How to Pass a Certification Exam

Author: Quinn Heiner, MCSD
The value of certification exams is certainly a strong debate that rages on; however, certification exams for established technologies by reputable companies can certainly add value both to your skillsets and to your organization. Having put in many long hours toward passing (and even failing) a few certification exams myself over the course of my career, I offer these five suggestions for how you can prepare for and pass your next cert:

  1. Invest a considerable amount of time studying.  There really are no shortcuts to passing an exam (short of committing fraud, of course, but that doesn’t do anybody any good and damages integrity).  Whether you’re an expert in the subject or just a beginner, you will always need to invest a considerable amount of time studying and preparing.  The actual man hours depends on several factors (your level of experience, difficulty of the exam, etc.), but can be anywhere from 30-100 hours for most.  Always err on the side of over-preparing, because even if you easily pass as a result, you will still have learned a lot of valuable information throughout your journey.

  3. Diversify your exam prep resources.  For me, I always utilize multiple study resources, including (but not limited to):
  4. – Official exam reference books,
    Reputable blog posts and forums
    Pluralsight courses (these are also the best trainings out there for practical applications of the test material),
    – Official practice exams,
    – Study groups
    Always make sure your exam prep resources are ethical (no brain dump sites!), reputable, and effectively cover the exam objectives.  See if your company will work with you on possible reimbursement for these resources.

  5. Set S.M.A.R.T goals throughout. S.M.A.R.T stands for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and with a timeline.  Have a game plan in place for what/when you want to study.  I usually will divide out all of my resources into daily or weekly chunks of material to get through and stick to a set study schedule.  It also helps to schedule the exam in advance in order to force you to keep a steady pace.

  7. Know the exam format.  Aside from the obvious of knowing what material will be covered on the exam, knowing how that material will be presented will give you a better idea of what you’re up against.  Many tests, for example, will have a set number of questions with a time limit, and a mixture of drag ‘n drop, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and case studies.  

  9. Don’t get discouraged if you fail.  I have failed exams in the past, but it was a great learning experience, and it helped me get a better idea of what to focus on as I re-study for a retake.  Besides, you have nothing to lose by at least trying, since the knowledge gained can lead to accelerated career growth down the road.

Author: Quinn Heiner, MCSD