Making the most of web-based learning can help you beat your next certification exam
Posted on
October 23, 2023

This feature first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.


Taking an IT or cybersecurity certification exam can be an intimidating prospect, even for tech pros who are fully confident in their skills. For some, an exam feels like a natural way to recount and prove their accumulated knowledge, buttest-taking comfort varies drastically from person to person and plenty of people have difficulty performing under pressure.

It’s perfectly understandable, whether you have been out of school for a long time and never imagined having to take a formal test again, or if you’ve just never found exams to be the place where you were able to shine.Anxiety over having to take a certification exam can, unfortunately, put people off from pursuing even their first IT certification.

Given the proven value of certifications in the job market place, this can translate into walking away from a new job or a promotion. But there is no reason for nervous testers to fear or shy away from the exam.

Today’s online world is home to a host of helpful educational resources and tools that can help get aspiring tech pros and lifelong, self-taught IT gurus alike trained and organized to knock it out of the park on certification exams. Taking a look at the types of training tools and resources that are out there, and getting some insight into ways some recent CompTIA-certified IT pros are succeeding with them, will give you a view into how you can learn the material, understand how to apply it in the field, and bring it all together to demonstrate your expertise on whatever certification exam you plan on taking.

Cert-prep applications to get you ready

Apps that function like games to drill you on a concept, rewarding what you get right, and repeating what you get wrong, are so widespread today that they seem baked into the concept of online learning — whether it’s called “gamification” or not. IT training is no exception.

For CompTIA exams, the gold standard exam prep tool is CertMaster, which allows you to drill yourself on the actual exam objectives, answering scenario questions, defining acronyms, and so on. This sets you up to think like an IT pro and prove that you can do it on the exam. Such tools also have built-in practice exams that provide data on where you can improve to make sure you’ll be confident and ready when it’s time to take the real one.

Training courses for a guided learning experience

Self-paced degree programs from online schools that roll CompTIA certifications into the curriculum, and similar institutions that are specifically focused on getting adult learners certified, require a bit of financial investment. But if you need a more formal structure in how you learn, online IT training courses offer that guidance.

Being able to explore the information in an organized fashion, learning from an experienced instructor, being able to ask questions via chat or Zoom, and having classmates to bounce ideas off of, is the level of attention some tech pros need. Often, practice exams will be part of the experience to help build your testing comfort.

There are also learning utilities that have characteristics of both self-teaching applications and formal instructor-led programs, such as the plethora of courses available on platforms like Udemy that focus on IT concepts.

Online video content to see IT in action

Video sharing platforms like YouTube have become go-to resources for learning all types of skills, from cooking to foreign languages to any number of technological pursuits, so they are naturally a great adjunct to books and online teaching tools as you study for IT certifications.

If you’re practicing swapping out RAM or reseating a cable, watching a video walkthrough of someone doing the same task on the same machine can be incredibly helpful. It can show you what you’re getting and missing, and it allows you to raise new questions to either ask an instructor or answer on your own. From learning fundamentals to honing advanced, emerging concepts, watching video content is a great way to practice your skills and knowledge.

Unique, creative methods of memorization

JoshuaPiper, a professional pianist with a tech background who recently began focusing on a full-time IT career, shared a self-made, creative strategy for translating his self-taught expertise into a mastery of best practices that would let him ace the exam objectives come test time.

Piper recorded himself improvising on his piano while reciting the list of acronyms that would appear on the CompTIA A+ exam. He found that this improved his recall of the material and gave him something to refer back to as he continued studying to keep the acronyms in his memory.

While not everyone can create their own musical accompaniment as a study tool, Piper’s method shows how an injection of personal creativity can make exam prep more engaging and effective. You can come up with your own mnemonics, take notes in different colored text to signify different levels of competence on different questions or find, like Piper did, a completely new way of tying your hobby or passion in with your cert prep to make sure the information sticks.

Studying anywhere and everywhere

For some, using online training applications on a regular schedule or as part of a course is the right path to a high exam score. Not everyone’s mind, however, works like that — nor does everyone’s personal schedule allow it. We live in a world of constant distraction. People have jobs, family commitments, and other responsibilities that can fragment the amount of time they have to focus on a task. If you’re a “distracted learner,” finding those in-between times to squeeze in some studying on an app can be a powerful study strategy.

Five minutes waiting for the bus, 20 minutes on a commute, a weekend morning while the coffee is brewing before the kids wake up, or even a little time spent after getting home from a night out, are all potential slots for running through quizzes on a certification training app. Spending little slivers of time working with and absorbing the information adds up. (Just don’t try to study while you’re driving, or anywhere else where staring at your phone is illegal or dangerous.)

Online and offline strategies combined

New IT pro Carrie Persichitte, who recently moved into IT after more than a decade as an elementary school teacher, combined online learning with a few time-tested study tactics she knew would work for her to pass herCompTIA A+ exam. First, she purchased an online course. Visiting the library a few times a day, with the exam objectives in front of her on the screen, she would make handwritten flash cards to drill herself on the material, returning to the application to test her retention.

As an educator, Persichitte knew her learning style and what would work best for her. Classic study tools like flashcards are easy to overlook, but such analog additions to a study strategy can be excellent for memorizing and understanding IT concepts. Combining offline study methods with online training tools can get you exam-ready and also help you in the workplace. In fact, Persichitte still sometimes refers back to her flashcards if she has anon-the-job question.

Building skills, testing comfort, and workforce readiness

Differences in learning styles, levels of pre-existing IT knowledge, career goals, and life circumstances mean there is no one correct way to get ready for a certification exam. Whether you use a formal training course to guide you, study independently using a number of different applications and resources, or a combination of both, whatever helps you develop and maintain a working knowledge of the technology is the best way to do it.

Then there is the test itself. Using practice solutions likeCertMaster and taking practice exams that show what a given certification exam will be like on test day, will help even the most nervous test-taker be certain that they can approach the test with the right mindset, know what is expected of them, and be primed to succeed.

The benefits of holding IT certifications for demonstrating workplace competence, building on-the-job confidence, and opening employment opportunities are well established. With a world’s worth of helpful training resources — both free and paid — all around, there is no need to be anxious about a certification exam. Start exploring what is out there online and you will find plenty to use to build your skills and prep for the testing experience. From there, you’ll be able to show what you’ve got when you take the exam and use certifications as the foundation of a successful IT career.

About the Author
Matthew Stern

Matthew Stern is a freelance writer who covers information technology and various other topics and industries.

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