Prepare for certification success! Save yourself from being overwhelmed. Learn proven strategies our students use to get ready for an industry certification and succeed.
Have you read the details of our post Industry Certification Explained? Are you curious about how to successfully earn certifications too? Guiding students in our workforce programs through the certification process, I have learned tips that lead to success. Most students who achieved certification have the same prep strategies in common.
The Formula for Certification Success
- Know Yourself and Take Care of Yourself
- Create a Plan
- Stay Accountable
- Use Multiple Resources
- Study Often
- Envision your Success and Have Fun
Know Yourself, and Take Care of Yourself
When working toward a goal, it is important that you approach the process with self-reflection. You should know what supports your personal success, or inhibits it.
Self-Reflection Question to Ask: How do I learn best?
Play to your strengths. Utilize study methods that support how you gather and retain information. The way we learn is as unique as we are. Consider these type of study strategies:
- Watch videos and take illustrative notes to help with recall (Visual learner)
- Listen to competency topics on certification podcasts (Auditory learner)
- Read certification guides and take notes to help with recall (Tactile learner)
- Find a certification-based game, like the National Cyber League (NCL) to participate in, or use a Test Prep app (Kinesthetic learner)
Once you know how you learn best, ask yourself a few questions about your environment.
Self-Reflection Questions to Ask: When, where, and how long am I most productive?
If you are not a night owl, do not plan to study late in the evening. If you hate early mornings that is not a good fit either! Define where you will study and stick to this space when possible. If you cannot focus in a messy space, organize your study area (but do not get distracted elsewhere, procrasticleaning is real.) Eat a healthy snack before your study session to fight off another potential distraction. If studying at home turns into an uphill battle for your attention, make a plan for where and when you will prep. If you cannot make it to your favorite study space, consider using earplugs, noise canceling headphones, or playing low-volume instrumental music.
The key is to figure out what works best for your life, attention span, obligations, and schedule. Determine when you will take breaks and set a timer to ensure you do. Most students I surveyed set study sessions for themselves that were between 30 to 90-minutes long, but almost never longer.
Some exams are over three hours long and do not allow for scheduled breaks. It is difficult for even the best-prepared candidate to thrive when tired and hungry. So, please, do not forget to meet your basic needs during this process:
- Get Enough Sleep
- Hydrate Yourself
- Feed Yourself Properly
- Take Breaks
- Move Your Body Regularly
Create a Plan
Next commit to an exam date, and keep it. Having a set test date helped many of testers stay engaged and motivated. Students who do not choose an exam date, but want to pursue certification, rarely take the next step. Develop a 30-day study plan in a physical or online planner, and work backwards from your exam date.
Visit your certification vendor’s website and download a copy of the official certification competencies. These lists include all topics you might be questioned on during your exam, and typically remind you of any vocabulary or acronyms unique to the certification you are pursuing.
Here are three separate strategies to begin the study process:
- What percentage of the exam is focused on X competency area? Begin with the larger percentage sections, to ensure you spend enough time covering them. Most exam competencies are not weighted equally; therefore, being strong in the larger areas is important.
- What areas am I least familiar with? Begin here, because you may need to revisit them more often until you know these areas well.
- Find a topic that interests you and begin there to gain momentum for your study session.
Pre-plan what competencies you will focus on, when, and for how long. Build in buffer-time. In reality, we do not work as well under pressure. Procrastination causes anxiety! Make use of practice exam questions to check your understanding of the material.
Many of us need deadlines and accountability to be successful and achieve our goals. Seek a support system at the beginning of the process, not the end. How do you meet expectations? Do you need an accountability partner? Choose a friend, a family member, or a weekly appointment with a Learning Resources Tutor. How about a social media post to family, or an alarm for a reminder? Choose someone or something that will keep you accountable.
Use Multiple Resources
“The reason for this is that it gives you fresh perspective and exposure to different wording in test questions.” Jacob Leffew, Oracle Certified Associate Java Programmer
Our next strategy focuses on resources. It is not uncommon for our students to arrive on exam day with no further preparation than their knowledge from the classroom. Our 8-week modmester courses cannot cover the same depth of competency areas you will experience on a certification exam. Certifications are not only knowledge based, but also closely examine your practical skills. They test your ability to understand a topic, perform an action, and provide a solution or result.
Resources to Guide Your Certification Success:
- Reread relevant chapters in your textbooks
- Reference multiple exam prep guides
- Take several practice exams to test your knowledge regularly
After surveying a group of students who got certified, nearly all of them spent more than 20 hours preparing. Many spent over 30 hours. Some study more frequently the week leading up to their exam, and some found they were productive with 2-3 hour study sessions. They all have persistence and discipline in common. If you create a 30-day study plan, and commit to 90-minute preparation sessions, you will only need to schedule 20 days of focused study. You will find other times to sneak in small study-sessions, too. CompTIA A+ Tutor, Bill Wantling, found low-cost apps with practice questions helpful when he had limited time, and access to only his phone. Repetition and review is essential.
Envision your Success and Have Fun
Mastering your mindset is key. Let go of your fear of being unsuccessful and focus on how you will feel when you earn your certification. What will you do once you are certified? For most of our students, they start planning for their next certification. Do the work now and be steadfast in your process of preparing to certify. You will be better equipped for each new certification opportunity and more importantly, your career.
If you have set yourself up properly, there is little need to “cram,” just before the exam.
With this in mind, student, German Hall, Certified Ethical Hacker, recommends planning a fun activity the day before your exam. It is time to relax and envision your success. You are almost there – do something non-certification related and be present in the moment. This will help lower your anxiety as your exam appointment grows near.
With these certification success strategies in mind, I hope you feel less overwhelmed when you begin to approach your study for an industry certification.
Did you already #GetCertifiedSPC and use a tactic I didn’t discuss? Share your experience with other students in the comment section below!
Need more information about industry certifications? Contact Julia Meyer, Certification Testing Coordinator.