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IT Certifications: What's Right for Me?

  • February 28, 2003
  • By Steve Rowe
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Time and Funding Considerations

Whether you are new to IT or you have been in the field for some time, you need to be aware of time commitments and funding issues related to pursuing certification. Before jumping into study for one exam or for a full certification course, such as the MCSE, be sure you understand the time you will need for study and exam preparation. This amount of time will vary among people and among the types of certifications you will pursue. For instance, to gain a MCP certification from Microsoft you only need to pass one exam where completing the entire MCSE certification you must pass seven exams. Also, you may require more time to study and prepare if you are relatively new to IT versus a certification candidate who is a seasoned IT professional who has IT fundamentals well understood.

The second item you must strongly plan for and consider is the funding of the certification program you are pursuing. Depending on the method of study you choose to follow, you could be looking at a cost of several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars invested. If you choose to attend classes at training centers specializing in IT training, you will face prices of approximately $800 to $2,500 dollars per class for instructor-led training. This instructor-led training can easily total approximately $5,000 to $10,000 (or more) for larger certifications, like the MCSE. Some training companies can beat the higher prices by offering blended learning solutions that use computer based training (CBT), Web based training (WBT), and possibly some instructor led training. If you choose to follow the path of using study guides, you can reduce costs significantly. However, you will not have access to trainers who can answer questions or a community of peers found within a classroom setting. The exams you take also cost money. Exam prices can range from $125 to as high as $450 depending on the exam you take. Be sure to check the Web sites for VUE Testing or Sylvan Prometric to stay current on exam prices for the test or tests you are looking to take. Sometimes the exam's vendor or supporting organization can give you specific exam prices as well.

To obtain funding, some training centers and technical colleges have financing possibilities set up within their organizations. Others have working relationships with financial institutions, such as Sallie Mae, to help you fund your training. You may also work for a group that will fund your training or offer tuition reimbursement assistance for training as well. There certainly are ways to fund your training ventures, so be sure to check all avenues to find the method that helps keep your costs to a minimum.

Best Practices for Study and Testing

As you deliberate the many considerations of your certification venture, be sure to seriously consider how you learn best. As you just learned, training and exams can be very expensive. So, be sure you don't pay for a lot of training only to find out that you don't learn as well in a classroom setting primarily made of lecture and labs. Do you prefer to learn by doing? You would be considered a kinesthetic learner, and computer based labs and training might be good for you along with instructor-led training with lots of labs. Are you an auditory learner who prefers to hear material as the best way to learn? You might work best in an instructor-led class. Maybe you learn visually. Books, labs, and instructor-led training may all fit your tastes. Lastly, don't forget to look for online communities and support groups designed for the certification you are pursuing. These can be handy outlets for questions and support in times you need answers.

If cost is a major concern for your training, find the most economic way to learn but tailor your experiences to best fit your needs. For example, you may only be able to afford books and practice exam software for study. If you are an auditory learner, find a quite place and read aloud to yourself. If you are kinesthetic, try to get trial versions of the software you are testing on or sample pieces of the hardware you are studying that you can manipulate and work with as you read. If you are a visual learner, make graphs, charts, outlines, etc. of the material you are reading.

Above you have been introduced to study resources such as instructor-led training, CBT and WBT, as well as study books. One resource you will want to absolutely find and use is a practice exam engine. You will want to find some practice exam software that will challenge your knowledge and help acclimate you to a testing environment. Many use test engines from PrepLogic, Transcender, and from other smaller test engine creators. Make sure the questions are challenging, that you are provided plenty of feedback for incorrect answers, and that you get a breakdown of the areas you are strong and weak in. Once you are able to pass practice exams with regularity, you can be confident that you are most likely ready to tackle the real exam.

When you are ready to take the exams you have long studied for, you will need to call an exam center to setup a time to go in and take the exam. Typically, IT certifications are offered through VUE Testing Centers and/or Sylvan Prometric Testing Centers. Contact one of these testing companies to set a place and time to take your exam. Typically, you need to sign up at least one day in advanced; I recommend more time if possible. Also, be sure to find out about any cancellation policies from these groups in case you need to cancel your exam. Once you have signed up for an exam, you will have selected a place near you to take the exam. Show up on the day of the exam at least 15 minutes ahead of time so you can gather your thoughts, use the facilities, and prepare your mind for the exam. You will be led to the exam room and, in many cases, the only items you will be allowed to have in the exam room are a writing utensil and a blank sheet of paper. Most exams are heavily monitored either by camera or an exam proctor. If you have further questions about the exam environment, I suggest you call the test center you will be attending and ask further questions or ask for a tour if possible. The more comfortable you are with the environment you will be testing in, the better you will concentrate during the exam.





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