Being an IT professional means I need to stay current with technology. The trick is you can’t stay current with everything. You can be someone who has general knowledge about a lot of things, but you also need to have specializations. In the IT field, being the go-to person for a few different topics is a good thing. Many times, we are required to demonstrate our proficiencies by passing certification exams. In general, IT certification exams are difficult. While there are some exceptions, if all the exams were easy then certifications would be worthless. Each certification has its own requirements. For some, you are required to pass more than one exam. Other certifications can be done in one test, while others require a class.
Over the past year, I have had to renew or upgrade certifications from Microsoft, Citrix, and other product lines. The exams I have taken were challenging to say the least. Studying for them was even more challenging.
Here is what I do to prepare for the exams:
- Read. Read the online manuals and get a book as a study guide. Reading about the topic is where I get the majority of my information. Once I have read about it, I can utilize the product hands-on.
- Build a test lab. Nothing will prepare you for the exams better than experience. For both Microsoft and Citrix, I built a test lab utilizing virtualization technology. In some cases, it was the virtualization technology I was studying for. The virtualization host for my lab was my laptop. The laptop has a four core processor, 16GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. As long as I pick and choose which VMs I have on at one time, this has proved to be more than enough resources. In fact, I have used VMWare ESX, XenServer, and Server 2012 Hyper-V at different times on this one host. When studying for Citrix, I utilized XenServer. For my VCP exams, I installed VMWare ESX. For Microsoft, I used Hyper-V on Server 2012. At one time, I even used Windows 8 on a desktop PC for my hypervisor when I needed my laptop for something else.
- Gather information on the exam topic. When the requirement is one exam for the certification, there can be a lot of topics crammed into one test. I have actually found it easier to study for certifications that have multiple exams when the topics are spread out. Going to the provider’s site and looking up the exam will give you a list of topics on the exam. Both Microsoft and Citrix give you a lot of information on what their exams encompass. Blogs and articles on the web will help narrow things down even further.
- Install and configure the products in a lab environment. This is one place to get your hands on experience. Installing the product and configuring will cover many of the questions on the topic. Next, create scenarios where you are using the product. For instance, to study for DNS on the Microsoft exams, I installed a domain controller which automatically installs DNS. I then created another server that I just installed DNS on. I practiced replication tasks between the DNS servers and performed other operations that were listed in the exam material.
- Review online tutorials and training videos. This one might be a little more difficult to do because it can be expensive. I utilized an account on Pluralsight to watch courses related to the exams. Using my labs, I followed along and performed the tasks that were done in the training video. If you cannot use something like Pluralsight, check out YouTube.com.
- On-the-job experience. Utilizing the technology at work really makes me familiar with a product and is probably the best way to get to know a product line. I did not put this higher on the list because job experience covers most of what will be covered, but it could never covers all the topics on an exam. However, I have yet to find a product where every feature or every facet of a feature is utilized in any environment. For those features and even the ones I have utilized, I still need the other methods to become more familiar with the product.
My study methods may not work for everyone, but I think they’ll help. Find what works best for you. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. And good luck on your next certification!
Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant
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