Certification exams – learning from failure
Some people like to say that you can’t ever fail an exam. I understand why someone would say that but I don’t agree. If you don’t make the cut, you have officially failed the exam. That does not mean you’re a failure or that you’re not a smart person.
Certifications test the minimally qualified candidate, those who make the cut score pass the test. The value of certifications and the methods of testing can certainly be argued but this post is not about that.
I took the CCDE written at Cisco Live and barely missed it. This came as a surprise to me. I felt well prepared and confident when entering the testing area. After the test I felt like many candidates that have just failed an exam. “I can’t believe I got that much of topic X”, “This question is way too subjective” and so on. This post describes how to handle that negative energy and how to work on passing it the next time.
Acceptance – Accept that you didn’t make it this time. This means that you have some areas that need improvement. You may not agree and it may not align perfectly with your job role but you have chosen to take a certification exam and those are the rules you play by. Yes, it will cost money. Yes, it will take time. Those are the inputs we put into our journey to get something out of the journey at the end which should be: more knowledge, a certification and hopefully leading to a pay raise or a more qualified job role.
Prepare a plan – The first thing you should do after getting the results is to write down your thoughts. What do you think you failed on? Which topics did you find the most difficult? No, don’t go Googling for the answers to the exam. That is cheating and will only hurt you in the long haul. Let’s say that you struggled with a topic, maybe it was RSTP. Did you not feel comfortable at all with it or did you miss some questions due to not knowing some of the more advanced facts of RSTP? Everyone interprets the blueprint a bit differently so maybe you missed some topic that you thought wouldn’t be part of the exam.
Write down all the topics that you need to study more, find good resources such as books, blogs and articles and use them to study for the topic. Estimate how much time you need for each topic and set a date for your next attempt so that you have a goal to strive for. This leads to more efficient studying.
Review – When you have a couple of weeks to go before the exam, start reviewing your status. How comfortable are you with each topic? Is there anything you need to study more for? Practice with exam like scenarios with authorized material such as from Cisco Press or from a training vendor that is not any of the braindump companies.
If the passing rate is around 80-85%, you should be a bit higher than that to have some margin at the exam day. At that day you may be a bit nervous and stressed for time so always leave some margin. Remember, there is no such thing as overstudying. All knowledge is good knowledge.
Take the test – Take the test and hopefully pass it. Remember that some tests are very difficult and we have all had narrow fails or narrow passes as well. If you don’t pass it, maybe it just wasn’t your day but there is always something to learn from the exam experience. In the event that you didn’t pass, repeat the steps as listed previously. The important thing is that you improve for each attempt and eventually you WILL pass it, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
The main takeaway here is that all certification exams work a certain way and when we take them, we play by those rules. They do take time and they do take money, but those are factors you can’t affect. Only concentrate on the things that you can affect or you will lose focus. A certification is more about the journey than the goal. Learn to learn, don’t learn to just barely squeak by as many certifications as you can.
Good luck with your studies!