Preparing for Exams with limited material

I was recently tasked with preparing for a proctored exam that had very limited ‘exam prep’ type material available for it and felt I should pass on some of the lessons learned (It took two attempts to pass) to my readers.

The product was a very niche hardware appliance, and this brings us to our first limitation, exams for hardware based products are hard to get real world exposure to, hardware products are pricey and exclusive and you often can’t just ‘play around with it’ in a Lab.  Fortunately for me, I had access to a ‘virtual edition’ of the product that was released a year or so back for smaller scale deployments, thank the stars for virtualization no? Smile  Try hard to get some hands on, virtual editions make it easy, but its not always impossible to get some hands on time, reach out to a vendor directly, or a stakeholder in your exam process (you are taking it for a reason right?)

The second problem was, as a niche product, there is very little written material available for it in my normal formats, forums, exam prep guides, technical books etc.  That said, this problem was mainly on me, there was a lot of material on line, manuals, white papers, best practice pdf files, but I usually use that sort of stuff as a supplement, not a primary source, so I had to adapt fairly quickly

Hit the vendor websites, read everything you can get your hands on, buried in all the marketechture documents you will find the little gems you need to succeed.

Find an expert, I was lucky enough to have access to one of the vendors technical consultants, and spent an afternoon with him to go over some of the things I was drawing a blank on, this was probably the single most important step I took.  I picked up more from an expert in an afternoon than I did reading over 600 pages of material, find someone, buy them lunch, coffee, whatever, make it happen, the results will be amazing!

Don’t be afraid to fail, my exam was really weakly blueprinted by the vendor, I had very little info going in what I would be tested on, which areas were focus, how broad the exam footprint was, don’t be afraid to fail and have to try again, learning from an exam what weaknesses you have can help hone the final study phase on areas you need, if you can click through questions without much thought, you know your stuff, if you resort to guessing, it needs improvement! lots of improvement Smile

My first attempt needed me 10% below the passing baseline, not my finest work, but considerably better than I expected, so I spent the weekend playing with the virtual edition and re-reading some of the areas I know I struggled on, the second result was a pass at over 85%, don’t be afraid to try again!

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill (1874 – 1695)

I used to dread failing an exam, and for years I had a perfect record of passes, but I was spending months preparing for tests, even if I knew the content, that just doesn’t work with my work/life balance today, nor the fast changing pace of the industry I operate in

I hope this helps some of you tackle those harder to reach exams, how do you prepare for them?