Training and Certification

Should I Take the Certification Exam Now or Later?

August 14, 2015

Guest Author

You will never feel ready enough to sit for a major exam. There’s no meditation techniques, no set number of study hours, no special answer-all study guide, nothing that will instill the right measure of self-confidence in you necessary to pass an exam.

Law school graduates who study for the bar exam, medical school applicants taking the MCATs, no one, who prepares for one major test has a guaranteed method for success. Don’t tell yourself “if I can study more in the next two weeks” or the “next month” or “six months from now” that I’ll prepare myself more for this exam.

We can conclude one fact about preparing for exams. Certain preparation and study methods may prove successful, but the formula for success is personal. Find methods that work best for you.

There’s No Set Formula for Success

Students training and studying for certification exams here often have a small window to take an exam. The certification test(s), (some certifications require multiple tests and even projects) vary for each vendor. EC-Council’s exams vary from CompTIA. The Microsoft Certification Professional (MCP) exams differ from the test and process for earning a PMP certification.

Not only do the formats differ, the diction within the questions, the types of questions, the difficulty level, all vary. When refering to difficulty level, it does not necessarily relate to your level of knowledge and skills. A major part of passing an exam entails understanding how to actually take and beat the test. This is one of the reasons why all the studying in the world on the subject matter may not prepare you well enough to succeed.

On the Fifth Day…Should You Take the Exam?

The majority of CompTIA, EC-Council, Microsoft, a few Red Hat, and other certification courses last five days. For the first four days you undergo training with an instructor, either in-person or online. On the fifth day, students do last second cramming, ask the instructors questions, and usually take the certification exams. Does this timeframe seem sufficient to prepare for an A+, Network+, CEH, RHCSA, or MCSE exam? No and yes.

The experienced certification test-taker who holds significant background experience in the subject matter may find four days of training more than enough time. The course may serve as a validation of their knowledge or it could officially fill in gaps in their knowledge. If you are an experienced test-taker, preferably with the specific vendor’s exams, then you already have an advantage over those inexperienced with the vendor exams.

Also, our experience at Phoenix TS shows that students who take the exam on the fifth day pass compared to those who put it off for a later date. This depends on the exam so it is imperative to listen to the instructor’s advice on this decision.

Many individuals barely miss passing an exam. They may account for their downfall by saying the exam practice questions were not the same as the actual exam’s questions. Students, specifically the inexperienced test-takers, must understand that practice questions do not necessarily prepare you for the subject matter, but more so for the diction, the type of questions, and the ways in which a simple question may appear initially confusing.  Half the battle requires beating the test.

Do you remember taking the ACT or SAT exams. I knew plenty of students with 4.0 GPAs who didn’t score as well on either exam. Some natural born geniuses may blow the test away while other individuals do not do well with those types of standardized tests.

You must acclimate yourself to the practice questions, but don’t focus too strongly on the actual content of the practice questions. Focusing too much on the questions, even going as far as memorizing them, will set you up for failure. Memorization doesn’t guarantee you will retain the information.

The main point made in this section is that delaying the exam to study more will not necessarily improve your chances at passing the exam. It’s always good practice to take the exam when the material is freshest on your mind. Usually this time falls directly at the conclusion of a full-time training or class. When you dedicate eight hours a day, for four to five days a week to learning the material, this intensive experience will most likely prepare you the best.

Instructors Know Best

Keep in mind, the instructor will have taken and passed the exam. (This is not always the case because you only need a Certified Technical Trainer CTT+ certification to teach) Benefit from their experience. In most cases these instructors will have passed the exam more than once since the exams change and update over the years.

You may require a week or two after the course to prepare yourself on the types of questions, subject matter, and become mentally in the right place, but how should prepare yourself before the training?

Self-Study Before Training

This suggestion produces results, but has caveats too. You may know training will occur on a set date. The best formula for test success lies in creating and sticking to a study schedule. Even if it’s only for three-four hours a week, this makes a difference in preparing for the class and exam. Going into a class with no exposure to the subject matter can kill your momentum and confidence while studying for the exam. Part of this suggestion includes attaining the course material, exam objectives and study materials, and other resources ahead of time. If you pay for your training fully before the class date, we can send the book immediately.

I mentioned earlier the value in an instructor’s test experience. You will not have this before class. Therefore, you may not know the main material to concentrate on or how to prepare for the types of questions. I will reiterate the fact that each exam varies. CompTIA exams are very different than Red Hat tests. (Several, if not all, of the Red Hat certification and expertise exams include tasks and projects to complete. They want to see the newly acquired skills in action)

Instructor experience is top priority since they prepare you by teaching the subject matter, what’s important and what’s less important, and how to prepare for the exam. Skills and knowledge learned in training or through self-study isn’t necessarily going to stick with you immediately. For learners such as myself, I can understand concepts, tools, and other materials, but it takes repetition through practice to truly understand and retain information.

Therefore, a lot of the real learning may come before or after passing the certification exam. You need to accept this potential reality. You need to also accept the fact that each person tests differently separate of their skills and background. The best way to stay positive and focused for an exam is concentrate on readying yourself. 

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