If You Read One Article About Computer Certifications, Read this One

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The Future Of Computer Certification Exams

The format and difficulty of computer certification exams is constantly changing. When I took my first certification exam (Novell NetWare 3.1x CNA, January 1997), there was no such thing as a simulator question, and my practical skills really were not tested. The exams then were much heavier on memorization.

One factor that helped make up for that was that the Novell exams were adaptive. If you missed a question on a particular topic, you would continue to be asked questions about that topic until you got it right. You couldn’t afford to be weak in any topic, because the exam would most likely find that out and keep hitting you with questions on that topic until you failed.

Adding to the stress, after a certain number of questions your exam could end at any time. You had no idea how many questions you would get, just that you would get at least 15. Every time you hit the “next” button after question 15, you didn’t know if you’d get another question or if the exam would suddenly end and give you a pass or fail response.

Times have changed. Cisco has led the way in introducing simulator questions to their exams, where the candidate is presented with a simulation of a router or network and asked to perform tasks that someone who is ready to earn that certification should be able to perform. This is a much better test of competency than the exams were eight years ago.

What will be the next “big jump” in computer certification exams? To earn the world’s most difficult technical certification, the CCIE, the candidate must first pass a rigorous 100-question qualification exam, and must then pass a practical lab exam. The candidate is presented with an exacting set of network requirements and must build that network on a pod of Cisco routers and switches in less than eight hours.

This is just personal opinion and not “insider information”, but I believe the day will come when the CCNA, CCNP, and other Cisco certifications will require some kind of hands-on practical lab to earn the certification. What better way to test competency than to have to perform tasks on real Cisco equipment? There would be more overhead for Cisco with this kind of testing, since lab equipment and lab proctors would be needed, but the already-prized CCNA and CCNP would become that much more valuable in the workplace if employers knew that to earn that certification, the job candidate had to pass a hands-on exam.

This would benefit the candidates as well, since it would do an even better job in protecting their investment in time and money. This could also be the next step in ferretting out candidates who try to get past the CCNA and CCNP exams via braindumps. As I always tell my students and customers, when you’re standing in front of that router or switch, there is no multiple choice … you either know it or you don’t!

Four Tips For Maximum Performance During The Exam

There are plenty of articles out there about how to prepare for a computer certification exam. However, there are also things you can do to increase your chances of success on exam day during the most important part of the entire process — the time that you’re actually taking the test.

I’ve taken many a certification exam over the years, and helped many others prep for theirs. Here are the five things you must do on exam day to maximize your efforts.

1. Show up on time. Yeah, I know everyone says that. The testing center wants you there 30 minutes early. So why do so many candidates show up late, or in a rush? If you have a morning exam appointment, take the traffic into account. If it’s a part of town you don’t normally drive in during rush hour, you might be surprised at how much traffic you have to go through. Plan ahead.

2. Use the headphones. Most candidates in the room with you understand that they should be quiet. Sadly, not all of them do. Smacking gum, mumbling to themselves (loud enough for you to hear, though), and other little noises can really get on your nerves in what is already a pressure situation. In one particular testing center I use, the door to the testing room has one setting: “Slam”.

Luckily, that center also has a headset hanging at every testing station. Call ahead to see if yours does. Some centers have them but don’t leave them at the testing stations. Wearing headphones during the exam is a great way to increase your powers of concentration. They allow you to block out all noise and annoyances, and do what you came to do — pass the exam.

3. Prepare for the “WHAT??” question. No matter how well-prepared you are, there’s going to be one question on any exam that just stuns you. It might be off-topic, in your opinion. It may be a question that would take 20 of your remaining 25 minutes to answer. It might be a question that you don’t even know how to begin answering. Whatever the reason, it’s the question that has you thinking, “WHAT??” I have talked with candidates who got to such a question and were obviously so thrown off that they didn’t do well on any of the remaining questions, either.

There is only one thing to do in this situation: shrug it off. Compare yourself to a major-league pitcher. If he gives up a home run, he can’t dwell on it. He’s got to face another batter. Cornerbacks in football face the same problem. If they give up a long TD pass, they can’t spend the next 20 minutes thinking about it. They have to shrug it off and be ready for the next play.

Don’t worry about getting a perfect score on the exam. Your concern is passing. If you get a question that seems ridiculous, unsolvable, or out of place, forget about it. It’s done. Move on to the next question and nail it.

4. Finish with a flourish. Ten questions from the end of your exam, take a 15-to-30 second break. You can’t walk around the testing room, but you can stand and stretch. By this point in the exam, candidates tend to be a little mentally tired. Maybe you’re still thinking about the “WHAT??” question. Don’t worry about the questions you’ve already answered — they’re done. Take a deep breath, remember why you’re there — to pass this exam — and sit back down and nail the last ten questions to the wall.

Before you know it, your passing score appears on the screen!

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