8 Certification Exam Studying Tips for Software Developers

Apr 6, 2019 by

The best software developers are always striving to stay ahead of the curve — learning and growing and adding new skills. A big part of that personal development is getting professional certification. But most certification exams are lengthy and cover lots of detailed material.

Are they worth the effort? Many developers will say “yes.”

But why?

Why Software Developers Need To Take Certification Exams

Earning a software development certification from CodeLaunch.com is an outstanding accomplishment, worthy of praise and recognition. (If you’re already working with a software development company, ask which certifications their team members have earned.)

Because getting certified is a pretty difficult achievement, we’d like to share some eight tips and strategies for acing that next exam.

  1. Make a plan and manage your time.
    No matter what you’re learning, having a study plan — and sticking to it — is essential. For most software developers, going for a certification means studying at home in your spare time, after work.

    It’s easy to “blow off” studying for a night…or two…and then you might be too far gone. So be realistic with your plan, and make sure to build in some break time.

Also, make sure you have everything covered. If you’re taking a Microsoft exam, they have an objectives list that goes over the specific areas that you’ll be tested on. While MS exams tend to be really difficult and dive into minutiae — with many “trick” questions — these lists can be super-helpful.

If you decide to schedule your exam, that will help you create a study timeline to follow within the time from whenever you start until the exam.

And a test-taking tip: At the beginning of the exam, you’ll be given the total number of questions and the amount of time allotted. Do the math and figure out how much time you can spend on each question. It’ll help with your time management.

  1. Choose the right sources.
    There are plenty of study guides for certification exams. But you have to make sure they’re legitimate sources; it’s probably best to buy the Microsoft-branded study guide for a Microsoft exam, and not the “off-brand” guide. Although there are times that those off-brand guides can provide a different perspective that might be helpful.

    Computer-based training can also be valuable. Products such as CBT Nuggets and Train Signal cover these topics in a friendly, classroom-style atmosphere.

However, it’s usually best to avoid “brain dumps,” which are unsanctioned study guides that many exam candidates use — although they often violate MS intellectual property rights and can incur significant penalties.

  1. Practice makes (hopefully) perfect.
    We’re talking about two kinds of practice here — technology practice and exam practice. Each is important in its own way, and it’s best to utilize both in your certification exam preparation.

First, the hands-on practice. Including a lab environment is hugely important, since many Microsoft exams include the use of simulation-based questions. If you buy the official MS textbooks, you get a trial version of the software. (If not, you can download them from their website.)

This prep allows you to work with the actual product, apply what you’ve done, and work through any errors. By actively setting up and managing a system for which you’re taking an exam, you’ll have a good head start for the exam.

And then there are the practice exams. Microsoft has these available also, and we definitely recommend using them to help you in your preparation. By finding the gaps in your knowledge and understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you can better plan out your studies.

Transcender and MeasureUp are two of the companies that develop authorized practice exams for Microsoft, and are therefore solid options. The non-authorized sources aren’t recommended.

  1. Take good notes.
    This is kind of obvious, but with these kinds of examinations, having good notes to study from is essential. All technical details should be included, since they often appear on the exams.

    Taking notes from your books and other resources is also an important complement to the hands-on practice mentioned above.

    By breaking down topics into smaller sections, reviewing your notes will be made easier. Many developers find it helpful to repeat (even out loud) sections of notes that might give you trouble.

    Some authors recommend to would-be writers that they should sit down and start typing from any book to get their hands and brains working. You might find it helpful to rewrite or type your notes in order to make them stick in your mind.

  2. Make a mind map.
    This tool can be very helpful with exam preparation. Basically, it’s a diagram used to visually organize the information in your head. The typical mind map begins with a central topic, branching out with related sub-topics.

    By repeating all of the information you’ve learned — in the right order and understanding their connections to each other — you can improve your memory and hopefully perform better on your exam.

  3. Focus on the essentials.
    These kinds of exams cover a LOT of ground. With so much material to consider, you’ll need to avoid getting bogged down in information that isn’t absolutely essential.

The trick — breaking each question down to the relevant key facts that will help you answer it.

Write down the key points from the question, including operating systems, software requirements, user permissions, etc. Then use the process of elimination to get rid of answers which you’re sure are incorrect. Finally, take a “step back” and look at the question in relation to the overall topic. You should have enough information to answer the question successfully.

  1. Go beyond.
    While this might seem contradictory to #6 above, it’s also important to study “around” the topic as well. If you have real world experience or have taken (and passed) exams previously, you have an advantage.

    You’ll definitely want to know at least something about the sub-topics within the main study topics on the exam. Of course, you don’t want to take it too far. But if you come across something you aren’t sure about during your studies, it can’t hurt to read a little extra about it.

  2. Relax.
    Yes, it’s easier said than done. But we all perform better when we’re clear-headed, breathing normally, and as calm as can be.

    You know what you’re in for. A long, long certification exam that takes hours. Lots of complicated information. And most certainly, a few wrong answers along the way.

    So don’t let it overwhelm you. It’s a test. And it’s possible to pass them — sometimes even on the first try.

    And remember, this isn’t a life-or-death situation. It’s an exam for a certification that proves you’re at the top of your game.

    Please — take a few deep breaths, stretch out, and then go forth and get certified!
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