Professional certification is a demanding endeavour for full-time information technology (IT) professionals. It requires time, effort, and resources to prepare for entry-level and advanced IT certification exams. Despite that, numerous tech workers commit themselves to the onerous process of training for and achieving certification.
This is because keeping pace with new technologies and upgrading one's knowledge and skills are crucial for career advancement in the IT industry. Achieving credible entry-level or professional IT credentials is one way of demonstrating current benchmarked expertise in specific technologies and platforms as well as solid commitment to career progression.
Earning in-demand professional credentials can be challenging even for experienced tech pros, because many exams are performance-based. You need comprehensive hands-on experience in the objectives tested on the exam.
If you don't have the opportunity to develop the required practical skills at work, then consider lab training options available from certification providers as well as authorized training partners. Though preparing to get certified alongside a full-time job is arduous, it is possible to make time to earn the credential of your choice with proper planning and strong self-discipline.
To help you plan your time accordingly, we've researched eight tips that can help you fit study around work, family, and other commitments.
1) Schedule an exam date according to the preparation time you would need.
Preparing for a certification exam takes time even for experienced IT professionals. According to an article by Emily Matzelle on the official blog of tech industry association CompTIA, eight weeks is enough to prepare for CompTIA's exams, such as those required for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CompTIA Security+.
For advanced certifications, one would likely need three months or more, depending on the level of difficulty, the number of exams, and how much relevant hands-on experience the candidate has. It's very important that you give yourself enough time to prepare.
The strongest determining factors here are the extent of practical experience you have in the specialization for which you seek certification, the number of exams one must pass, and the level of certification being sought: entry-level, professional, or expert.
2) Decide on the most suitable mode of study.
Once you've determined the time required to prepare, then you need to decide on the most suitable way to study for your exam: self-study or classroom training. This would depend on your timeframe, budget, learning style, and work ethic.
If you're considering the self-study approach, then you need strong self-discipline to make sure you adhere to your study plan. There are a range of self-study options, including study guides, videos, virtual labs, practice tests, and eLearning packages. CompTIA's CertMaster, to cite one example, is designed for candidates who opt to study on their own for the CompTIA A+, Network+, or Security+ certifications.
If you learn better under supervision and have the resources, then instructor-led training is available for CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco, and other in-demand certifications. Certification providers and authorised learning partners offer both traditional instructor-led as well as virtual instructor-led training.
3) Make an appropriate study plan.
Chalking out a plan that suits your busy schedule and sticking to it will help you cover all the exam objectives. Remember to factor in family, work, and other demands while drawing up your plan. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals for the various exam objectives. You need to include hands-on practice and practice tests in your study plan.
It's good practice to review your plan every day if possible, or at least every week in order to keep track of your progress. Once you're confident you've thoroughly grasped a particular objective, cross it off your planner.
4) Organize your preparation.
Getting organized and staying organized is all the more important for working professionals. You have limited time on hand and have to make the best use of it.
Organize your work space so that it's clutter-free and you have enough space for one or two computers — if you need more than one — open books, and other study materials. This will ensure you have quick access to the study material you need. Also, it'll help you work with ease.
Keeping a calendar is part of being organized. You want to identify one that suits you best: printed, mobile, or digital. Once you've selected the right format, then add your study tasks to the calendar.
5) Make optimum use of your study time.
Productivity depends on the way one studies and, for some, on the time of day that one studies. Some of us can focus better in the early hours, some in the afternoon, and others in the evening or late at night. If you work full-time, then morning, evening, and night are the only options. So, you'd want to choose the time that works best for you.
Technique of study is known to have a significant impact on the quality and extent of knowledge one absorbs during exam preparation. There are various techniques and if you haven't identified those that help you learn best, try different techniques and see what works for you.
According to an article by Tony Schwartz in Harvard Business Review, the 'less is more' approach might help you achieve optimum productivity. Mr. Schwartz points to the sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman's observation that our minds keep to a 90-minute cycle — moving from a state of high to low attentiveness — during waking hours. Other researchers call it the ultradian rhythm.
After working intensely for 90 minutes, take a break for a few minutes, and repeat the 90-minute cycle again. You can also try the Pomodoro technique, which involves studying for 25 to 30 minutes, then taking a short 5-minute break, and repeating this cycle a few times, and then taking a longer break.
Other techniques to maximize concentration and retention are the Feynman technique, based on the idea that one can quickly grasp a concept by explaining it in simple language, and mind mapping, a visual learning technique that involves arranging information in a diagram.
Using flashcards is a helpful way to retrieve information. You can try and remember the answer to a question, write it down, and then turn the card over to check.
6) Break complex topics into manageable segments.
This is a helpful way to understand complex concepts. Breaking a topic into small parts and studying one or two sections at a time can enhance understanding of the topic.
7) Minimize distractions.
Limiting distractions is key to ensuring you make the best use of your study time. Request family members not to disturb you unless it's an emergency. It helps to silence your phone, and turn off notifications on your computer and other devices.
8) Get hands-on practice.
If you can't get enough subject-specific hands-on experience at work, it's advisable to get lab training either virtually or in person. Many networking certification candidates set up their own labs at home.
You can't create more hours and seconds for yourself. So the best way to find time for certification preparation is to make maximum use of the time that you already have. Hopefully these eight tips will help you accomplish that. Good luck!