If you’ve been out of school for a while, or if you’re just not very comfortable taking tests, the idea of taking a CompTIA certification exam might make you nervous. There is a whole world of study materials out there to choose from to make sure that when you walk into that testing center, you’ll be able to show what you know.
Instructor-Led Training or Self-Study?
First it’s important to establish if you learn best with instructor-led
training or self-study
Some people can sit down and go through a book start to finish and come out of it with a working knowledge of all the information inside. Others need to be sitting in a classroom, guided through objectives by a skilled instructor in a structured learning environment to feel ready by the time the exam rolls around. There are also many, many gradations in between, and they’re all perfectly good ways to approach preparing for a CompTIA exam. But as a first step, you’ll want to decide if you need an instructor-led training to guide you through the material for a given cert or if you can prepare on your own. If you need help determining what type of learner you are take this quiz
There are many options for instructor-led certification training, depending on the certification you’re going for.
- Brick-and-mortar college courses: Taking a class in a traditional college environment can be good if you want a fully guided run-through of the material. You’ll have labs, will have to hand in homework and will benefit from a knowledgeable instructor correcting your work and pointing you in the right direction. Some programs teach directly to CompTIA’s certifications, and may even offer a chance to take the certification at the end of the course, when everything is fresh in your mind. Community college courses can cost in the $300 to $700 range, and they can take between 12 and 15 weeks. If that fits your price range, schedule and learning style, it could be a good option.
- Guided online learning: In recent years, remote learning has grown in popularity and many reputable online institution offer IT courses built around CompTIA curriculum. Like with some brick-and-mortar institutions, some online universities offer a CompTIA exam as the capstone on taking the course, so that a learner can earn a professional certification while also building credit toward a degree. While the instruction may be less hands-on and immersive than a traditional course and not allow for the same level of comradery among classmates, online learning options can be both cheaper, with prices in the $300 range and above. They are also often self-paced, so they allow for a student to benefit from the expertise of a remote instructor while still being able to fit the class into an otherwise busy schedule. This option is popular for those who are already working or have busy family lives.
- Workforce development programs: Government and non-profit based workforce programs see the importance of having more skilled workers in the workplace, for the benefit of individual job seekers and society at large. People in certain economic circumstances may be able to benefit from these programs – such as CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures Foundation – for free or at a rate drastically reduced from traditional brick-and-mortar IT education. While they do not typically count toward college credit, they cater to the professional needs of people seeking credentialing to help them get a foothold in an industry brand new to them.
- Training centers: IT training centers like New Horizons are focused on getting people certified and workforce ready as quickly and efficiently as possible. Students often benefit from skills assessments and career counseling to make sure they’re looking at the right role, and then it’s just a matter of spending three to five intensive days getting set for the exam. Many who have served in technical roles in the military benefit from these programs, which can be pricey, but are very precisely targeted. If you’re on top of your IT knowledge but need guidance on what to expect from the test and the workplace after it, this is a good bet. And there are plenty of other IT pros getting up to speed at these facilities at well, so they provide great professional networking opportunities.
Not everyone wants – or needs – a live instructor to get prepped for a CompTIA exam. If you’re the type who can stay on task, go through the material and set yourself up to show what you know on the test, the following options are available:
- Books, e-books and other online content: There are plenty of certification-related books, like the A+ Guide to Technical Support and e-books out there which will give you an insight into what information to expect when you’re taking the exam. You can go through the books at your own pace (though they often have a recommended duration to spend on them) and keep going back to refresh your understanding and make sure you’ve got it.
It’s also easy to find video content, like the highly-regarded Professor Messer’s A+ training course, to take advantage of the experience of a lecture without being in a class.
- Test-prep software: If you want to really test yourself before you sit down to take the exam, test preparation software can give you a firm sense of confidence that you’re going to knock the exam you’re taking out of the park. CompTIA’s CertMaster, for instance, offers gamified learning modules for some of the big certs to help you beef up your knowledge and make sure that you’re studying the right information. When you’ve completed a CertMaster module, you’ll know the information on the exam like the back of your hand and won’t get hit with a concept you didn’t see coming when it’s test time.
- Virtual training environments: Online virtual worlds like IT Labworks are a new cutting-edge way to get a feel for the experience of doing enterprise IT without having to get a job in an office. Users are faced with life-like scenarios and are asked to solve real-life problems on virtual machines.
The Best Way to Study for a CompTIA Exam is …
So what’s the best way to prepare for a CompTIA exam? The truth is, whatever works best for you. The choice that best fits how you learn, what you can afford to do and what suits your schedule is the option to pursue. That said, choosing a variety
of study tools to immerse yourself in the world of a certification and absorb the information from every angle is a great way to set yourself up for success.
With adequate preparation and training, you’ll know the exam material like the back of your hand. Then it’s just a matter of signing up, heading to a testing center and getting certified.
Need some tips on how to ask your boss to pay for your certification? Read this.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.