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8 Study & Exam Tips for Adult Learners

Posted: Jul 20, 2017
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8 Study & Exam Tips for Adult Learners

For adult learners like me, it's been a long time since we've had to face a formal exam. However, for nearly every IT certification, one must pass the associated exam. For example, if you are seeking any CompTIA certification, such as A+, Network+ or Security+, you guessed it—there will be an exam to earn the credential.

As we age, our study techniques not only become rusty, but what was effective 30 years ago, is not necessarily effective today. When I was a college student, I could study all through the night. Now, my productive time is early in the mornings. After noon, I'm done.

As an Instructor, and an IT professional with several certifications, I thought I would share some best practices for adult learns that could help them better prepare for their next certification exam. Note: These study and exam tips are somewhat geared towards adult learners who have taken their training from New Horizons; however, they are applicable to a general audience, as well.

1. Read the Lab Scenario

Many of our technical classes are very hands-on. The labs establish a scenario, then ask you to configure the servers according to that scenario. I see too many adults simply launch into the lab without stopping to think about why they are doing those steps and how that pertains to the real world. It is important to have context for a lab in order for it to have meaning for you and be an effective learning tool.

2. Highlight with Purpose

Remember not to highlight every little thing in the courseware book, but instead, focus only the key terms. Some courseware will bullet out the main topics and some do not. Practice picking out the important areas.

3. Don’t Overload Yourself with Resources

Many adults moving into the IT field will spend a lot of money on extra study materials. Often, these simply clutter the learning experience rather than supplement it. I normally suggest the following three resources: (1) The courseware; (2) One or two study guides; (3) Google search.

4. Study in One Location & Minimize Distractions

Our minds associate certain locations with "fun" or with "work," so be careful not to study in your fun place. At home and at work, the Internet/email, family members, and coworkers can all be a distraction. Sometimes a quiet coffee shop is your best choice. Either way, choose to study in a place where you can concentrate fully.

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5. Study at a Consistent Time

You probably know the time of day when you are sharpest. For me, as I mentioned at the top of this post, it’s early in the mornings. Ensure that you use that time wisely for your study needs.

6. Pace Yourself

Study about 60 minutes, then take a 15-minute break before returning to your studies. Much like fitness training, rest times are important to allow your mind to absorb what you've learned. You will also be more energized when you return to studying.

7. Write Out Notes from Lectures & Reading

Consider re-writing your notes. Why? The act of writing often reinforces the ideas. When I start a new topic area, I often get a five-subject spiral binder, and I use that to consolidate all class, Internet, and lab notes into one place. I'm still old school enough to hand write my notes!

8. Utilize the Practice Exams

Use practice exams primarily to learn whether you are a slow or a fast test taker. Too many students treat practice exams as the be-all and end-all regarding their test preparedness. While practice tests can be an effective tool, don't rely on them too much or too early in the process. One very important use of practice exams is to tell you whether you are a fast or a slow test taker. Neither is necessarily a measure of skill, just different ways of approaching the content. But if you haven't taken very many certification exams, you may not know whether you have to manage the clock or not. I've learned over the course of more than forty technical exams, that I do not have to pay much attention to the clock because I am very fast. Other equally successful test takers will be very slow and consume all the available time. It doesn't matter which you are, just as long as you KNOW which you are and can plan accordingly!

Some Closing Thoughts

I hope these study tips help those adult learners who are looking to prepare for an IT certification. If you have taken some of your own exams and would like to share your advice with our community, I encourage you to leave a comment for us below. We would love to hear from you. Until next time, see you in class!

Damon GarnAuthor: Damon Garn, Technical Instructor
MCT, MCSA, MCITP:SA, MCSE:S, CloudMASTER, RHCSA, ITIL, Linux+/LPIC-1, Security+, Network+, A+

Damon has 16 years of experience as a classroom and online instructor, specializing in Windows Server and Linux courses. He is an experienced admin who enjoys empowering students with knowledge and ideas. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and playing guitar.


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