99.9% of the readers of my study guides and members of my training website are very happy. Barely a day goes by without seeing a positive review posted on Amazon or having an “I’ve passed my exam” thread posted on one of my forums.
Passing any IT exams requires discipline, dedication, persistence and consistency. Either for a few days for easy exams such as the Microsoft MTA Operating Systems or 18-24 months for the Cisco CCIE. For these reasons I respect anyone who passes an IT exam because I know they put the work in and made sacrifices.
The other part of the battle, of course, is learning how to answer questions in the way vendors want you to; finding out what they presume you already know about IT and networking before you even take the exam as well as applying your knowledge to the exam questions while the clock counts down before your very eyes.
In my experience since starting out in IT in June 2000 is that 80% of those who start out studying for an IT certification quit. Some are faced with work, health or family challenges and others simply aren’t prepared to put the effort it and would rather watch TV.
Of those who take the actual exam, the international rates for failure sit at around 50%. You can break that down into insufficient preparation, running out of time, exam nerves, misunderstanding questions or even bad luck such as getting a bank of really hard or ambiguous questions. I swear I was once in an exam, and Cisco gave me five possible answers to a question all of which were wrong!
One particular bugbear is vendors reserving the right to ask questions not included in the exam syllabus. Cisco is in my experience the worst offender. I’ve been given an EIGRP routing question in a CCNP Switching exam. Why would they do that? They’ve also asked me the name of the person who created a routing protocol. Why is the relevant?
“Please note that the questions may test on, but will not be limited to, the topics described in the bulleted text.” From Microsoft.com
“The following topics are general guidelines for the content likely to be included on the 200-120 CCNA exam. However, other related topics may also appear on any specific delivery of the exam.” From Cisco.com
But if you want to play their game you have to play by their rules.
If you take the Cisco CCNA exam, for example, Cisco presumes you already have 18 months hands-on experience AND have at least CompTIA Network+ level understanding of TCP/IP and networking protocols and services. This is why I’m often bemused to get a bad review on Amazon when the exam taker was clearly a novice aiming far too high far too soon.
Onto my point. It’s pretty rare, but sometimes I get sent an angry message from a reader or member who has failed their exam. They are outraged that a question came up in the exam not covered in my book. Here is a message I receive recently from a student who narrowly failed the Microsoft Sharepoint exam:
“I just took the MS cert 77-419 and failed. I was tested on Schema, Search settings and Search results, which I didn't know the difference; None of those subjects were mentioned in the videos. I was also tested on how to find out where someone works in SharePoint. There was also a question on MySites that wasn't even discussed/mentioned in the video. The vids & tests are good, but NOT good enough to PASS. I know that the instr mentioned looking over the material, but he didn't go over it in the vid. That's a cop out.”
I’d be angry if I failed an exam but I wouldn’t be looking for somebody to blame (unless their training materials really sucked). I dropped the course instructor a note but after some research, we found that most of the above WAS included in our course. I also checked the exam syllabus on the Microsoft website, and they had made a small addition to the topics tested since the course had launched. They had even included links to Technet articles explaining how the technology works.
We actually worked out that the student would have had to get 12 questions wrong in order to fail the exam. We tried to help the guy, but he eventually became abusive and quit the website.
So here’s the rub. As per the exam description, the vendors usually set the exam for people already doing the job, not for newbies. Even though most of us use the exam pass to get the job. They also tell us that they might add subjects not listed in the syllabus (as mentioned previously).
When preparing courses or study guides, I always refer to the vendor material. It’s a big money maker for them, so they rarely tell you a new course is coming out until they have the book ready to launch, and they usually give their own authors the inside scoop on what to include.
To cut a long story short:
- Check the syllabus before taking the exam
- Get as much exposure to the technology as possible
- Use more than one study resource
- Refer to any vendor manuals if they have them
- Take any online practice exams they offer
- Expect to be asked subjects not included in any book or syllabus
What do you think?