Certification – How to study
Whatever path you are taking towards certification, you will have to study. Many of you probably haven’t studied since you were in school (and I suspect that some of you didn’t study much then). There are many guides online that teach excellent study habits, so I will just gloss over a few important points.
Test yourself often. Nightly is good, because it fits into a daily review schedule and helps you to focus the next day’s studying. If you are on a longer path, weekly testing may work better.
Know what you know
You must be honest with yourself in this process. If you know something cold, stop studying it and stop testing yourself on it. Make a note to test yourself again in a week. If you still know it cold, test again in two weeks (and so on). That way, you know what you know, which leaves you free to focus on what you do not know. It also reduces the “second guessing panic” that can occur on an actual test.
Know what you do not know
Your honesty must extend to what you do not know. The whole point of studying is to learn something, so there is no shame in missing a test question. Just note that you don’t know that subject well, and study it more before you test yourself again.
Really. They’re awesome. Don’t remember how to do this? Simply take a piece of paper (preferably lined) and draw a line down the middle. On the left hand side write a topic, and on the right, write notes that relate to the topic. As you go, narrow the topics and notes down to a one to one correspondence. In other words, you want to wind up with something like this:
Why Certify? | Improve Understanding
Which Certification? | GIAC
Cost? | $3000 / 300 hours
Value? | High
Study? | Nightly
Test? | Stay Calm
That way, when you are testing yourself, you can cover the right-hand side and run down the column. Every time you get one right, put a mark next to it. Then, after several testing sessions, you will have a good idea what you know and what you do not.
Get index cards, and in one colour, write a question on a side. On the other side, in a different colour, write an answer. Then, when you’re testing yourself, you can quickly flip through the deck, putting the ones you got wrong in a separate pile. Once you’re done, repeat with the wrong pile. Repeat until the separate pile is gone, then start again with the full deck. Repeat until you can go through the whole deck without missing a single question.
Be sure to shuffle, so you do not get used to a pattern and stop thinking about the actual question. If you get the cards mixed up, use the colours to make sure that they’re all oriented correctly.
If you are going after a technical certification, break your system (or better yet, have a friend break it for you). NOTHING teaches you how things work like trying to fix them. If you are going for an admin certification, fix a system. If you’re going for a programming certification, find an open source project in your language and fix some bugs. That will advance your learning faster than anything else you can do.
Give a Talk
Much like breaking things teaches you how things work, talking about what you know makes you know it better. You can stand in front of people and give a formal talk. You can blog about your learning and have a dialogue with people. You can record yourself and podcast or YouTube yourself. It doesn’t matter how, just communicate what you’re doing to others and it will very quickly start making more sense to you.
Have a Plan, Do The Plan
Before you start studying, figure out what “success” looks like. For me, it’s having 100% accuracy on my flash-cards, problem solving sessions, and T-note tests. Others accept lower success rates. Others prefer to learn X new things. Whatever your “success” is, make sure that you have a plan to get there by the time you take your test. Then, once you have a plan, follow it.
A lot of people have trouble following plans because “life gets in the way”. They may play mental games like “I’ll skip tonight’s session and just do two tomorrow” or “I know this stuff, I don’t really have to test myself on it.” I’m going to be blunt here. People are lazy. ALL people are lazy. When you find yourself thinking this way, recognize that your lazy self is trying to take over. DON’T LET IT. Every time you think this way, it is a battle, and every time you cave, you lose the battle. Once you have a pattern of losing the battle, you’ve lost the war.
Know what that makes you? A loser.
Don’t be a loser.
Do NOT Cram
Cramming doesn’t work. All it does is make it less likely that you will sleep well before you take a test. Have a good dinner. Set several alarm clocks, and go to bed early. If you can’t sleep, get up and go for a quick run, then go back to bed. That way, you’ll be rested, energized, and alert before you take your test.