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The Art of Passing Certification Tests

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imageBy Marcel Ribas, Instructor and Brand Advocate at Avnet Academy

Have you ever taken a Professional Certification Test? I have taken quite a few, some generic ones and many Microsoft and IBM tests. My impression is that they all look the same, and regardless of the technology, they have many things in common.

I took my first Microsoft test in 1996 and my first Lotus test in 1998. Many formats were attempted but the old multiple-choice format has stood the test of time and is still the preferred for IBM. I am going to share some of my practices when taking a test, some are superstitions; others actually help.

Preparing for the Test

Of course the most valuable resource to prepare for a certification test is the actual practical experience with the products. However in the real world, we don’t use 100% of the features in the software. Therefore we need to study (and hopefully try out) the things we haven’t used yet. IBM has pages for each of their certification tests. In these pages, you will find the following tabs: Overview, Objectives, Test Preparation, and a Sample/Assessment Test.

There you will find all the information you need, all the topics covered and links to material you need to study. In the Sample/Assessment Test tab you will even find a link to an exam simulation, with questions just like the real test – in fact, a few of those questions are repeated in the real test. I strongly recommend taking that assessment test before going to the real test. It’s an extra $30 but well worth it.

Taking the Test

To take one of these tests, you go to the test vendor site and schedule it. They have facilities across the world. Recently IBM has switched vendors for their tests, going from Prometric to VUE. I plan to take my first VUE test next week, but I am expecting it to be very similar to Prometric. IBM tests usually cost around $200 to take.

When you get to the vendor site, you are asked to leave all your belongings (sometimes even your watch) in a locker of some sort, and you go into a quiet room with just a computer with the test, a marker and some sheets to make notes. These days those sheets are slates that are erased after you finish the test.

The test starts and you are given the amount of time you have, the number of questions and the percentage of correct answers you need to pass. Right there I use the slate and calculate how many questions I have to get right – or better: how many questions I can miss. I can also calculate how much time I have per question. It’s usually not much, like a minute and a half.

With those two numbers, you should be able to control your pace. In an ideal world, you’d be able to answer all questions, then go back and review every one of them. But there will always be areas of the exam that you don’t exactly master. The tendency is to get stuck on those – don’t. Two reasons:

1. You don’t have to score 100%. In my 15+ years of consulting and teaching, the score of an individual in a certification test never mattered – unless you want to give your colleague a hard time, saying you scored higher than her/him. You will never lose a job or a project because you “only” scored 80% on a certification test. Your employer, your client and IBM only care if you’re certified or not.

2. There’s a limited amount of time to go through the exam. If people get stuck in difficult questions, they end up not having time to properly answer all the questions. You need to understand that although they are all multiple choice, there are several types of questions. For example, there are objective questions with just one possible answer, there are objective questions with more than one possible answer, there are code questions, where you are required to examine pieces of code, and there are scenario questions, where a situation is given and you need to choose the appropriate course of action. The time that it takes for you to answer a scenario question might be enough to answer 5 or more objective questions.

My approach is the following: I read each question. If I can answer it real quickly, say 20-30 seconds, I take a shot. If not, I go to the next one. The scenario questions are usually longer, so they are good candidates to be left to the end. You can also manually mark each question for review. Say you answered it but you’re not 100% sure and would like to review it later. That usually allows me to go through the entire test in about 30-45 minutes. When you get to the end, you’re presented with a list of questions and markers saying which ones are incomplete or marked for review. At this point, I count the number of incomplete/marked for review questions and compare it to the numbers I calculated in the beginning. If the number of questions for review is close to the number of questions I can miss, I get confident, because the rest of the time I have is now gravy. I will be able to evaluate each of the difficult questions, hopefully get a few correct, and pass the test. Now if the number of incomplete/review questions is too high, this unfortunately means that I didn’t prepare enough for the test. I can still pass, making educated guesses, but if it happens, it was with a decent amount of help from luck.

After you’re satisfied with your answers, hit the End button and cross your fingers. Those 5 seconds waiting for the results are the longest ever. They show you two bars: one representing the threshold you need to hit to pass, the other representing your performance. If your bar is longer than the threshold, you are home free. It can either be a feeling of joy, relief and success, or a feeling of defeat, waste of time and money. You really don’t want to feel the latter. And it feels really good to pass one of those tests. So make sure you prepare well and have a strategy. I hope this post helps you do that.

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At IBM Connect 2014, you will have the chance to take some Certification Tests for free! All the Collaboration certification exams will be available for conference attendees at no cost. If you have never taken one, this is the perfect opportunity to get used to the system. Furthermore, Avnet will be sponsoring Certification Prep Labs, where you will have access to the Assessment Exams and Class Materials also for free. And there’s more: Avnet will also be hosting a few Exam Cram sessions for those who are looking to take the tests soon. Don’t miss this opportunity to prove your knowledge and get a few certifications under your belt.

Also, see Avnet Academy for more info on our Authorized IBM Training.

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