5 Tips When Studying for an IT Certification Exam

Pursuing an IT certification can lead to an increase in salary, career advancement, or grant you access to your first cyber security career. Here are five tips to consider when studying.

Understand the exam objectives

Certification vendors periodically release updates to their exam learning objectives to keep up with emerging technology, recent threats, and changes to industry regulations. An advantage for candidates when studying for a certification exam is to be familiar with the current exam learning objectives. Before purchasing study materials, be sure you are studying from the current version of the exam’s outline. Reviewing the exam outline allows you to gauge your current knowledge of the learning objectives and review how much each section is weighted on the certification exam. Some retailers still offer previous versions of exam study material, so take time to research the most current version of your exam before making a purchase.

Limit your distractions

Learning a new skill requires focus, and distractions can take our minds away from the information we’re reading or watching. Studying in a quiet place, limiting your access to social media, and having a meal before you study can decrease your chances of becoming distracted while studying. Studying with friends or accountability group can also help limit distractions because they can cause others to also become distracted. Because you will mostly likely see the same foundational topics covered in your future certification exams, being focused when studying can help you grasp information that will save you time when studying for your next exam.

Understand your schedule

Studying for an IT certification will most likely cause adjustments to your daily and weekly routine. A technique to consistently find time to study is by understanding your daily schedule. A recommendation is to write your daily events on a planner along with the time that each events occur. If you work during the day, write down your morning routine before work and after work. You may find that you have time in the morning to study before work or you can move going to the gym to the mornings to free up your afternoon. Finding free time in your schedule allows you to be more committed to studying and focused on your goal of becoming certified.

Study to understand, not to remember

The goal of attaining an IT certification should always be to learn the skills, the credential just makes your skills recognizable. Take the time to understand the learning objectives because the goal of certification should be to become the most knowledgeable and skilled in your field. When studying to understand the exam’s learning objectives beyond the exam, you reduce the risk of committing negligent acts that can expose businesses to IT risk. Employers are assuming your baseline level of knowledge can lower their exposure to cyber threats and can introduce threats themselves by hiring unskilled candidates.

Remember why you started

Before you made the choice to begin studying for IT certifications, you had a motive. A few years ago, I taught a CompTIA Security+ class in Point Loma, California. The client was the US Navy, and I extended an invitation to my Army Reserve Soldiers in California to fill in the remaining seats. One of the soldiers, Robert, expressed to me how is in a temporary position until he can pass the CompTIA Security+ exam. After a week in my Security+ course, he passed the exam with a score of 808. Robert came to class everyday with passion, he was involved during discussions, and always reviewed his missed quiz and homework questions. His story is also a reminder of why I started Cyber Brain Academy.
When I began my IT certification journey, I struggled to learn the concepts of cyber security. The idea of hacking always seemed to be tied to criminal activity and some of what I was learning seemed too theoretical. I was generally a good test taker so I studied with good faith that I can cram before the exam. After two weeks of mildly studying, I failed my first certification exam. I was no longer on paid leave, leaving me with a small savings for rent and bills. Like Robert, I had been in a position where attaining an IT certification was keeping me from my career goals. I decided to take my studying seriously, and after following these five tips I was able to pass my certification exam and begin my career. Studying can become exhaustive but always remember the opportunities that await you once you’re certified.

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About the Author

Victor Nzeata is the Chief Executive Officer of Cyber Brain Academy and has held previous roles such as electrical engineer, software engineer, cyber threat emulation lead, and information systems security manager. In 2016, he became the US Army Reserve’s first graduate from the US Army Cyber School of Excellence and is the first Army Cyber Operations Officer with experience leading electronic warfare missions and combined arms operations in the United States, Asia and the Middle East. Victor is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego, where teaches Secure Systems Architecture to its graduate-level students.

Victor received a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology from Purdue University, a master’s degree in cyber security operations and leadership from the University of San Diego and is a Ph.D. candidate in information security. Victor holds active CompTIA Security+, Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Information Systems Professional, Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer, and Navy Qualified Validator Lvl 3 certifications.

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