Test Taking Tips, Part 2: Decoding the Objectives

by Jason - Mar 31, 2016


Hello, everyone! Spring is here, baseball is about to start (which means excitement for some of us and a reason to nap for some of you, I am sure), and here at LearnKey we are finishing up our A+ 220-902 series of courses and ramping up our Office 2016 and Adobe CC 2015 Test Prep series. If you want details of those series, check out what I wrote two weeks ago on the subject.

Today, though, I want to continue a discussion I started months ago, that of test-taking tips. I outlined what I use as a comprehensive plan for preparing for and then taking certification tests. In many discussions with many students, one particular question comes up: How much attention to detail do we have to pay to each test objective?

That question actually has a two-part answer. First of all, you need to pay attention to every objective and every sub-objective. Anything on an objectives list is fair game for a test question, otherwise, the objective would not be listed. Avoid falling into the “I don’t use this so I don’t need to know this” trap. Remember, a certification test is testing your overall knowledge of a program, not what you are going to use the program for on the job. So, study and practice every objective, line-by-line.

The second part of the answer is this: Look for keywords in the objective descriptions and use that as your guide for how detailed you get with your study. To further explain this, here are some phrases we commonly see on test objectives:

Describe…

Given a scenario…

Identify…

Implement…

Install and Configure…

Notice that I’ve only listed the first few words of each type of objective. The reason is simple: first words mean a lot! To break this down further, when you see an objective that starts with “Describe” or “Identify”, yes, you need to practice the concept being covered. But, put your emphasis on the terms and definitions being covered in that area because that is most likely what test questions are going to focus on.

For test objectives which start with “Implement” or “Install and Configure” or something similar, you will definitely need to spend more time on those and be able to do the tasks given. Many of those objective descriptions end up as complicated multiple-choice or simulation questions on tests. Just knowing terms and definitions will not be enough to answer those questions.

For the “Given a scenario” or similarly described objectives, know both terms and definitions and practical application. Those objectives tend to appear on tests in what I like to call real-life or situational questions. So to best study those objectives, get as much hands-on, real-life practice as you can. And when those test questions appear, put yourself in the situation and answer accordingly.

To give you a specific example, the MTA Mobility and Device Fundamentals exam (Exam 98-368) has an objective to describe Active Directory Federation Services. The MCSA Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services exam (Exam 70-412) has an objective to implement Active Directory Federation Services. See the difference? For the MTA tests, which are good starting points for a certification track, knowing concepts will often suffice. However, for the MCSA tests, which are considered a higher level of certification than the MTA certifications, you are expected to be able to implement these concepts, not just describe them.

So the next time you are preparing to get a certification, take some time to do some objective “decoding” on your own. Use the descriptors for each set of objectives as your guide to help you better prepare for your certification tests.



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2016 Courses: Evaluation, Improvement, and Job Readiness

by Jason - Mar 16, 2016


A new year always means a fresh start here at LearnKey and a fresh evaluation of what we do, how we do it, and what we can do to make our courses the best possible courses they can be and, for you, our beloved customers, a rich and interactive learning experience to help you fulfill two main goals: get certified in your area of study and be job-ready in your area of study.

The vast majority of people looking to take online learning courses are looking either for a new career or to improve in their current careers. And, we have made job readiness a major part of what we do in our courses, how we do it, and which courses we do. Again, mastering an area of study is not just about obtaining a certification. It is also about obtaining job-ready skills.

With that comes some course and schedule adjustments. I am happy to tell you that to make these goals of getting as many people certified and job-ready in their careers of choice, we have the following four major tracks we are doing in 2016:

A+ 900 Series

Our A+ 900 series, THE certification for those looking to be certified and job-ready as computer technicians, is our hallmark series for this first quarter of 2016. We have already released the A+ 220-901 series of courses and soon, the 220-902 series of courses will start to roll out. These courses will really help those of you looking to get A+ certified and get you job-ready skills for a computer technician position.

Adobe CC 2015 Test Prep Series

Adobe has a new set of exams out for their CC 2015 series. These exams are different than older Adobe exams in that they are including scenario-based questions. We are constructing a series of test prep courses which, combined with our existing catalog of Adobe courses, will get you job-ready for positions such as photo editor, graphic designer, web designer, video editor, and animation artist. And, these test prep courses will get you ready to gain Adobe Certified Associate CC 2015 certifications.

Office 2016

Last week, I wrote about the new Tell Me feature in Office 2016. Our Office 2016 series will not only help you get your Microsoft Office Specialist certifications, but the series will also help you be job-ready for positions to where Microsoft Office programs need to be well-known. How are we doing this? Well, I can’t give away the details yet, but we will building these courses in a way to where you view these courses through the eyes of employees managing company data using Microsoft Office. A single “company” is going to be used for the entire Office suite of courses, giving you the continuity to see how these Office apps interact, and, further sharpen your job-ready skills.

The LearnKey Programming Track

Programming jobs have been in high demand since I have been in IT. And, with the advent of mobile devices and people needing information in many different ways, programming jobs will continue to be in high demand. So I am very excited to tell you that this fall we will be launching an entire suite of programming courses, from an Introduction to Programming course (something I wish I had when I was learning this stuff) to building web applications to higher-end programming courses. Again, the focus will be getting you (if you want to get into a programming career) the job-ready skills needed to be a successful programmer.

I mentioned earlier that there are schedule adjustments and with adjustments, some programs come aboard (like our new programming track) and some programs ride off into the sunset. And for us, the program we are suspending is our Project Management suite of courses, including PMP, CAPM, and Microsoft Project courses. We do so with the goals in mind I mentioned earlier, to help as wide of an audience as possible reach their certification and career goals. You may notice that the four series of courses I’ve outlined in this blog fit a common theme: they are all series of courses geared toward people looking for a career or looking to improve their current career situations. That is the audience that makes up the vast majority of people who take online learning courses, it is the vast majority of our audience, and these adjustments are going to help us help you fulfill your certification and job-ready goals for 2016.



Microsoft Office 2016’s “Tell Me” Feature

by Jason - Mar 10, 2016


Hello everyone! Office 2016, released last fall, is not a major upgrade over Office 2013, but it does have some nice new features. Over the next few months, this blog space will occasionally introduce a few of those features as we coincide this with our producing an entire suite of Office 2016 courses this summer.

All of our Office 2016 courses will get you ready for both the Microsoft Office Specialist certification for Office 2016 (due out later this year) and, more importantly for many of you, get you job-ready for any position requiring proficiency in Microsoft Office. We will be building courses for Word 2016, Excel 2016, PowerPoint 2016, Outlook 2016, and Access 2016. I am lining up on-camera outfits to color-coordinate with the theme colors of Office as we speak (OK, maybe I’m not but you will have to get the courses to find out).

Anyway, here is a new feature in Office 2016: the “Tell me” feature. This is a big enhancement over the standard help feature as you can click in the “Tell me what you want to do” box. In Excel 2016, it looks just like this:

Tell me what you want to do button

So, you can click in the box and type a phrase for what you want to do. In this example, I typed “add a page break” and look what I got:

Add a page break screenshot

Needless to say, this is a big help in the Help feature (pun intended). Keep checking back for updates on our suite of Office 2016 courses.



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A+ Series Comparison: 800 vs. 900

by Jason - Feb 24, 2016


Hello again, your senior humble instructor, I mean, your humble senior instructor here. With a new A+ series out (and our courses rolling out on this series as I write this), I’ve fielded several questions on the topic of “what is different in the 800 vs. 900 series?” Well, I’m here to help shed some light on that and some other related questions I have been getting lately from students. So, without further ado…

Question #1: What are the major differences between the 800 and 900 series objectives?

Answer: There are three major differences. They are:

  1. Hardware has been de-emphasized. It used to cover 40% of the first exam in the series and now it covers 34% of the first exam. That may not seem like much, but the real de-emphasis comes from CompTIA doing a very good job streamlining hardware topics. No longer do you need to worry about memorizing a type of RAM or CPU that is way out-of-date with current market trends. The same goes for cables, especially when it comes to peripherals.
  2. Mobile devices have far more coverage on both exams than before. In fact, the percentage of questions has doubled on the first exam, from 9% to 18%. In addition, you will want to make sure to practice with mobile devices containing the iOS, Android, and Windows operating systems, paying particular attention to things business people do on these devices, such as configure email and install and uninstall apps.
  3. This is the BIG change: Troubleshooting questions are on BOTH exams now. For years, the majority (if not all of) the troubleshooting questions appeared on the second exam. Now, you can expect about 25-30% of the questions on each exam to cover troubleshooting situations. The 901 exam has hardware and network troubleshooting while the 902 exam has software troubleshooting. And both exams will have questions on troubleshooting mobile devices.

Question #2: Are there simulation questions on the test?

Answer: Indeed there are. The good news is our courses, workbooks, and post-assessment tests will help you get ready to take on those simulation questions. As I always say, practice makes perfect. The more you practice concepts such as determining what computer one needs given a set of requirements, setting up small networks (wired and wireless), working with command prompt commands, and performing Windows installations and repairs, the better-equipped you will be for these exams.

Question #3: If I passed the 801 test, can I take the 902 test and have my A+ certification?

Answer: NO! The 800 series and 900 series are different. To be A+ certified, you either need to pass both the 801 and 802 exams or pass the 901 and 902 exams. Of course, I would recommend the 900 series as the objectives are a far better fit for today’s A+ technician compared to, say, four years ago.

By the way, the 800 series will be retired in June. So if you are halfway there, you have (as of this writing) about four months to finish the 800 series certification. If you have not started, I would go with the 900 series.

Here is my final observation: From having passed both tests recently, I can tell you that troubleshooting as a whole is far more emphasized than in previous series. When you get a troubleshooting question, be the person in the question trying to solve the problem. And then think “what would I do here?” This will make answering those questions more natural than just trying to guess an answer.



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CompTIA 900 Series: At the Doorstep

by Jason - Feb 11, 2016


Hello, everyone! I come to you today with some exciting news. Over the next month, we are going to start rolling out the A+ 900 series of courses (220-901 and 220-902 to be exact). To cover the two exams, we have split the overall course into two series of courses, one for each exam.

My co-worker and Mr. Multitasker himself, Brad Washburn, interviewed me while we were filming this course a while back. Back then, I knew the answers to most, but not all of the course questions. For instance, I was asked how long this series is: Well, I have some numbers for you: The 220-901 course will cover the four domains on the 220-901 exam:

  • Hardware
  • Networking
  • Mobile Devices
  • Troubleshooting Hardware and Networking

This course will include roughly eight hours of instruction, several hundred pre-assessment and post-assessment practice test questions, and a workbook consisting of over 150 pages of practice exercises, all geared toward not only sharpening the job skills typical for an A+ technician, but, more importantly, getting you ready to pass the 220-901 exam.

Soon after we release the 220-901 course, we will start rolling out the 220-902 course. The 220-902 course covers these five domains:

  • Windows Operating Systems
  • Other Operating Systems
  • Security
  • Software Troubleshooting
  • Operational Procedures

This course has much more in the way of hands-on software installation and configuration, so the course contains about 15 hours of video instruction. The course will also contain several hundred pre-assessment and post-assessment practice test questions, and a workbook containing over 200 pages of practice exercises, again with the intent of sharpening your job skills and getting you ready to pass the 220-902 exam.

Speaking of exams, the 900 series of exams was recently released. So, as part of our ensuring that we are covering the material in a manner to best prepare you to become A+ certified, I went and took both exams (it was my second go-around with A+, having obtained my first A+ certification several years ago). The test questions mapped very well to the test objectives, as is the norm with CompTIA exams. There were both multiple choice and simulation questions on the exam. By simulation questions I specifically mean that you are presented with something that needs configuring. Many of our post-assessment practice questions are labs which simulate possible test scenarios.

So with that, I have five big exam tips for you:

  • Go through the objectives for each exam thoroughly. Every exercise in our project workbooks clearly map to one or more test objectives. Know these objectives well.
  • For anything software-related, such as installing operating systems, repairing operating systems, configuring a wireless router through a web interface, or working with the command prompt, get some practice. Having hands-on practice is key to your success on the exam.
  • On the test itself, take the time to thoroughly read the question before choosing an answer. One or two words in a question can totally affect the correct answer for the question. You have slightly over one minute per question. Believe me when I say that is plenty of time per question. So, take your time.
  • Again, on the test itself, when you read a question, put yourself in the situation as if you were the technician trying to solve whatever problem the question is asking. This is especially true for troubleshooting questions, which make up about 30% of each exam.
  • Finally, we present this material in the way in which CompTIA says things should be done. Know those methods for the test. Though we do have a lot of detail in the video portions of the course, take the time to go through the project workbooks as they will have even more details regarding what CompTIA holds as standards and methods for an A+ technician.

With that, I’m going to get back to helping put the finishing touches on these courses. In the meantime watch this space for further updates. Have a nice day!



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LearnKey’s Introduction to Programming Concepts: Computer Programming for Beginners

by Jason - Feb 05, 2016


Hello everyone! Do you believe it’s February already? That just means spring is close and I’m closer to dusting off my golf clubs. But, that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here to tell you a little anecdote: A little over 15 years ago, I wanted to learn programming. So, what did I do? I bought several Introduction to Programming books (yes, real books where you turn pages) and got going on it.

Unfortunately, that plan did not work too well. Many of these books just jumped right into a programming language and code with no introduction to programming concepts. I felt like someone was showing me all of the nuts and bolts for car engine parts without explaining the parts themselves. So, it was quite a struggle.

Eventually, I got the hang of things but then, when presented with the idea of teaching some of these courses, I knew I would need to take a different approach to teaching this world of programming than the approach I took to learn programming.

Which brings me to a course we at LearnKey are excited to present later this spring: an Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming course! Most of our courses are geared toward a specific concept and a specific certification. This course will not be one of them. This course is going to be a short but informative introduction to what you need to know about basic programming concepts before you try to tackle a programming language and all of the code that comes with it. This course will not focus on any language in particular. Rather, we will focus on basic programming concepts, such as objects, classes, and an introduction to code syntax. In other words, we are going to explain the engine and its parts before showing all of the nuts and bolts.

This course will be the first in a new programming series we are debuting this summer. The details of this program for programming (pun intended) will be coming in the next several weeks. But for anyone who wants to learn programming, this will serve as an excellent starting point. And, for those of you looking for a programming-related career, there are always plenty of job postings for people who can program.

So stay tuned, because soon enough spring will be here and soon after that, so will this Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming course!



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MTA Cloud Fundamentals: Coming This Spring

by Jason - Feb 01, 2016


Hello everyone! Here at LearnKey we are making our final push for the A+ 2015 (the 900 series with exams 220-901 and 220-902, for those of you who live and breathe exam numbers) but, hey, everyone needs a break! I’m taking some time to tell you about a course you will see from us this spring: Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Cloud Fundamentals.

Earlier this month, I mentioned a triple dose of MTA courses we are presenting in 2016: MTA Mobility and Device Fundamentals, which we have released; MTA HTML5 Fundamentals; and this MTA Cloud Fundamentals course.

So what is meant by Cloud Fundamentals? To get a better understanding of this, let’s go back in time, circa the early 2000s, with a network administrator at a business with, let’s just say 100 employees or so. Here is what a typical workload looked like:

  • Install Microsoft Office, using the Office CD, whenever someone needed it (or share the installation somewhere and hoped the semi-slow network behaved during an install).
  • Manage the on-premises Windows servers, Exchange servers for email, and any applications servers, like SQL servers.
  • If someone wanted a new applications server, the administrator may have been able to virtualize it, but often a new server meant an expensive new physical server and the installation and configuration processes (usually late at night) to get the server up and running.
  • Network administrators did not have these things we call mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, to manage.

Fast forward the time machine back to today and let’s look at the same-sized business. With cloud computing, how are those administrative tasks done? Let’s take a look:

  • Office needs to be installed? No problem. A user can log into Office 365 and download and install the latest version of Office.
  • Servers? Maybe there are one or two physical ones on-premises, but, Windows servers can be hosted online, in the cloud. Exchange? Set that up as a cloud service and administer it that way.
  • Does someone need a new applications server? No problem. A network administrator can log into Microsoft Azure, provision a new applications server, and have it running in less than an hour.

Oh, and those mobile devices? Well, surely a network administrator wouldn’t just let any device on the network. So a network administrator can use Microsoft Intune, a cloud-based service, to set up policies to manage how mobile devices will connect to and interact with the business network.

So, we can say that on a very high level, cloud fundamentals involves learning how to manage a network that is mostly subscription-based for services rather than having everything on the company premises. With that, there are five main topics on the 98-369 exam:

  • Understanding the cloud
  • Enabling Microsoft cloud services
  • Administering Office 365 and Microsoft Intune
  • Using and configuring Microsoft cloud services
  • Supporting cloud users

In this upcoming Cloud Fundamentals course, we will thoroughly cover all five topics as they relate to the 98-369 exam. We will do this through video-based instruction, pre-assessment and post-assessment tests to sharpen your test-taking skills, and a project workbook which will further enhance your Cloud Fundamentals skill set.

We look forward to bringing you yet another course in the MTA series. Best of luck to all of you in this or whatever certifications and career paths you pursue.



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New Year, New Course | Cisco Network Security Fundamentals (210-260)

by Jason - Jan 25, 2016


Hello, everyone! Being a baseball fan I always look forward to hearing those magic words of “pitchers and catchers report” as spring training starts just about a month from now.

And, with a new year, many companies update their lineup of certifications. Here is one: the Cisco Certified Network Associate Security (CCNA Security) certification has a new exam, Exam 210-260: Implementing Cisco Network Security. So, with that new exam, LearnKey is working on a new course to cover this exam.

This exam covers seven main Cisco network security topics:

  • Security Concepts
  • Secure Access
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
  • Secure Routing and Switching
  • Cisco Firewall Technologies
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  • Content and Endpoint Security

As with many Cisco certifications, this certification has a prerequisite: a valid Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician certification, or a valid CCNA Routing and Switching certification, or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification.

This upcoming course will include instructor-based video training, exam tips, and plenty of pre-assessment and post-assessment practice test questions to help you obtain your CCNA Security certification.



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A Triple Dose of MTA

by Jason - Jan 08, 2016


Hello everyone, and from my desk at LearnKey to yours, a very Happy New Year! Now, with a new year comes new ideas, new challenges, and here at LearnKey, new courses. One series of courses we are focused on for the early part of 2016 is the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) series of certifications. An MTA certification is a great way to gain an entry-level Microsoft certification and put you ahead of others in this ever-increasing competitive world of IT positions.

To start the year, we have just released the MTA Mobility and Device Fundamentals (Exam 98-368) course. This course covers using Windows on multiple devices with the primary focus being the Surface family of tablets. But, trust me when I say you do not need a Surface tablet to take this course. Any laptop or tablet running Windows 8.1 will do. In addition, you will learn about tools administrators use to host these devices, both corporate and personal, in a corporate environment.

Another MTA course coming early in 2016 is the MTA Cloud Fundamentals (Exam 98-369) course. This course will show you how to enable and manage Microsoft cloud services, administer Office 365, administer Microsoft Intune, and support cloud users.

Both of these courses and certifications represent the growing IT industry concept of people-centric rather than device-centric computing. It was not that long ago that most employees in a corporation had one device, either a desktop or a laptop. And, their data was kept either on that device or on a network server. Fast forward to 2016.

Now, most employees view data on many devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Some of these devices are company-issued, and some are personally owned devices. With that, data needs to be more accessible both from inside and outside a company network. This is where the cloud storage and cloud environment features have come to the forefront of data management. So, having both the Mobility and Device Fundamentals and Cloud Fundamentals certifications will show that you are keeping up with the times.

The third MTA course we will be releasing early in 2016 is the MTA HTML5 Fundamentals (Exam 98-375) course. This course will cover building HTML5-based apps using HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and JavaScript.

All three of these courses will contain several hours of video-based instruction, a robust workbook full of hands-on exercises, and pre-assessment and post-assessment tests that are geared specifically to ready you for these MTA exams.

So, if you are looking for a first goal of 2016, why not make that goal an MTA certification? Good luck with all you set out to do in 2016.



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Adobe Exam Changes Part 2 – Knowing More Than Just the Program

by Jason - Dec 17, 2015


Hello everyone! Not long ago, I shared with you some changes Adobe is making to their suite of Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) exams.

So, to get a first-hand look at the new exam format, I went and took the Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 exam for Windows. Now, mind you, it’s been :::covering my mouth::: years since I last took an Adobe exam, but I wanted to see what these new “scenarios” on the Adobe exams were all about. Plus, I had seen and heard some chatter from online forums and the like about how vastly different this exam is compared to previous Adobe exams. Given that part of my role as senior instructor here is to make sure we stay on top of exam changes, I took the plunge and took the exam.

And, yes, the exam has changed. But, the changes, in my humble opinion, were not drastic. I say that because though some questions look a little different, and yes, there are scenarios to go through, the core of any certification exam is still present. And that core is: Know the objectives and know ALL of the objectives!

Here is an example: Let’s look at the first domain of the Adobe Photoshop ACA 2015 objectives:

Domain 1.0 Setting Project Requirements
1.1 Identify the purpose, audience, and audience needs for preparing images.
1.2 Demonstrate knowledge of standard copyright rules for images and image use.
1.3 Demonstrate knowledge of project management tasks and responsibilities.
1.4 Communicate with others (such as peers and clients) about design plans.

Now, this is taken straight from the exam objectives as published on Adobe’s website. Someone studying Photoshop might be so focused on Photoshop that this domain just gets glossed over. And then, when a project question comes up on the test, the first thought is “uh-oh” or something worse.

And, with the scenario-based questions becoming a part of the Adobe exams, take a wild guess what types of questions are parts of these scenarios? I’ll give you a hint: Domain one. Besides, in order to be a Photoshop expert, shouldn’t one know what to do with meeting audience needs and know about copyrights and be able to work with others (like clients) on projects?

My point is, just knowing a program forward and backward is not enough to have a valid certification. For Microsoft Project, you need to know how a project manager operates, not just how to read a cost report. For Microsoft Access, you need to know how to structure a database, not just know how to change a field to a long date format. For Windows Server, you need to be able to design a server solution, not just know how to set up DHCP.

And, for the Photoshop ACA certification, you need to know how a Photoshop project is managed start to finish, not just how to change colors on someone’s shirt using a nondestructive method (yes, you need to know that, too).

So, resist the temptation to just ignore or gloss over test objectives that are not directly related to the program you are studying. In doing so, you will have a much better chance of passing an exam and, you will be a start-to-finish expert in the area you are certified in, not just a I-can-do-this-in-the-program person.



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