every 5 minutes to do something.

    It took me a while to get my certs, but now I'm trying to find an easier way to study. Any advice would greatly help me!
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2011
  2. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

    If I had to give a single piece of advice, I'd tell you to break up your studies.

    Given the rather dry and technical nature of most IT, by the end of about half an hour your mind is going to be ready to burst. You aren't going to take anything in like that. So rather than drift in and out of work by checking emails etc, force yourself to go half hour straight (or whatever) with no distractions. Then take a 10 or 15 minute break. Then get back to it.

    I'd also advise on supplementing reading/listening with some kind of other activity to back up what you're doing. Ideally this would be trying out whatever it is you are learning by carrying out relevant tasks. If that isn't possible, make notes. It all helps it go in at a much deeper level than just reading does.
    Certifications: MCT, MCTS, i-Net+, CIW CI, Prince2, MSP, MCSD
  3. Rockets34Life

    Rockets34Life Bit Poster

    Thanks for the advice, JonnyMX. For the last paragraph, can you provide examples on what I can do besides taking notes?
  4. JonnyMX

    JonnyMX Petabyte Poster

    Well, that really depends on what it is that you are studying.

    For example, if it was web design, I would take time out from reading in order to build a website or to incorporate something I was reading about into one.

    Obviously, it's easier to do this with some subjects than others. If you are networking, you can hook a couple of PCs up or go virtual. It's all about getting some practice in to reinforce what you are learning. Of course, if you're learning about something that you can't lay your hands on, then you need to question whether you should actually be learning about it...
    Certifications: MCT, MCTS, i-Net+, CIW CI, Prince2, MSP, MCSD
  5. derkit

    derkit Gigabyte Poster

    Wrong place - but I read there too so we'll let you off :)

    I've struggled with this over the past couple of years and currently I'm finding the best method for me is:

    1) With no prior knowledge of what the course entails - watch videos - either YouTube, elsewhere online or CBT Nuggets/TrainSignal etc. - I've seen parts of Learnkey and CBT Nuggets so far. Learnkey at home as it requires an install, and CBT Nuggets at work as no installation needed and well it's being supplied there! Make random notes or observations of things that don't feel right, or make sense, or things that actually stand out. I've taken enough Microsoft exams now to get a feel for what level I think they are going to be looking for, so I start with that.

    2) To compliment that, I've read the Sybex book in and out of work (on the Tube) each day for the past few weeks. No notes just reading.

    3) Once my videos have finished I'm going to work through the MS Press book, and starting to virtualise all the labs and play around with the settings. The problem I've found in the past is that if I knew the stuff I was learning it was boring, I hated trying to learn the nuances around a subject that I knew pretty well already. Secondly, when I started reading I didn't have a clue how in-depth or how long each section was and so that created a psychological barrier to it - not knowing when it'll end! Thirdly, if I was studying a difficult section, I was struggling to understand the basics whilst the books were talking about the complexities - I spent so much time trying to re-read segments that made no sense - with the videos completed, I understood the basics, saw what they were talking about and knew the length of the section, so I knew I could get it read in one night.

    Whilst going through the second book, I'll make better notes, prose, note or mind-map, purely depends on what I feel is best for me. I'll return to the Sybex book to grab nuances that I didn't get from elsewhere, and finally read an Exam Cram book - final notes prepped, learn, recite, and implement. Book exam - pass (hopefully! :blink )

    4) Location - anywhere and everywhere. Reading on the bus, in an airport lounge waiting for the missus, videos at home and work. I find there is no location I can't study......well, the pub is more challenging!!

    5) Time - limit myself to only 40-50 min sessions at a time. 30 mins if I particular bored/challenged/exhausted and I then go and do something else - for example last night was 20 mins spent watering the garden. Tonight, it was picking my missus up and writing on the forum. I'll do another 25 mins now as my dinner will be on the table shortly.

    6 month old - tell him/her to read another book and stop trying to ask you questions :)
    Seriously, I have two pesky cats that try to destroy my house - you just have to deal with them!

    Wife/missus - I'm lucky in that respect as mine knows how I feel about my current role, knows that I have a lot of studying to do and sees how much I get out of learning and doing well in my career and so she supports me by either leaving me alone during my 40 minute stints, or just putting a post-it note on the desk for me to see her during my break. Unless she is trying to kill herself by doing something stupid she leaves me alone and deals with the phone, front door, dinner, anything whilst I'm in a session - perhaps you could get your wife to do similar - that way she knows you'll be unavailable for 40 mins, but can be hers for the break period. If I couldn't have a certain amount of understanding from my missus (and she gets it in return when she's studying or on a deadline), I really don't think I'd could be in a relationship like that!

    Crack on with the studying - the more I learn, the more I want to know more!
    Certifications: MBCS, BSc(Hons), Cert(Maths), A+, Net+, MCDST, ITIL-F v3, MCSA
    WIP: 70-293
    JonnyMX and Kopite_21 like this.
  6. mdavies

    mdavies Bit Poster

    i think jonnymx nailed it - 1/2 hour or 1 hour then break. if you cover too much too quickly then it just seeps out of the ears. for me at least. also, like it was mentioned, mixing up the types of study sources is a good idea because everyone covers the same material from a different angle. cbtnuggets at work is great for me too (bosscbt for when i'm home and can actually afford it). cisco press books rock. every blue moon i take a classroom based session (when i can find a deal) and just hope the instructor is good. finally, a lab makes all the difference because you can break it 1,000 times and not cause a client-impacting outage :)
    good luck everyone!
  7. DryPlate

    DryPlate Nibble Poster

    I'd have a serious discussion with my better half about how I need a real, distraction free study time even if it's only for 20-30 minutes. Make sure that you are truly studying and they'll trust you. Also, try and find a way to repay them with a 20-30 minute distraction free time for them to do something. :)

    You've probably already looked at practice exams but I can't recommend them enough. They'll make you comfortable with the exam format and you can find which objective areas you are weak in. Just make sure you are learning the material and not just the question answers. Make sure the question bank is large enough for this.
    Certifications: CompTIA A+, MCDST, Apple Certified Associate
    WIP: CompTIA Network+, MCITP: EDST 7

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