Let’s admit it: Even with all the best study resources in the world, taking a certification exam can be nerve wracking and full of unknowns. Add on to that the pressure to pass a test that you are paying to take, and the motivation to pass the first time becomes real. To help you answer all the peripheral “what ifs” of passing a technology certification exam, we asked some experts—and learners who’ve actually taken and passed the test themselves—for insights into how to get ready and nail your exam on the first try. These insights are curated from a free panel webinar hosted by cloud development consultant and Pluralsight author David Tucker titled “Live study session: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner."
Focus on foundational certifications first, especially if you don’t know where to start
Within AWS, for example, you have four different levels of certifications—foundational, associate, professional and speciality—but that foundational level is really the stepping stone to get you into the next level of certification. Starting with the foundational certification (especially if you are coming into the exam from a non-technical background) is often the best choice, because the higher-level exams are usually additive to that “base” exam; the information that you learn at the foundational level there will help you whether you just need a wide breadth of generalist skills in the cloud, or if you eventually want go deeper into a specialization such as machine learning or security.
Take advantage of the official exam page supplied by the vendor
Whether you’re getting a certification through AWS, Microsoft, Google or another organization, there will be an official exam page you will have free access to. Not only is this the portal you will eventually go to when you’re ready to schedule an exam, but these pages are a great place to start for initial resources as you’re preparing to study, including:
- A list of concepts and topics the exam is going to cover
- Sample questions from the exam
- An exam guide (which is actually what third-party instructors typically use to prepare their own exam prep content and curriculum for learners)
- And exam prerequisites
If you are taking a foundational-level exam for one of the big three cloud providers, don’t let prerequisites requiring six months to a year of experience with the platform scare you away; there are numerous resources available for getting up to speed quickly.
Explore a guided learning Path on Pluralsight
Pluralsight Paths are curated lists of courses focused on a specific topic, which becomes useful for technology certification prep where the learning objectives are relatively concrete (compared, to say, learning a new programming language) and tied to specific domains from the exam. In addition to courses, certification Paths on Pluralsight also provide other study resources. For example, if you’re studying for the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam, its Path will include:
- Services lists, with simply worded descriptions of what each service does
- Services quizzes, which mimic flashcards to help you learn the names of each service
- Guided notes, which help you absorb and capture information in away that will help you retain the most important information
- Learning scenarios, which give you a deeper understanding of a problem than even exam questions would do
These extra resources—especially the guided notes and services lists—are intended as tools you can use offline to help you study right up until the moment you are going to take your exam.
Write down acronyms you don’t understand, and look them up
Half the battle of preparing for a certifications is memorizing the dozens of unique names and acronyms vendors use to describe their services, and the effort required for remembering them all can be overwhelming and exhausting. In addition to using services lists to help you study, break up your time into discrete study chunks each day so you can be methodical about learning terms, and write down any unfamiliar acronyms you come across during the course of study as a note to yourself to look them up at the end of your study session that day.
Miscellaneous tips and trips for preparing for your certification exam
“You can’t go over the material too many times. I also kept my notes and study materials from when I was preparing to take the exam, because they’re good reference documents to go back to in the workplace.”
– Andrew Porteous, premium support manager, Broadcom
“Have a schedule and stick to it. I studied for my certification exam on an accelerated timeline while on furlough, so I set aside 4-hour blocks where I was able to study, making sure to also give myself rest days where I didn’t study at all.”
– Esha Sani, senior product manager, Macy’s
“If you’re doing an online proctored exam, run the technical test as soon as possible—not the day of your exam. To avoid distractions, try to have a workspace as clean and free of stuff as possible, close windows so you don’t hear road noise, get rid of any peripherals on your desk that you won’t be using, and make sure your laptop is fully charged.”
– Andrew Porteous
“I recommend taking the test as early in the morning as possible, to make sure there are no kids or people running around behind me that could turn into a disqualification.”
– Esha Sani