Getting started with Certification exams

One of the common questions I get asked is: “I am interested in a certification; from where do I start?”. Answer maybe obvious for a seasoned exam taker. However, for a beginner it could be really confusing. So, if you’re interested in preparing for a certification exam, I will give you some easy steps to get you started. 

Before we start, I will assume you have done your research and chosen the certification exam you want to commit to. This is very important. Make sure the cert you’re about to take align with your career goals.  

Where to begin? 

Best place to start is the exam provider’s official home page. This may sound obvious, but official pages can provide valuable information such as, certifications overview and if there are any mandatory pre-requisites that have to be met before taking the exam.  

Most exam providers also provide exam map or blue-print on their official web sites. If you have one of these for your exam, download and keep it for later. You will need this later when making your study plan.  

You may also find official or recommended study materials for your exam on these official pages. However, in my experience this is not the best option and usually you can often find better courses. 

Choosing Study Material  

Next step is to find good study material. It is very important to find good study material that suits your learning style. It doesn’t matter if your study material has many hours of content if it’s not presented well or put you to sleep! So, from where can you find good courses? The best place to start is the community recommendations. Do some research online (community forums, blogs etc.), and you will able to find courses recommended by those who have already passed those exams. Once you have a recommended list of courses, next step is to check free samples of those courses to make sure it suits your needs. You should never underestimate the talent of a good teacher. The ability to teach something complex in a simple manner is a rare talent.  

Another thing you should consider is in what media your course material is delivered. In the past books were the recommended study material for certification exams. However, in the last few years this has been over taken by Video Tutorials. Of course, Video tutorials provide that multi-media experience that makes you feel like you’re in a real class-room. Another major advantage is that unlike books, content creators can quickly update and add new content to the video tutorials. However, for exams such as CISSP that has lot of content, books are still the preferred primary study material. Because you can read much faster than normal listening speed. 

Make a study plan 

Now that you have your course material selected and ready, the final step is to make a good study plan and commit to it. Remember the exam blue print you downloaded earlier? Now it’s time to review it and find out which topics/domains you should mostly focus on.  You should spend most of your study time on most important sections. Try to arrange short study sessions frequently instead of having long study sessions few days a week. If you like me to go into full detail on how to make a study plan, please comment on the section below.  

Hope these tips will help you to get started on your first certification. Best of luck. 

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