Studying for an exam comes with angst, but studying for technical exams, well it comes with its own special challenges in many ways. It is an animal, if you will, passing certifications. To earn the RHCA (Red Hat Certified Architect) designation, you have to complete a total of seven Red Hat exams. Needless to say, there will be a lot of studying involved, so when you need to study for an IT exam, there is a five-step process:
- Start early. Maybe your employer comes to you and says you need to become an RHCSA, for example, by the first of the year. Don’t wait. Start early. The sooner the better. You don’t want to try and cram your studying into the last week before you take an exam. It’s just too much information. You may have an employer for example that is requiring that you take an exam to become certified in an area in which you are working in or will be working in. They may say you have three months to prepare and take an exam. Don’t let any time waste. Start preparing for the exam now.
- Find out how much time you can dedicate to studying. Look at your work schedule and your family schedule. Schedule your exam far enough out so you have time to study and truly prepare. Study three hours for every one hour of material that you learn. If you are preparing for a 40-hour course that you are using to prepare for the exam, that comes out to about 120 hours to get ready. If you have a family or say two jobs, it may take you a lot longer, but if you can focus and do some deep work, you can get ready. Monday through Friday, study maybe one hour a night at the end of the day. This does not mean you should have a book in your hand while you are watching TV or listening to something or doing to things at once. You should be focused and solely studying, whether reading a book or doing a video course for that one hour.
On Saturday, dedicate eight hours to studying. Most people have a five-day work week, so you have two days off. On Saturday, treat it like another day and take eight hours, hit the labs, and fire-up the virtual machines. Shut the world out and study so you can learn and master the material and on Sunday, you take the day off to rest or spend that quality time with family or friends. This is 13 hours a week, so if you need to study for an exam that has 120 hours of study material associated with it, then you need about 10 weeks or 2.5 months to prepare. If you need to pass it sooner then you will have to add more time to your study plan. It’s all about time management. Understand that life happens and you may have to miss some study time, but realize when you have to take the exam will be pushed back.
- You need to set priorities. You need to prioritize your material. If you are strong in one area and weak in another, you need to focus in on the area you’re weak on. Don’t focus on reading the entire book for example if you’re already comfortable with half of it. Focus in on the areas where you are weak. If you don’t know where you are weak, that’s where practice exams really help. Most Linux Academy courses come with practice exams, labs, quizzes; which is amazing, but there are also vendors like MeasureUp, TestOut, etc. that provide practice exams. The point is to practice to get a solid understanding of the things you need to work on. Prioritize and do not try to tackle all the information at once.
- Choose a study style. Figure out what works best for you. Maybe reading a book works for you or watching videos or maybe even a combination of books and videos. When taking a technical exam, likely hands-on will be the best study style for you. When doing a lab, firing up virtual machines or configuring some software is where the information sticks in your mind. Repetition equals retention. The more it is repeated, the more muscle memory occurs. Spend your time in the area where you get the most benefit from it.
- Stick to your study plan. When you come up with a study plan, stick to it. If you say you are going to study for one hour, stick to that hour. A lot of things can distract you. If you miss one day, study two hours the next day to make it up. A lot of people stop studying because they are distracted and they keep putting off studying. The information then escapes out of their head and they end up having to start over. This tend will likely demotivate you. Linux Academy has a course scheduler feature where you can plan out your study time each day and week, and receive email reminders when it’s time to study!
When you start studying for an exam, schedule the exam. If you are studying with no date set, it is easy to keep pushing the intended date back and further back until months have passed. Keep in mind that exams are frequently updated, so if you are studying for an exam and you keep procrastinating, an exam might retire and you have to start all over. Stay focused, stay on track and get certified!