Preparing for Certification Exams

Disclaimer

I’m going to say at least one controversial thing in this post–probably more–so be prepared! As with anything anyone else tries to tell you to apply to your life, take it with a grain of salt.

Everything I say here is my opinion. This is what works for me. I don’t guarantee that it will work for you, but it might. Take what you will away from this article.

Learn

The first is the most obvious. Take time out of your day to learn whatever it is you want to take a test on. Please see my previous article on brain dumps and why not to use them, entitled How to Trivialize a Certification in 10 Days – They’re Called Brain Dumps for a Reason.

Take at least 30 minutes to an hour out of your day to study. If you take more than thirty minutes, I suggest that you study in thirty minute blocks. So if you want to study for an hour each day, then take a 15 minute break in the middle. There are numerous scientific studies that show our ability to absorb information after twenty minutes is significantly reduced. Google them.

I usually try to fit in around two hours per day when I initially learn a topic, so my schedule tends to look like this:

  • Read for Half an Hour
  • Fifteen Minute Break
  • Watch Videos (or Read) for Half an Hour
  • Fifteen Minute Break
  • Pratice Hands-On (or Read) for Half an Hour
  • Fifteen Minute Break
  • Review Information I’ve Already Learned–CUMULATIVE!–for Half an Hour

This means that at the end of every day, I spend the last thirty minutes of every day doing a cumulative review of everything I’ve learned so far. I’m also doing labs for half an hour–if the exam requires any decent amount of hands-on activity. In effect, I am only learning new material for around an hour per day. This is my schedule, and it may not work for you.

Review

Again, this should be expected. After you have learned all of the information, spend time every day reviewing all of it. I generally spend an hour each day at this point, but I typically don’t take the previously recommended break in the middle of reviewing, either. This is because I have already learned the information and really only need to emphasize certain points. With that being said, I still have structure to my review. I still divide my time in half–just without the break between. I spend the first thirty minutes studying a specific subject that I know I was struggling to grasp. The last half of my one hour block is spent doing a cumulative review–typically all of the Q&A from a book or practice tests (NOT BRAIN DUMPS!).

Schedule the Exam

This is one of the most important parts. Schedule your exam! If you don’t schedule it in advance, you’ll never schedule it. You’ll never crack down and really start learning.

When you do schedule it, think about work. Take the before an exam off from work. No excuses, and no reason not to. Also, read the next section about SLEEP and schedule your exam for two hours after you plan to wake up on exam day. If you are more than thirty minutes from the testing site, schedule it out farther than two hours.

Sleep

I want to make a quick point. Sleep is good. We function well on sleep. I would like to make a recommendation to you. On your days off, go to sleep and don’t set an alarm. Record the time that you go to sleep. If you have kids, ask your wife/husband to take care of them until you wake up. Do not let anything interrupt your sleep! When you wake up, it will be natural. Immediately record the time! Now do a little math and find out how long you slept before your body (not outside influences) decided it was recharged.

Repeat the process above on at least three separate occasions (I recommend five). Average the time out. This should give you a decent idea of how much sleep you really need. Remember this number as we’ll be considering it very shortly.

The Day Before

Don’t study. The truth is that if you need to study the day before the exam, then you don’t know the material well enough to take the exam. If you feel you need to study the day before, just reschedule it. There’s no shame in it, but until you are confident that you no longer need to study or review the day before an exam, you are taking too much of a chance.

With that said, don’t watch T.V., either. You don’t want to do anything that is going to fill your head with nonsense. T.V. rots your brain! Engage in constructive–but trivial–activities. Go for a walk. Work out. Spend some time with your family (but don’t watch T.V.). Play a board game. Write. Anything that does not fill your head with new knowledge.

Now is also the time to plan your time before the exam.

Decide when you need to go to sleep to accommodate the previously mentioned “magic sleep number.” If you are thirty minutes or less from the test site, make sure you are awake two hours before your scheduled time while still accommodating that magic number.

For example, my magic number is around 9 – 10 hours. I live fifteen minutes from a test center. I go to sleep at 10PM and wake up at 8AM. I schedule my tests for 0945 – 1000 in the morning.

All of this time, from the moment you go to sleep until you pass the exam, is time for you. Get your significant lover to watch the kids. Before you go to sleep, lay out everything you need for the exam. Clothes, identification, keys, and your breakfast. Make sure your car has gas.

Shower the night before the exam. Eat a large, healthy dinner. Go to sleep.

Exam Day

First and foremost: you want no distractions today. Beg your spouse to take care of the children, the dog–whatever has to be done that cannot wait until you get back.

Wake up. If you drink coffee, go ahead and get your one single cup out of the way. Eat a small breakfast. You definitely do not want things sloshing around and making you sleepy while you’re testing! By the same token, you don’t want to be hungry. Find that happy medium, and eat something halfway decent.

Plan to leave your house at such a time that you can arrive at the testing center a minimum of fifteen minutes early. My center lets me start early, so I typically leave as soon as I’m ready.

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