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How (and What) Do I Study?

So many people ask me what they should study to pass exam so-and-so. I want to scream out, "Well, duh! They already tell you what to study!" Gasp! They do? Yeah, vendors are more than happy to give the exam objectives from their Web sites. I don't know of any vendor offering exams that won't tell you what you'll be tested on. Get the objectives and study them.

First off, study every single day at exactly the same time. When I prepare, every day I study at the same time that coincides with the exam start time. When I study, I alternate the length of my study time: two hours one day, four hours the next. In the long sessions, I'm working with the product; in the short sessions, I'm reading and taking notes.

One of the most effective tools you can use to learn new material is flashcards. I love flashcards. Get yourself five hundred or so three-by-five cards, and write a term on one side and the definition on the other. Don't buy any premade cards; the process of creating the cards is part of the study method. Buzz through the cards daily, and you'll be well on your way. Things your can do with flashcards: keep score, see how many cards you can get correct before you miss one, and play Jeopardy with them by using the definition instead of the term.

So many folks out there invest hundreds of dollars in books to prep for exams, but fail to use them properly. Huh? That's right: They only read them; they don't use them. To use a book to study for an IT exam, you need to create a lab so you can work with the product. Practically every book written for an IT exam has step-by-step exercises for you to complete.

You really need to create a typical environment on a computer that will simulate the product being used in the real world. For example, for the Windows 2000 exams, I created a lab with four networked PCs acting as Windows 2000 Servers, 2000 Pro, and Windows 98 clients. This little lab allows me to simulate a working environment for different operating systems, server-to-server communication, and client-server processes.

After your lab is created, get out the test objectives you downloaded from the vendor's Web page. In your lab, walk through each objective, and create different scenarios for each objective. Use your reading material to guide you through a couple of labs; you can then take over and play "what if?" games with each objective.

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