How to Pass IT Certification Exams

I have been working as an IT Consultant for over 16 years and over that time I have taken many IT Certification exams. Unfortunately, without these certifications it can be very easy for IT Agencies, Companies and Recruiters to pass over your CV when applying for a position even if you have the experience. This post will provide some tips on how to pass these exams so you can include these certifications on your CV.

When I was young I used to hate taken exams. I can remember having a conversation with my Biology A Level teacher walking back from church (It was a boarding school and this was compulsory every morning!!!)

Myself: In the mock exam, I used a blue biro when it said answer the questions with a black biro, does it matter?
Teacher: Not in your case as you will probably fail anyway!!!
Myself: Hmmmmmmmm, I am going to prove you wrong.

That one conversation changed my life, I dropped out from the 1st XI cricket team in the summer and concentrated on my studies. In the end I managed to get a B for my “A Level” Biology and another B for “A Level” Geography. There were only three out of the eleven in the class that actually passed the Biology A Level so it got me thinking about whether it was the attitude of the teacher that was the problem and not myself :-). When I left Boarding School I had the grades to go to Exeter University to complete a Combined Honours Bachelor’s degree and then on to Southampton University to complete a Master’s degree

As an IT Consultant I generally get some months when I am out of work and I use this time to bring by certifications up to date. I prefer to be able to study uninterrupted for an exam rather than trying to study in the evenings and weekends after a long day or week at work. I suggest that this is a good way to pass exams quickly. The receptionist where I take the exams is impressed my the amount of exams I can get through this way but it is not always that impressive. By using available resources, good study habits and general common sense when taking exams anybody can ace these certification exams!!!

Here are my tips.

1) Use many different resources when studying for exams. I use a mixture of online training, books and websites. CBT Nuggets and TrainSignal are now providing yearly online subscriptions to their entire training courses which is a great starting point.
2) These same online providers can provide some mock exams. These can be useful for testing your current understanding of the subject. Use the mock exam poviders recommended by Microsoft, VMWare and Citrix like Transcender, MeasureUp and Kaplan Self Test. These can focus your attention on areas that you are unsure about.
3) Enjoy the exam taking process. Use the experience to test your knowledge of the subject and pat yourself on the back when you pass. If available use the “Second Shot” offers from Microsoft. This will take the pressure off as you can retake the exam for free if you fail. See
4) Most of the exams are relatively easy as you are already given the answer(s). You just need to use a method to highlight the correct answer when you are unsure.
5) Read the questions, then read the answers and then read the question again before answering the question. You will be surprised how many times the answer will just jump out at you as you remember something you have read during your studies.
6) Read the questions carefully. One word in the question can completely change the answer. Look for such words as “Standalone” “Best Method” “Remote” “Local” “No Access” “Before” “Minimal Settings” “Least Permission” etc.
7) Look for “Key Words” in the question. Sometimes these same “Key Words” will appear in the answer but be careful as this is not always the case as sometimes they are just “Red Herrings” to catch you out.
8) Isolate the wrong answers. You will be amazed how quickly you can eliminate possible answers down to 2 within 30 seconds. There will always be one or two answers that will just make you laugh as they just make no sense!!! If you are still unsure it is better to have a 50% chance of choosing the right answer than a 25% chance. This can make the difference between a pass and fail.
9) Use your knowledge of other technologies to help you if you are stuck. You will be amazed how many questions are the same when you take the vSphere\Hyper-V\XenServer exams e.g all Hosts will need to be put into “Maintenance Mode” or equivalent when upgrading patches and the VMs moved off onto other hosts.
10) Don’t rush the exams. You will have plenty of time. “Mark” the questions you are unsure about as you can (depending on the exam) come back to them later. Another question in the exam may give you the answer to any problematic questions!!
11) Go with you gut instinct. Most of the time your first choice will be correct and changing the answer later will be a mistake.
12) When reading through books, manuals and articles put yourself in the shoes of the examiners and ask yourself….would this make a good question for an exam?
13) For Drag and Drop questions look for proceedures that have 3-5 steps when studying. If asked Drag and Drop questions during an exam look at the options…e.g. you need to create something before it can be assigned!!
14) Look out for answers that contain features that you have never seen or heard of before. Most of the time they can be ignored and they are just put in to catch you out…Unless of course they are correct 🙂
15) Using Microsoft Press Books to pass exams can be a hit or miss affair. Some have been really good but others leave alot to be desired. They do however provide links to lots of articles which can be useful. I used to like the old Novell Exam Manuals. You were guaranteed that the answer to any questions could be found within the manual. When I left some microsoft exams I looked in the Microsoft Press Books and the answers to questions were nowhere to be found!!!
16) Don’t give up if you fail an exam. I can remember a Microsoft Infrastructure Exam that I failed. I had just taken a couple of exams for the Windows 2003 MCSE and found them straight forward so thought this would be the same. I hadn’t really studied properly for it but thought I would easily pass. How wrong I was!!! The next time I studied properly and managed to pass. I have never looked back since and used that exam as a learning experience.
17) Last but not least. Use the Exam Preparation Guides produced by Microsoft, Citrix and VMWare, They will give you an idea of which areas to study.

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To help you with passing exams I will try and put together a list of resources I used on some of the exams that I have recently passed

Have fun and good luck in your exams!!!

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