Gordon Russell, a 24-year-old data entry clerk from Portmore in Jamaica’s St. Catherine, wanted to move his career beyond updating, deleting and modifying company records. He started looking into IT certifications to help him move up the food chain, and found a class where he could upgrade his skills and get the knowledge he needed to pass the CompTIA A+ exam. The class professor suggested Russell try CertMaster to help him study: It’s CompTIA’s new learning tool that incorporates priming, spacing, analytics and engagement tools to help students learn.
“It helped a lot because it covered everything that would be required of me in the exam,” Russell said.
On a scale from 1-to-10, Russell gave CertMaster a 9 for helping him master, recall and remember information for his CompTIA A+ 801 and 802 exams. “CertMaster is an amazing learning tool to help prepare for the exam for which you would be sitting,” he said.
A Decade of Brain Science
As a learning tool, CertMaster begins with priming. Priming gives learners a preview of the content they’re about to take on and creates a construct of the lesson. Priming also prevents novices from becoming overwhelmed. “CertMaster made it really simple to understand, and broke it down well enough to understand each topic well,” Russell said.
Spacing is another hallmark of CertMaster. Rather than drenching students with a flood of information and quizzes, CertMaster spaces questions to just six to eight questions per lesson, plus a review. Spacing gives the brain time to rest and gives memory the long-term time to form.
“CertMaster made it clear as to what is needed and how you would look to answer such questions,” he said.
When CertMaster presents a question, often with a related image, it includes multiple-choice answers. Choose one answer and mark it “I am sure” or fill in the blanks with two answers you think might be right and say, “I am partially sure.” CertMaster responds by saying “you’re right” or “one is right” and gives you links to additional learning options.
“The benefits of that for me were just being able to read the question and also to see an explanation of the answer that’s given,” Russell said, adding that CertMaster’s notes with additional information were also helpful.
Remembering and Recalling
When you twice answer a question correctly and confidently, that information is more likely to be banked in your long-term memory, according to the science behind CertMaster. It’s a phenomenon called the testing effect, and it plays an important role in CertMaster. Research shows that asking questions in a certain repetition can create a pathway for learning and remembering.
Russell said when he got hung up on something, he’d use CertMaster to research, review and read up on the topic. “The reading that focused on a specific topic helped me a lot,” he said, adding that he felt prepared to sit for his exams.
“The features I found helpful were the availability for me to review the questions I got wrong and also see an explanation of all the other answers that were given,” he said.
CertMaster also uses learning algorithms to analyze user data in real time. If a student is flying through the lesson, the questions become more challenging. For a student on the struggle bus, CertMaster turns down the intensity and offers remediation. Instructors can watch this progress thanks to CertMaster’s data output and assist students as they go along.
The data is tied closely to the engagement and motivation side of CertMaster, both co-opted from the video game industry to make the learning tool engaging. Like in video games, key motivational triggers include risk, achievement and curiosity. Those motivators are linked to a dopamine effect, too, which —when it’s working — creates a positive feedback loop that keeps users playing.
CertMaster can be used on PCs, Macs, through various apps and online. “I worked from my personal laptop mostly, so that’s where I used it basically all the time,” he said.
CompTIA CertMaster is available for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Strata IT Fundamentals. Learn more about how CertMaster can be a powerful certification preparation tool, and sign up for a free trial of the new online study tool.
Michelle Peterson is CompTIA’s communications specialist.