Studying: Getting Started

The following is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published e-book "The Insider's Guide to IT Certification," which will contain information to help you to save time and money as you prepare for certification exams. "The Insider's Guide to IT Certification" will be available for purchase on the Web site soon. Stay tuned to UPDATE for announcements about how to get your copy.

Studying for certification exams might seem like a daunting chore. If you're like the many people who are beginning to prepare, you haven't taken an exam in years. The last exam you took was probably in high school or college, and it has been so long that you might have forgotten how to study. Not only are you unfamiliar with the task of studying but you're no longer a full-time student--you now have many other responsibilities that can distract you from preparing for the exam. These obstacles can make it difficult for even the most motivated of individuals to stay on track.

Studying is all about momentum. After you start studying and get into the flow, continuing isn't hard. But because starting can be incredibly difficult, I offer the following advice for those who might be prone to endless procrastination.

  • Do something. At the beginning of your studies, you have to force yourself to take action. Your first step might be something as simple as taking a short practice exam or planning out your home network on paper. These actions will initially seem small and inconsequential, but remember that what you're doing is building momentum. Soon these small actions will build upon themselves and lead to bigger accomplishments. Before you know it, you'll have made significant progress toward your goals.

  • Set aside half an hour each day. If you start small, you can gradually increase the amount of time you spend studying until you're comfortable concentrating for extended periods. Try to develop a routine (e.g., study at the same time of day and in the same place). Don't give yourself any outs. If all else fails, make a deal with yourself that you won't go to bed until you've spent at least a half an hour hitting the books.

  • Do the "fun" stuff first. As you're studying, you're bound to find that you enjoy some things more than others. By all means, do the stuff you enjoy first! Most people start off with the dull tasks to get them out of the way. The problem is that many of those people never make it through the dull stuff and therefore never get to the fun stuff. Remember, your goal is to build momentum. If putting together a home network or taking a practice exam is what fires you up, then go for it. Get yourself into action, and get that momentum working for you.

  • Schedule your exam. Nothing beats an approaching deadline for generating motivation. Most people wait to schedule their exams until they're absolutely ready. Unfortunately, this approach usually leads to endless procrastination as these people put off doing what they need to do to become "absolutely ready." Setting a date forces you to buckle down and prepare. If, as the date approaches, you truly feel that you aren't prepared, you can always reschedule. So don't be afraid to schedule your exam as you start your studies.

  • Assign dates to your goals. Being specific about the goals you set for yourself is one of the best things you can do to avoid procrastination. For instance, rather than setting a goal of "passing the Windows XP Professional Edition exam," state your goal as "passing the XP Pro exam by June 30." You'll be amazed at how much difference a date will make.

If you apply these suggestions, you'll make significant progress toward achieving your goals. The most difficult step is getting started. Indeed, starting to study is at least half the battle. I would bet that the majority of people who consider becoming certified never even begin to study for their exams. So if you've started to study, you're already doing better than average!

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