Friday, July 27, 2012

So close yet so far!

Today I took an exam for the LPIC-1 Linux certification exam, the first of two to complete the certification. I failed by a score less than 20 points from passing, which was much lower score than expected. It's annoying when you don't pass on two parts, first you technically (more on this later) lost the money you spent on the exam. Second, you feel like the time you spent studying was wasted since you didn't pass. But in reality, it's not exactly a lose/lose senario.

One of the method you prep for an exam is buying a book, then reading the book and focusing on the important details as mentioned by the author. Often times a certification book will focus more on passing the exam than actually getting knowledge of the subject the exam is testing. After this you may use the practice exam included in the book and once scoring high enough, will take the real exam. Hopfully passing the exam and on the way to the full certification.

But for some users, this doesn't work out so well. Books usually have limited space to discuss technical topics that dwell deeper than a few paragraphs. The narrow focus of just passing the exam often leaves more questions, now I know this command where would I use it? Not to mention that with the copy rights and agreements for the real exams, it's often difficult to find practice exams that are close to or near the real thing. Often you will pass the practice exam but find out the real exam is different.

So what is the best solution? It's really depending upon the person taking the exams and what they are used to. Personally I found the following to help me while studying.

Multiple sources for information 

I was using just one book for my LPIC-1 study program, and often found myself searching the Internet for a better explanation of the topic that was written in the book. One such topic was "suid" which is when an executable file is set to give the permissions of the owner when ran. The book I was reading explained how to set this up but not why or when it's used. Searching the Internet I found a great site that actually explained the subject in a much easier method to understand and even offered straight forward examples.

At home, I also have two other books on the subject of the LPIC-1 certification and while I try to use one book and then the Internet searching, I will consult with these books plus other Linux books. Reason being is that certification books typically want to focus on passing the exam (which is why I buy them) but it's difficult to explain a complex subject within a limited amount of pages. If you have any doubt about the subject, research it further!

Real exam vs practice exam

Something that is common with almost every exam book I read is the included practice exam CD. Typically this is a practice exam produced by a popular exam vendor such as Transcender or MeasureUP. Usually the exams are limited compared to the full practice exams from the vendor companies, meaning that they have a smaller question pool or offer less features.

The big issue I see here is really a strange problem between the test vendors and the practice test vendors. The vendors who write and issue the certifications do not want their certifications to loose value, so they often will have agreements with the test takers to not report any of their questions. This is to make the exams harder to pass and also stop brain dumps. But also how do you study for an exam test if you're not sure what will be asked? Isn't that the point of using a practice exam?

One of the best advices I heard is save your money from the practice exams and just take the real exam. Now this is not the cheapest method, especially considering that most exams can cost anywhere from $150 (Microsoft exams), $400 (Red Hat RCHSA exams), and even higher for some of the high end exams. But you do get to take the exam in the real setting, and see the actual questions. Even if you do fail, you still come away with the experience and also a grading chart showing what parts you missed and needed work.

Plus the big benefit, if you score highly you actually pass the exam not just pass a practice exam. The hardest part is spending the money multiple times if you are unsure of your skills for the exam. This is really off set by doing a self study program instead of paying for a video series (usually $500) or taking a certification boot camp ($3,500).

For now I'm still working on finishing the certification, but I feel much better that I saw so close the first time rather than just guessing how close I was using practice tests.

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