IT exam day is the culmination of many weeks or months of hard work. It's your chance to demonstrate what you know and get the credentials you deserve for your IT career. It can go wrong, though, and often does.
I've taken more IT exams than I can remember and made some of the below mistakes myself. They can lead to you getting flustered or stressed, which can lead to a poor performance and a waste of a few hundred bucks if you fail. Follow my IT exam day tips to make the most of your day so you can celebrate at the end.
When you book an IT exam you will receive an email. This isn't just the confirmation that you booked the exam. It's a set of instructions for your day, including the exam you booked, the testing center location, and what you need to bring. Please read it because you will usually have to take:
- Photo Id
- Second form of ID
Without these, you will not be permitted to take your test AND you will lose your exam fee because you didn't read the instructions. Check what is acceptable for your ID. It will usually be a passport or drivers license.
I strongly recommend you print out the exam confirmation page. I once attended an exam and they had not been informed of the booking for some reason. I showed them the confirmation and they then let me take the exam. Without that, I would have been turned away for sure.
If you have never been there or are unfamiliar with the location then I strongly recommend you attend the testing center in advance so you know where it is. They are usually in an office housing multiple other businesses and can be hidden away at the back of a long corridor with little or no signage to guide you.
If there is a car park, check that it takes cash or card and if there are spaces available. If you get there without change or it's full then you will have to go elsewhere adding onto your time and stress. In busy city centers, parking is usually at a premium.
Many students are shocked to find that calculators aren't allowed in exam rooms. You won't be allowed to take any notes in with you or your mobile phone. I've even had my bottle of water taken off me and was told that I'd have to use a water cooler outside, down a corridor but the exam clock would keep ticking! It's pathetic I know but you won't be permitted to take the exam if you don't follow the rules, no matter how petty.
You will usually be given a small A4 sized whiteboard and marker pen you can write on if you need to. You probably won't be given anything to wipe off anything you write which is another strange feature. Take a small pack of tissues with you in your pocket. These should be siezed if you say you need them to blow your nose!
If you haven't taken an exam at a testing center before then it can be a nerve wracking experience.
It won't be like the practice tests you have taken so you need to prepare for this part also. Read the vendors page on the exam because you need to know if:
- You can tick answers to check them later
- You can go back to previous questions
- There is a practical (configuration) element to the exam
- The time allowed
- The question format such as multiple choice, essay etc.
Most exams will give you a score at the end and tell you if you passed. Some will have to be manually checked so you will find out later.
There is usually a short demonstration of how the exam works at the start with sample question types on simple topics such as the planets or colors. I strongly recommend you take that so you can see how they work and it helps to steady your nerves also.
There may also be a short survey asking about your experience in IT and how you prepared for the exam. These are not marked and are for their information only. When you are ready to take the actual exam you will press on the start button and the timer will appear on the screen along with the first question.
Don't worry about how many points are allocated to the questions or if you get points for partial scores. It won't matter to the outcome. IT exam questions usually come in the following formats:
- Multiple choice single answer
- Multiple choice multiple answers
- Fill in the blank
- Drag and drop into the correct order
- Fix a practical configuration issue
- Look at an image and answer questions
- Log into equipment and fix or answer questions
Reading the vendors exam information and taking any practice exams they offer will give you valuable insight. You may well also find discussion forums for your exam where you can ask questions. You can't ask about what specific questions are in the exam but you can ask how the exam format is. Before you post, it's good etiquette to search for your question beforehand in case it's been asked already. This is usually the case.
You will often be faced with a question but not be sure of the answer. More often than not, you will know the incorrect answers so have to choose between two possible correct answers. I don't mark these questions to come back to later, I answer the best I can and move on. Don't second guess yourself.
The timer runs in the bottom of the screen and counts down to zero. In most Cisco exams, it's 90 minutes.
The time goes very quickly so you must be ruthless and you must be prepared. I know that it any Cisco exam, I can answer subnetting questions in a few seconds because I've drilled it for many years. I wrote IP Subnetting – Zero to Guru in fact so I know the topic to expert level. This gives me valuable extra time for the harder questions and practical configuration tasks I know are coming.
It's a balance between not running out of time with unanswered questions and going to quickly and possibly making mistakes. The best way to prepare for this is with practice exams. Many of these you can run with a timer going or set on yourself. Aim to take as many question as you will get in the real exam.
If you really have prepared well, you may finish early anyway so don't worry if this happens. You might be able to run through the questions one more time or go to any you checked for later. This isn't available in Cisco exams but it was for Microsoft but I've not taken one of their exams for many years now.
Prepare well for the exam day and make notes about what you need to do and take. I've seen too many people fall down at this step which is such a pity when they deserve to pass.
Drop a question if you have one.