Certification – Test Types
There are generally two types of tests. Those which you can go back and look at questions once you’ve answered them (generally paper-based) and those where you cannot (generally practica or “live” tests). Each of these have different strategies to win.
If you are taking a paper test, go through it as fast as you can and answer everything that you KNOW. If you don’t know, skip it. You should be done very quickly. Then, go back through the test and look at the ones that you didn’t know right away. If it’s multiple choice or true/false, find the answers that you KNOW are wrong, and cross those out. You’re not actually answering questions at this point, you’re just eliminating possibilities. Then, go back through and see if you KNOW any of them now that you’ve eliminated the ones that were obviously wrong. This also should not take much time.
By this point, most of the test should be answered, and the good news is that these answers are things that you know are correct, and with absolute certainty. Now you get to actually start thinking about the remaining questions. This will be hard, but you have to keep in mind that you have already answered most of the questions right. It’s OK if the hard questions are hard, just do the best you can. If you’re stuck, try to think of a real-life scenario involving the question and ask what you would do. You can also flip the question around and see what you would do if the situation were reversed. This may make the correct answer more obvious.
If there is an essay component to the test, do NOT just start writing. First, take notes of what you want to say. Then, categorize the notes by putting a letter in front of each key item. Then, within each category, prioritize the importance by putting a number in front of the letter. Then, write an introduction and segue into point 1A. Once you’ve addressed that, go to 2A, to 3A and all the way until you’re done with the As. Then start with 1B. At this point, your essay has become a game of connect the dots, and you can just write until you’re done. Don’t worry about style, the examiner is looking for correct information, not a brilliant expression of ideas.
As computers advance, these tests are becoming more popular. They allow the test to adjust itself to your level. Sometimes this is used to give you challenging questions, sometimes it’s used to drive you into an area that you do not know so well. On tests like this, you have to know the scoring. Keep a mental tally on how you are doing and how much of a penalty you may get by skipping questions. Then, allocate time based on what you need to do the best. It’s often better to take more time on each question than on the paper tests, because of how wrong answers can impact the questions that you get later.
When taking a practicum, you cannot use strategy to manipulate the test system to your advantage. You either solve the problem or you do not. Luckily, there are often multiple problems to solve, so start with the ones that you know best. However, do NOT assume anything. Do not make any changes that you cannot test. Test before a change and then test after, to make sure that your change did what you think. If you have to restart a service, test after the restart, to make sure that your changes persisted. On many systems, it is easy to forget that some changes only affect the running system and are lost on a reboot. (Cisco is tricky this way.)
Also, use proper diagnostics. Test at the boundaries or interface layers. On modern systems, this is often the TCPIP stack, so use tools like netcat and telnet to ensure that the interfaces are responding properly.
Most systems also come with built-in reference documentation. Whether it is a commented configuration file, the documentation that came with the package, or a man/help page, know where to find the information and verify that you understand what you think you do.
Lastly, at the end of a test or scenario, RETEST everything that you’ve done. Make SURE that the problem is solved. It’s much too easy to break one thing when you’re fixing another.