Although I occasionally receive a message or forum post referring to me as a “guru,” nothing could actually be further from the truth. I’m just a regular Joe who struggles to learn new concepts while running a business and raising a family.
I’ve worked with and hired some really smart and talented people I’d refer to as gurus. Many of them found learning advanced IT and networking concepts very easy. One guy I worked with on a network support team read a book on Perl programming in a week and then wrote a script to automatically back up all router and switch configurations for a network running hundreds of such devices!
Coming back to the subject of this post, I’ve taken many exams over the years, CompTIA, Cisco, Microsoft, and beyond. Some of them I’ve failed. It’s never a nice experience, but every experience, both good and bad, has some lessons you can take away. Here’s mine:
1. Failing isn’t terminal
I’ve seen people work themselves into frenzies of anxiety when they have exams looming. The truth is that if you fail, pretty much nothing changes. You still have the same life and opportunities you had when you walked in. While I’m not at the stage of actually enjoying taking exams, I don’t sweat too much over them either.
2. Sometimes exams don’t go your way
I’ve taken exams (especially Cisco) and been asked questions outside of the syllabus. It actually made me pretty angry. I’ve also had simulators crash, making it impossible to pass. I’ve also seen questions with more than one correct answer that tell me to choose one correct answer!
It’s just the way it goes sometimes. If the exam engine broke, then you can make a complaint and ask for your money back. Rebook it and move on.
3. Be over prepared
In my first ever attempt at the Cisco CCNA exam, I’d been studying for months and I just got so sick of it, so I booked the exam. I got my ass kicked and learned a valuable lesson. Just like for your driving test, you want to be that much better than the level they are expecting for the exam.
4. You will never feel ready
This sort of contradicts the last point, but a major issue I’ve seen with many students is that they tell me they never feel ready. So, how do you know you are ready? For the Cisco CCNA and CCNP exams, I tell all students that they need to be able to complete all my labs and challenge labs within the allotted time, without looking at the solutions, AND be able to recite the cram guides from memory, AND be passing all the practice exams with at least 95%.
Once you can do all of these, you are pretty much ready for the real exam.
5. You will always feel like a fraud
For every exam I’ve passed, from police sergeant to my business law degree to Cisco CCNP and beyond, I’ve walked out of the exam having passed but feeling like I’m not up to the job.
I’ve come to realize that this is normal, but more than that, passing the exam means you are ready to apply your knowledge in the real world. You still have to apply what you have learned to the job, but you are now ready to do just that.
6. Passing the exam teaches you how much you still don’t know
If you take the Cisco CCNA as an example, you have touched upon some concepts that form an entire career in their own right, such as network security, wireless, BGP, network design, and so on. Even the coveted CCIE can take you down the routes of wireless, voice, security, etc.
No, I didn’t celebrate failing my exams, but I learned to take the time to pat myself on the back and go out and celebrate with my family. When we worked at Cisco and passed a big exam, we came back from the testing center with cakes and coffee for everyone. The bosses came out and celebrated with us.
You see, barely 5% of the people who start on a course or buy a study guide actually take the exam. The rest quit. If you are one of the 5%, then that makes you a member of a very exclusive club.
Paul Browning is the creator of one of the leading online IT certification websites – www.howtonetwork.com. When not talking about himself in the third person he likes to sleep (but his three young kids won't let him).