6 Tips on How To Pass Certification Exams – The FIRST Time!

Information Technology

As you’ve been researching how to start a career in Information Technology, I’m sure you’ve realized that certifications are important.  In this post, I will share tips on how to pass certification exams the first time.

Certification exams are essential to starting, developing, and sustaining a career in the Information Technology field.  In fact, getting a certification is one of the ways to jumpstart a career in Information Technology.

Almost every field in IT has a related certification.  The certification is a way to show that you are pretty knowledgeable in that field. Check out the list of certifications I have listed on this blog HERE.

If you’re looking to get any certification, then you must be ready to take exams.  Exams for some certifications are as short as 40 minutes, while some can take up to 4 hours!

Regardless of the length of the exam, you have must be well prepared to take the exam.  This increases your chances of passing the exam the first time. Passing a certification exam is hard work but completely doable. 

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little bit about my certification journey.

I currently have seven certifications, and by IT standards, that is pretty normal. I know several individuals that have well over 10 IT certifications.

These are the certifications that I have in the order I got them. 

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • RSA Certified Security Professional
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE)

I got these certifications over 13 years based on when I felt the need to get them. There’s no need to rush through certifications if you don’t have to.

Do you know what’s great about these certifications? I passed them all the very first time I took the exam! Yes, no exam retakes.

I simply do not like do-overs unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I am not interested in the additional study time and fees needed to retake certification exams. So, I do everything possible to make sure that I pass my certification exams on my very first try.

I’m going to share with you the 6 tips that I personally used to pass all my certification exams on the first try. 

Please review and consider applying these tips on your next certification exam. Be sure to come back and leave comments on how well they worked out for you.

Exam Tip #1: Identify your ‘Why’

Why do you want to get this particular certification? Is it required for your current job or to get a promotion? Maybe it is a resume filler until you’re ready to move to another role/company? Is this necessary for a pay raise that will help your family’s financial situation? Is it essential to get that first job or side-gig in IT?

The reason for your certification is your motivation. You need to identify and harness the power of that motivation to see you through the exam study process.

Why do you need to identify your motivation? Because there are times when you are studying that you will be exhausted and feel like giving up.  The one thing that will pull you through those dark times is your motivation. So, you need to have it ready every single time.

Every time you feel like giving up, think of your reason for going after the certification.  Think about the promotion you can get. Maybe the extra income and what that will do for your family.  Think about the sense of self-satisfaction you will get when you eventually pass.

There were times during some of my certifications that I was ready to give up and cancel the exam. 

I remember calling one of my friends to complain about a particular one and how it was so hard to study while working full time. After complaining and getting off the phone, I sat down and reminded myself of my motivation.

You see, this was my very first certification and I was going to receive a $1,500 bonus if I passed.  This was my first job after college and the extra cash was a big motivation to me at the time. 

In addition to the bonus, having this certification meant that I could get promoted later on. I would not be eligible for promotion to manager if I didn’t have this certification regardless of my experience. 

With my motivation reignited, I continued to study for the exam and ultimately passed!

I have had to use this motivation reignition method for almost all my certifications.  I can attest that it works at keeping me on track with my study time. This is how I pass my certification exams the first time.

So, find your ‘why’ for pursuing the certification and keep that reason close by anytime you need a dose of motivation to keep studying.

Exam Tip #2: Allow yourself enough study time when you schedule the exam

Pass Certification Exams

Now that you have your motivation, what’s next? You have to allow yourself enough study time.

How long do you have to study? If you have control over scheduling the exam, make sure you allow yourself enough time to study for the exam. This is essential to pass your certification exam.

There are really two parts to this tip.  The first part is scheduling the exam after you have decided to take the exam. The second part is allowing yourself enough time to study when you schedule the exam.

Why should you schedule the exam even before you study? My opinion is that scheduling the exam makes it a real goal that you know you need to work towards. 

I have tried working towards a certification before without scheduling the exam. The reality is that I kept delaying my study start date because there was no end date in sight.  I did not really start studying until I actually scheduled the exam.

The amount of time you give yourself to study will depend on the certification and the length of the exam.  A few weeks might be enough for easier certifications, while a more difficult certification might need several months.

The key is knowing yourself, your learning style, and your other commitments. This will guide you on the amount of time to set aside for studying.

After you have scheduled the exam, then you have to create a study plan. This study plan should cover all the necessary materials in the time that you have. I have more details on study plans in Tip #4.

You can also work backwards and come up with a study plan first.  The amount of time on the study plan can be used to get the earliest date that you would be ready to take the exam.

So, schedule your exam and allow yourself enough time to study.  This gives you a better chance to pass certification exams the first time.

Exam Tip #3: Get the right study materials

IT certification exams can be expensive. I know this because I have had to pay for several certifications myself. 

The usual fees might include examination fees, study material fees, and in some cases, course fees.  These costs add up pretty quickly.

While there are areas where you can try to save money, you cannot afford to forgo getting the right study materials.  It is crucial to have the right study materials. This may make the difference between whether you pass the certification exam or fail.

You should consider getting the official study materials and practice tests that are recommended by the certification body.  Then you should check online communities for the certification exam for other study materials that are highly recommended.

I know this sounds like a lot but you really do not need to break the bank for this.  You can ask your friends and family for the study materials if they have them.  Chances are someone that you know has the materials and will be willing to borrow you.

Also, when checking online communities for other study materials, please do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. Look for a few of the top-recommended items and go with those. If there are no highly recommended items, then simply focus on using the official materials.

Once you have the study materials and your study plan, then you are ready to start studying.

Please do your best to get the right study materials.  Remember, getting the right study materials can determine if you pass the certification exams or not.

Exam Tip #4: Create and use a Study Plan (plus serious time management)

Pass Certification Exams

If you want to pass your certification exam the first time, then you have to practice extreme time management.

Sorry, but there is no room for procrastinating.

At time, I want to procrastinate the completion of undesirable tasks as long as possible.  However, passing your certification exam is not an undesirable task.  Remember your motivation? This is where you need to remember your ‘why’ each time you plan to study.

You need to have a study plan that helps you to plan for success. You can get a copy of my FREE Certification Study Plan Template. Simply add your email below and a downloadable copy will be sent to your email address. 

This Certification Study Plan Template is exactly what you need to plan out your study time.

The study plan you create using this FREE template will be very detailed with study topics and dates.  If you need to study several topics around the same time, you can allocate specific timeslots to each topic. 

Whenever you sit down to study, you should be able to tell exactly which topic(s) you need to study and how long the study session would last.

Let’s face it, most people (I’m guilty of this!) do not look forward to studying. So, the ultimate goal is to have a plan that keeps you accountable for studying each time you are meant to study.

Even though it may seem a bit rigorous, believe me, just knowing that you completed your study plan for the day is very fulfilling. The feeling of accomplishment after each study session all add up to give you more motivation. This motivation is needed to continue studying and ultimately pass the certification exam.

It’s worth saying again, please create a detailed study plan using the FREE Certification Study Plan template and stick to it as much as possible.

In case you are wondering, the template has room for breaks and opportunities to re-study difficult topics. So, don’t let that stop you from creating a study plan.

If you don’t have a study plan and plan to ‘wing it’, I’m sorry but your chances of completing your study might not be high.  If you want to pass your certification exam on the first try, you need to have a study plan.

I have to say this. Having a study plan alone is not enough.  You need to stick to it by using serious time management skills. Follow the timelines you have noted in the Certification Study Plan Template and try not to procrastinate.

You have a goal with a date on it, and the only way to meet the goal is to stay on top of your study tasks. This is essential to increase your chances of passing the certification exam on the first try.

Exam Tip #5: Practice Tests, Practice Test, Practice Tests

Pass Certification Exams
Practice, Practice, Practice

Do you want to pass your certification exam on the first try? Then, I cannot overestimate the importance of practice tests when studying for certification exams.

I’ll be honest with you. I have passed a certification exam based on studying 20% of the time and completing practice tests for the remaining 80%. Yes, that is true!

However, I’m not asking you to do this. I’m simply telling you so that you understand the importance and usefulness of practice tests.

The truth about certification exams is that even if you know all the material, you may still not pass. This is because you still need to know how the exams questions will be structured so you can answer them correctly.

Many certification exams are known for asking questions a bit differently than how they are presented in the study materials.  They want to know that you can read between the lines to find the best answer to questions.

Without completing practice tests, you won’t know how the questions will be structured so that you can prepare.

So, part of your study plan must include completing as many practice tests as possible. 

My recommendation is to take practice tests using two different approaches.

  • First, complete some practice tests after each section. This may be only 10 to 20 questions just to test your knowledge on each topic area.
  • Second, after you have completed the study materials at least once, complete a timed full-length practice exam. Do this just as if you are taking the real exam. This is extremely important for you to gauge your level of preparation for the actual exam.

Let me give you an example from my PMP certification. I took timed full-length practice tests at least 10 times in the weeks leading up to the exam.  Yes, 10 times!

Now, I didn’t need 10 different exams. I had just about 4 practice tests that I cycled through.  This is how I passed the PMP certification exam on my first try.

There’s another benefit to completing practice tests. Practice tests usually show the correct answer and an explanation with the exam results.  This can act as additional study time to better understand concepts that you may not have understood well before.

Make sure your study materials include practice tests that are from the official certification body or other credible, well-recommended sources. Then use those practice tests as study materials and exams to gauge your readiness.  

Please do not underestimate the importance of practice tests. 

This will increase your chances of passing the certification exam on the first try.

Exam Tip #6: Relax on Exam Day

It’s Exam Day! You may be nervous, but if you’ve followed your Certification Study Plan and completed enough practice tests, there’s nothing to worry about.

Your main concern on exam day is to stay relaxed. Try not to study on exam day as you should have already completed your study plan.  The only study you might need is a brief review of your summarized study notes.

You should prepare all the items you need for the certification exam the day before.  This makes sure you’re not running around the day of the exam.

Wake up on time, get something to eat, and get yourself ready. You can even give yourself a pep talk if you need to!

Get to the exam location early enough so that you don’t miss the exam but not too early that you get nervous waiting in the lobby.

Start your exam with the confidence that you have done everything to prepare the best way you can. You’ve got this, you can pass your certification exams.

Good luck on your certification exam and your IT career!

If you have not done so already, remember to sign up for the FREE Certification Study Plan Template. I prepared this specifically for certification exams.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and find it helpful. What strategies have you used to pass certification exams? Have you used any of these tips before? Which one is new that you plan to use? Which certification exam do you have lined up (in your head or scheduled)? Let me know in the Comments section.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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