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Test-Taking Skills 101: Final Batch o' Tactics

By  Aug 2, 2008

Topics: Certification

Hi everyone. This will be the final post in my series entitled "Test-Taking Tips 101." Here I concentrate on a handful of good, solid strategies that can be applied to different types of IT certification exam items.

Tactic: The "Money" of Most IT Certification Exam Items Resides in the Final One or Two Sentences of the Item Stem

When you really think about it, all of the relevant text contained in an item step serves as nothing more than a build-up to a single question or challenge.

Therefore, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to pay strict attention to the last couple of sentences (what we call the constraint of the item) and use this information to focus your analysis of the answer choice set.

As I have mentioned earlier in this text, oftentimes an entire item revolves on the axis of a few words; namely, the item constraint.

One constraint that Microsoft has made famous (or infamous, depending upon whom you talk to) is the "least administrative effort" requirement. Here is a simple example:

You need to deploy Windows Vista to 500 computers in your organization by using Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007. Your solution must involve least administrative effort.

Which of the following actions should you perform?

The 'red flag' for this type of item is that there exists a decidedly high probability that the answer choice set will contain two choices that are technically or theoretically correct, but only one of them identifies a more direct path (that is, a path involving least administrative effort) than the other choice.

To quote from George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984:

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

With respect to this type of IT certification exam item, all answer choices deserve equal consideration, but you must use your critical thinking skills to differentiate "partially correct" from "fully correct" answer choices.

Tactic: Be Mindful of 'NOT' Questions

If you will pardon the bad pun, 'NOT' questions can often tie the examinee's mind into a 'knot.'

The reason for this potential confusion is simple: test-takers ordinarily analyze exam answer sets looking for truth. That is to say, it is unnatural for the test-taker to parse answer choices in search of negation rather than affirmation.

Take a look at this representative example of a 'NOT' question and ponder how the item makes your feel:

Which of the following Ethernet standards does not specify twisted-pair cabling?

A. 100BaseF

B. 100BaseX

C. 10BaseT

D. 1000BaseT

My best advice for tackling 'NOT' questions is to apply the previously described True/False test to each item. Once you have assigned a True or False value to each answer choice, you are then in a much better position to identify the choice that meets the 'NOT' constraint in the item.

Tactic: Try the 'True/False' Test

Thus far we have mentioned this True/False approach to conquering multiple-choice items, but we haven't yet presented a concrete example. Let's do that now:

Which of the following Ethernet standards does not specify twisted-pair cabling?

A. 100BaseF

B. 100BaseX

C. 10BaseT

D. 1000BaseT

First of all: Yes, I realize that this sample question is a duplicate from an earlier tactic.

Now, then: let's analyze each answer choice in order to determine its inherent truth or falsehood.

A. Does 100BaseF specify twisted-pair cabling? No. [F]

B. How about 100BaseX? Yes. [T]

C. What about 10BaseT? Yes indeed. [T]

D. Finally, does 1000BaseT specify twisted-pair cabling? Yep. [T]

Well, it looks like we have identified the 'odd one out' here. In this item, 100BaseF does not specify twisted-pair, so we have successfully identified the correct answer.

Tactic: New Product Features are Often Used for Correct Answers by Technology Vendors

Information technology vendors are awfully proud of their products. Accordingly, you can rest assured that you will be asked several questions on vendor-specific certification exams whose correct answer 'coincidentally' happens to map to one of the new features of the vendor's product and/or technology.

Let me provide a fictional example. Let's say that Vendor X recently released a new version of their relational database software. You decide to certify on this new product version by taking the vendor's associated exam.

As it happens, the new version of the Vendor X database software offers a new feature called Strikethrough Replication. Guess what? When you take the Vendor X exam, you observe a large number of questions that reference Strikethrough Replication as a possible answer choice.

This behavior is no coincidence, I assure you. Dollars to donuts, the correct answer in these items is the answer choice that references Strikethrough Replication!

Tactic: When in Doubt, Go with Your Initial Instinct

Personally, I believe that there is a great deal of truth in that old saw in education "The test-taker's first instinct is usually correct." I am unable to enumerate how many students approached me after their exam and said, "I second-guessed myself and changed a bunch of my answers during the final minutes of the exam. If I hadn't have done that, then I think I would have passed instead of failed!"

Please be mindful not to spend too much time second-guessing your choices during your certification exam. Chances are, your first instinct is the correct one.

Please understand that my suggestion to 'go with your initial instinct' does not mean that hastily-answered questions should always be left as originally answered.

Apply patience, judgment, and common sense here: If you made a good-faith attempt to answer an IT certification exam item, then have faith in your abilities as a test-taker and resist the urge to make impulsive last-minute changes.

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