How do YOU study for certification tests?


Don’t get me wrong.  I was a decent student.  I got by with average grades, got into college, all was well.  However, ask my mother and she’ll confirm; I did not have any study skills! Where she said she always had to study for hours to get good passing grades, it was always a bit frustrating that I was the type that skated by, never having to study much to do well enough.

As a wise old forty-three year old, I realize that the point of her telling me about her struggles and my contentment with being passable was a lesson in “what could your grades be if you actually tried”.  They probably would have been pretty great!  But back then, I was hellbent on going to school for Music, and I applied myself to that.  It showed to. I was good at it! But, being a musician didn’t necessarily help with my study skills.  Except for now, when It dawns on me that I could have worked at hard at studying as I did with practicing my Tuba and well….

That was then, this is now!

Here in the modern era, I’m not much of a certification guy.  I earned my jobs early on with a hard work ethic and a good knowledge base, plus I learned quite well on the job. I just never really saw the point in dumping a lot of time and money into certifications. If I was happy with my lot in career-life, and the company wasn’t going to give me more money for it, why bother!  Which is probably part of the reason I spent seventeen years in the same humdrum position. It’s definitely the reason that here twenty five years after I graduated high school, I still don’t really know how to study effectively.

These days, my view on certifications and learning have changed greatly, as I detailed in the last post that went up.  I’m really excited in this new position and I’m really excited to learn everything I can for the position.  It happens to turn out that with this new job, I also do not feel content to settle. I want to excel at it.  I want to grow at it.  I want to become the center of knowledge, and maybe excellence, of both my team and my department. These are goals that are definitely reachable here in the next few years, but; I really don’t know the best way to study.

My starting tactic since my move to the world of Security Engineering has been to read everything I can, cover to cover.  This does work.  But it’s a lot of data to absorb and after reading some of John Sonmez’s “10 Tips to Learning”, I fear I may be overloading myself with a lot of minutia that I really don’t need to know.  The practical side of me thinks different though. Years of working on the front lines of tech support have taught me that sometimes when things go awry, it’s that very minutia that is going to trip you up.  Plus, when studying for technical certifications, I can never stop worrying about the fact that they’re definitely going to ask you about some tiny jumper setting that was buried in page 537 of the Administrators Guide, just to make sure you’re paying attention. Really, I can’t stop worrying that I’m studying right material.

It’s safe to say, my best option moving forward may be to just get out of my own head and studying however I feel like it, and stop worrying about the details.  Which is probably a great idea.  I’m glad that I, the notorious non-study guy, came up with it.

For now, I lean on the tried and true skills that I used to enlist when I did bother back in my high school days.  Read the chapter. Take the notes. Press ahead. Review the notes. Move on. I’m a big pen and paper notebook kind of guy.  I feel very strongly that the tactile practice of writing things down by hand helps to cement that data to my memory.  It’s my very own write-to-disk function. I’ve even started opening up to the idea of writing down my questions in an effort to clarify what exactly I don’t understand, which some times helps me actually understand. You may have noticed above in this very post, just by writing it out, I’ve started making connections of my own to help me look at things in a new light!

So now, as I slowly start to untangle this web of uncertainty from my own brain, I pose this question to you fellow career techies out there:  How do you study for tests, new tools and industry standards?  What method works best for you to shake off those fears and 2nd guesses that start to creep in when your mind starts to inevitably question if what you’re doing is actually the correct thing to be doing? 

I’m telling you friends, as somebody who left college in ’96, the idea of taking tests again is pretty damn daunting!