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:
Given a scenario…
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.
As an instructor with over 15 years of classroom training experience, and now as Senior Instructor at LearnKey, I have taken and passed at least 25 different certification tests. I have often been asked what methods I use to prepare for and take these tests. I wanted to take a few minutes to address those questions, as well as offer advice that can help you better prepare for certification tests and make those test-taking experiences positive ones.
What is the best way to prepare for a test?
- Know whether the test is multiple choice, simulation, a combination of these, or other formats. Many certification vendors will indicate what types of questions to expect in the exam.
- Study the objectives from top to bottom and practice the objectives from top to bottom. Get the program you are trying to get certified in (most have trial versions) and install it and practice it.
- Most tests require about an 80% score to pass. For the practice tests you take, make sure you are scoring at 90% or higher. This will give you more breathing room when you take the actual test.
- Take advantage of the times you do feel like studying and if you don’t feel like studying, do something else. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go back and re-read or re-watch study materials because I tried to study when I was not in the mood to do so.
How do I not get so nervous when I take a test?
- For most tests, you are given something to write on. At the beginning of the test, you usually will have about five minutes to read the test tutorial. That tutorial usually takes a minute to read. Use the rest of the time to jot down any last facts, formulas, or concepts you feel are ones about to fall out of your mind.
- Do not worry about the timing of the test. For virtually every certification exam, you have one to two minutes per question. If you have studied well, timing will not be a factor.
- Most tests will let you mark a question for review. Make sure you read the fine print and the “how-tos” at the beginning of a test to make sure you can mark a question for review. Rather than sit on a question for too long, make your best guess, mark it for review, and use your leftover time at the end of the exam to go back and review the questions you have marked.
- You do not need to get 100% on an exam to pass. Any time I take an exam, I fully expect to get stumped on 10% of the questions. You should too. Remember, if you have been getting 90% or higher on the practice tests, guess what? You have 10% of wiggle room to use up. Just make your best guess on the question and move on.
- Many test questions are quite wordy and often much of what is in the question has nothing to do with it. So use what I call the “look up, look down, and look up” method. Look up at the question to get an idea what it is about, look down at the answers to see what they are, and then look up at the question again so you can best match up the question and the answer.
- As you are going through the test, “celebrate” the questions you know you have answered correctly. Now, I am not advocating jumping up and down and yelling “woo-hoo,” as that may be a slight distraction to others taking tests, but put on your best smirk of confidence.
My final tip is this: Have fun with the process of getting certified and consider the certification a reward for all of the hard work you have put into the process.