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Certification Revision: A Technique

I get a lot of people email me asking me how to revise, or produce cram sheets for certification exams they are going to sit, they refer to my CCNA exam cram notes.
There are of course many ways to revise and learn the nuggets of knowledge needed to pass exams, but this post is about the technique I use.

Know the Exam Syllabus

If you are just intending to pass the exam and not learn the subject fully, make sure you only learn topics which are covered by the exam.
Most certifications have exam topics or syllabi on the web. These topics will form the basis for your revision. As an example, here are the topics covered by the Cisco CCNA exam.

Personalise Your Revision

Glance through the course/exam topics and highlight the areas you think you'll need to concentrate on more. These will be topics you know nothing about or not confident in.

Get a Good Certification Book

Buy and good book on the certification making sure you read reviews left by other readers to make sure the book is good, and covers the topic in the way that suits your learning style.

Peoples' minds work in different ways; you may be a very visual person, who likes lots of diagrams and examples so you can "see" the topic, or you may be very auditory and just prefer text heavy books, the other type is kinesthetic, these types of people learn by doing. You can discover what kind of thinking style suits you by reading more about learning styles.

Summarise Your Revision Notes

Set aside a letter-size piece of paper and write each main topic/chapter (from the syllabus of your chosen certification) at the top of each page. You should now work your way through the exam topics, reading, practicing and learning as you go along. When you come across a formula, important piece of information, table of data or picture, if you think it will be useful for your revision then add it to the appropriate revision sheet. Once you've covered all the topics you'll have a sheet of revision notes per topic.
The important thing here is that you try and stick to 1 page per topic. That way you'll find the condense part much easier.

The easier option is to purchase a good CCNA cheatsheet.

Get a Good Exam Simulator

There are a lot of exam simulators on the market, so it may be worth your while investing in one of these to help test your knowledge as you go along. It will also boost your confidence and point out areas where you need to concentrate your efforts.  Check out internetworktraining.com for free CCNA practice tests and CCNA flash cards.

Review Your Revision Notes & Learn

If you don't review your revision notes then what was the point of making them in the first place? Just reading a book from cover-to-cover will not enable you to pass an exam, unless you already know the topic very well.
Learn the notes you've made ready in preparation for the next phase.

If you want to retain the information beyond the exam, then forget about cramming for the exam the night before. The best method is to spread out your revision into small revision periods of up to 40 minutes, with breaks in between. Go back to topics frequently to allow them to sink into your long term memory.

Condense Your Notes

The condense phase will aim to condense your revision notes from 1 page per topic to 1 page in total!
You should aim to create your exam cram sheet about a week or so before the exam, since it will contain only the last pieces of info you're having trouble remembering. It will also contain little sketches, diagrams and mnemonics to jog your memory.
The reason why you should only aim to have one page, is so that you can quickly glance at it before the exam and not overwhelm yourself with info. You want your mind to be fresh and reading 20 pages of revision notes prior to an exam isn't easy or recommended.

For ready-made revision notes have a look at Internetwork Training CCNA cheatsheet.

Revision Motivation

I find a good way to motivate yourself to revise, is to book the exam. This then sets you a deadline to work to and enables you to focus on your objectives.

Good Luck!

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