Preparing for a Cisco certification exam is a big step toward achieving your goals. It requires time and commitment, but the rewards are worth it. That's because certification enables you to advance your career as well as your salary. In the United States and Canada, for instance, according to the 2018 IT Skills and Salary Report from Global Knowledge, the difference between salaries of certified and non-certified IT staff is 22 percent.
That's not all. The systematic study of your field via a certification program can help you understand it inside and out so that you are more adept at attacking technical and business problems on many levels to arrive at a solution. A strong certification program establishes to peers, employers, and customers that you know what you're doing, and enables you to perform tasks more effectively and efficiently.
This leads to increased confidence; more than a third (36.9 percent) of respondents to the Pearson VUE 2017 Value of IT Certification Survey agreed that certification helped them perform complex tasks more confidently. Armed with that skill and confidence, you can take on added responsibility from your employer that will help you grow in your career. You stand a greater chance of breaking out of possible job silos, taking advantage of cross-functional team roles, and being in better position for exciting career change. Certification is one of those assets that employers automatically look for when it comes time to seek out new talent.
The Pearson VUE survey found that 86 percent of those who have taken Cisco certification exams would recommend certification to a colleague. That means they know it's worth the time and effort to get certified; a majority of those surveyed got a boost in their professional image or reputation, or were able to move into a career in IT.
So, to help you prepare, we've created a list of the top five resources and strategies that will make your study time more effective.
Ensure eligibility and line up your qualifications
Thoroughly review our Certifications web page to make sure you meet the eligibility requirements to take the exam. There are often prerequisites or a certain number of years of work experience required. Also, make sure that you can cover the costs of buying the study materials and taking the exam.
Preparing for certification is an investment of time as well. Make sure you have the time to dedicate toward studying for the exam. The more prepared you are, the better your chance of passing the first time.
If references are required, ask your references in advance to support you. Tell them your career goals and why you're getting the certification. You always want your references to expect a call, rather than getting caught off guard.
If a certain degree of experience is required, make sure you can document your experience and that it can be validated by your references. You never want to exaggerate your experience in any way. It's not unheard of for exam authorities to randomly audit exam applicants to ensure their credibility and integrity.
Network with others via learning communities
One networking opportunity to take advantage of is right here with the Cisco Learning Network community, where you can connect with others on the certification exam journey and ask questions of experts, who will be eager to help.
There will likely be a number of peers who are also studying for the exam, so you can ask each other questions and share resources.
You'll also want to connect with others who have the certification you are preparing for – and ask them about topics you don't fully understand. Ask for advice on studying for and taking the exam. Most people who've taken the exam have plenty to say about it, including tips on how to prepare, and the kinds of questions you can anticipate.
Join certification LinkedIn groups if available, to build a network of credibility. You can also join professional organizations affiliated with the exam.
Make use of online study groups, blogs, and resources
It's easy to find certification study support online. Here is some that Cisco provides:
- Cisco Study Groups Master List
- Learning@Cisco on LinkedIn
- Practice exams from Cisco Press and the Cisco Learning Network Store
- Some Cisco certifications have practice sections that include free questions – for example, check out our ICND2 practice questions!
If you look at the web page for the certification you're interested in, it will likely point you to a study group. Members can share resources, or report back after taking the test with comments like, “Wow, that was hard” or “Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be. Here's what to look out for, and what to study extra hard for.” Information from those who passed and who failed can be equally valuable. Their insights will help you know what to do, what to do more of, and what not to do.
Read certification-related blogs and forums, too. People will often blog about the process they went through to get certified. Forums allow people to ask and receive answers to their questions.
Obtain current study material
Buy the most current study materials for the exam you plan to take. Read customer reviews of study materials and choose the most recommended ones. Make sure to read the negative reviews too, to see what people are saying. User experience is very important here.
Buy the study materials to ensure you have access to all available content, including practice exams or other resources. Don't rely on just one study book. Different companies will put out books coming from different angles, so you want to make sure you're getting a very comprehensive view of what to expect on the exam.
Finally, don't mark up your books. Take notes in a notebook as you study and use bookmarks in the books. This way, you can sell your books after the exam and recoup some costs. Chances are you won't go back to your study books once you're working in that field or technology; you'll probably be using industry books for reference.
Take as many practice exams as you can find
Practice exams are critical; in fact, they are the most important part of preparation. Often, the practice exam questions come straight from the certification exams or are extremely similar in terms of content, and how the questions are presented and worded.
For instance, there may be three answers to a question that sound right and could be right in certain situations. Two of them may be very good solutions, but according to the exam, there is only one right “official” answer. As you take more exams, you'll get better at distinguishing among a good answer, a great answer, and the official right answer.
You will be getting used to taking the test itself, too – the particular language, question format, answer options, and any tricky wording that you will need to be prepared for. Passing the exam is not just about knowing the content; it's also about being able to take the test and answer the questions as you are expected to – and in the time allotted.
Make sure that when you get a question wrong, you understand why you got it wrong. This will help you get it right in the future. Finally, take each exam as many times as you need to in order to get a perfect score.
Preparation pays off
As you can see, preparing for a certification exam is a commitment, but it's one that you won't regret. Using a combination of the top online resources and strategies above, you'll be ready to take the exam that will move you forward and open the doors to in-demand and well-compensated technology roles.
To learn more about how to prepare for certification, start at our home page: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/welcome.