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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guidelines on how to pass any examination or test

Guidelines on how to pass any examination or test
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Guidelines on how to pass any examination or test

So many pros prepare to fail, rather than to succeed. This article by Joe Phillips shows you how to stop sabotaging yourself and how to prepare for success every time. Quit taking exams and start passing them! Joseph Phillips writes a weekly column on professional certification for InformIT. 

If you're like most people, you dread taking exams. For some, the thought of an exam is enough to send them into a panic attack. Why do we dread exams? Ok, there's the issue of what your peers and employers are going to say if you don't pass. And there's all the time you've invested when you could have been watching reruns of Fantasy Island. The real problem isn't taking the exam; it's preparing to pass the exam.

Prepare Yourself for Success

I've got a buddy who prepares himself for failure. He doesn't believe it, but it's true. How does he do it? He'll tell himself over and over that he is not good at taking exams. By the time he starts the exam, his brain has been conditioned that it's okay for him to fail because he's not good at taking exams. The moral? Tell yourself that you are good at passing exams. When you register, don't register for an exam—register to pass an exam. I deeply believe that preparing yourself to pass an exam is different from preparing yourself to take an exam.

Your first step in preparing for success is to set a deadline. Not a wavering deadline, either. Pick up the phone, call the testing center, and set a concrete date to pass the exam. Even if the date is three months away, you know it's there, it's real, and you're moving toward it.

How (and What) Do I Study?

So many people ask me what they should study to pass exam so-and-so. I want to scream out, "Well, duh! They already tell you what to study!" Gasp! They do? Yeah, vendors are more than happy to give the exam objectives from their Web sites. I don't know of any vendor offering exams that won't tell you what you'll be tested on. Get the objectives and study them.

First off, study every single day at exactly the same time. When I prepare, every day I study at the same time that coincides with the exam start time. When I study, I alternate the length of my study time: two hours one day, four hours the next. In the long sessions, I'm working with the product; in the short sessions, I'm reading and taking notes.

One of the most effective tools you can use to learn new material is flashcards. I love flashcards. Get yourself five hundred or so three-by-five cards, and write a term on one side and the definition on the other. Don't buy any premade cards; the process of creating the cards is part of the study method. Buzz through the cards daily, and you'll be well on your way. Things your can do with flashcards: keep score, see how many cards you can get correct before you miss one, and play Jeopardy with them by using the definition instead of the term.

So many folks out there invest hundreds of dollars in books to prep for exams, but fail to use them properly. Huh? That's right: They only read them; they don't use them. To use a book to study for an IT exam, you need to create a lab so you can work with the product. Practically every book written for an IT exam has step-by-step exercises for you to complete.

You really need to create a typical environment on a computer that will simulate the product being used in the real world. For example, for the Windows 2000 exams, I created a lab with four networked PCs acting as Windows 2000 Servers, 2000 Pro, and Windows 98 clients. This little lab allows me to simulate a working environment for different operating systems, server-to-server communication, and client-server processes.

After your lab is created, get out the test objectives you downloaded from the vendor's Web page. In your lab, walk through each objective, and create different scenarios for each objective. Use your reading material to guide you through a couple of labs; you can then take over and play "what if?" games with each objective.

Work with Others

I am not a big fan of study groups. The reason why is every study group I've been in has either been to flirt with girls or out of desperation because I hadn't prepared for an upcoming test. The problem was that most everyone else was there for the same thing, and I accomplished nothing.

What I have become a fan of is a testing group. Here's how it works: Gather a maximum of five test-takers who can meet every week. Each of you will create and bring 20 exam-like questions that deal with only two to three objectives to each meeting. Work your way through each of the questions as a group, using any reference materials or the technology being tested to prove or disprove answers.

Another angle on working with others that I've had mixed success with is having members of your group take turns delivering a thirty-minute lesson on a particular objective. This can reinforce your understanding of an issue, and create a sense of responsibility to know the information thoroughly prior to delivery.

In your lab, it can be helpful (and less lonely) to invite a partner to work with you through different exercises on each objective. I wouldn't recommend more than one partner, though, because too many folks have a tendency to screw around rather than work on a specific objective.

Last-Minute Efforts

The night before your exam can be a stressful, sleepless night. I recommend that you take a nice, long walk or jog. Exercise can reduce stress and help you sleep.

As far as studying goes, I always study my usual amount. If I'm using a practice exam as part of my studying efforts, I may crank through one or two practice tests. Generally, I don't do anything out of the ordinary—just study, feel confident, and try to get plenty of sleep.

When it's exam time, arrive at the testing center early. In fact, I get there an hour early, and whip through my flashcards and notes one last time. With 15 minutes until launch, I have a big stretch, use the "facilities," and check in for the exam. When you're in the testing room, roll your shoulders, pop your knuckles, breathe deeply—use whatever trick you can to ease yourself and relax.

As you probably know, the testing center will provide paper and pencils for your usage after you're in the exam room. Take advantage of those few extra minutes in the exam room to jot down any facts or acronyms on a sheet of paper, and set it aside for fast access during the exam.

Another trick, if you know the exam is multiple-choice, write down "ABCD" 20 or 30 times on another sheet of paper. Now, when you get to a question you're stumped on, you can use deductive reasoning and process of elimination to find a suitable answer.

For example, if you know that A and D cannot be correct answers on a question, mark out A and D on your scratch sheet of paper. Now you have a 50-50 chance of finding the correct answer. If you still can't determine which of the remaining answers are correct, go ahead and choose one of the possible correct answers. Never leave a question blank—it's counted as incorrect. If your exam allows you to, mark the question for later review.

Microsoft exams have a tendency to be long-winded, wordy, and just plain evasive. The trick is to read the question in full so you've got an idea of what the objective is. Then reread the question, and filter out some of the red herrings. Finally, concentrate on the meat of the question itself, and look for clues such as singular versus plural wording, hints within the answers, and answers that favor the exam vendor over the competition (think Microsoft versus Novell).

Updated on Mar 1, 2011 by Salvatore Desiano (Version 2)

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IMG_0901 rec logo.jpg - on Mar 1, 2011 by Salvatore Desiano (Version 1)

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