Getting Certified? Here’s How To Pass The Exam

In our last post we focused on preparing for your certification exam.  Today we will address the best techniques for succeeding on exam day. 

  • Schedule Your Exam – Check with your certification authority to see which testing centers they use.  In information technology, this is generally PearsonVue or Prometric.  Go to their website, and create an account.  Then follow the instructions for your certification.  Be sure to use the name that is on the identity documents you will bring to the testing center.  If your driver’s license says Robert, don’t sign up as Bob.  If you have been provided with a testing voucher, provide it when required.  Otherwise you can purchase a voucher when you register.  Prices vary, expect to pay between $150 and $500 per exam.  Choose a location that is convenient for you, near home or the office.  You may be able to select up to three testing centers in order to find both a location and a time that works for you.  A few testing centers keep evening or weekend hours, but you may need to arrange for time off from your job.  Hopefully your company is paying for your certification and will provided paid time off for testing.  If you need to change your testing date, you usually need to provide at least 24 hour notice.

Day of the exam, before the test – Arrive early if possible, you may be able to be seated early.  Arriving late may cause you to be refused at the testing center.  No refunds either!

  • Final review – Use the last few minutes in the car to review and prepare for the actual exam.  You will have a single sheet of paper to write on during the test.  It is permitted to write your own crib sheet in the testing center, as long as you  bring the information in your memory (brain not flash), and write it on the provided sheet of paper once seated at your testing station.
  • Identity documents – Most certifying organizations and testing centers require two forms of ID, something with a picture, like a driver’s license or passport, and something else, like a credit or debit card.  Both must have signatures. Again, your ID and registration name information must match.
  • Surrender your personal stuff – You will need to surrender your phone, car keys, coat, and anything else in your pockets, so leave the superfluous stuff at home.  This should be locked in a secure cabinet of some sort.  You will be equipped with a white erasable 8.5 x 11 note sheet and black erasable marker.  More on this in a minute.
  • Entering the test space – Be respectful of the other people already testing.  They are probably not taking your exam.  You will be guided to your assigned testing station, and the proctor will log you into your session.  Your name will be confirmed once more.  Then they will start the session.  First you will be asked to review and agree to the confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement.  Do not start the exam timer yet!
  • Crib notes – If you have memorized certain information you need for the test (i.e. CIDR subnetting table) you can write the information onto your white marker sheet.  Do that now, before the timer starts.
  • Clear the head trash – You may be one of the fortunate few who take and pass tests easily.  I am one of those.  For me testing is a game I play against my favorite competitor – myself.  This is mental combat, and I will be the winner.  If you are someone who fears testing, and develops high levels of stress before and during a test, try reframing the experience.  Here is what I recommend.  If you don’t like testing, don’t take a “test.”  Make it a game, or structured research, taking a survey, or something else that isn’t scary.  If you can somehow make it fun, even better.  You can practice this mental game when practice testing, too.
  • Meditate – Yeah, that’s right.  The next step takes a cue from meditation practice.  Immediately before I start the timer, I close my eyes, touch my fingertips together, take two or three deep, cleansing breaths, and clear and relax my mind.  Then I give myself a short pep talk.  It goes like this:  “You know this stuff.  Read the question.  Answer the question.”  Then I start the timer.
  • How to read the question – Finally, the first question appears on the screen.  What I do is read the question, then read the answers.  Disregard any obvious wrong answers.  Go back and re-read the question this time looking for clues and keywords that point to the answer.  Read scenario questions carefully, and be sure to answer what the question is looking for.  Often, this is the next step in a process.  Jumping to the solution will cause you to fail this question.  You know this.  Read the question,  Answer the question.
  • Go with your first choice – Somehow the brain gives us the right answer even if we cannot “remember” it explicitly.  Stick with your first answer, even if it is a “guess.”  Never change an answer unless you are absolutely positive you got it wrong the first time, based on evidence you acquired in the test.  Second-guessing and answer changing leads to failure.  Don’t go there.
  • Stuck – If you get stuck on a question, move one.  Even if you cannot mark it for review and return later, it is better to miss this one question than 15 questions at the end that you did not have time to answer.
  • I’m failing – I have occasionally sat for an exam, and by the seventh question I am convinced I am failing the exam.  Hey, sometimes failure happens.  Don’t panic.  Retesting is not a crime.  In any event, if you are sure you are failing, you can relax (hey, you’re failing anyway so who cares?) and just complete the exam as best you can.  One time I was sure I was failing, so I just relaxed and worked through the exam.  But I passed!!  In any event, you have now seen the actual exam, and you can schedule a retake possessing knowledge about the test that you did not have the first time.  I advise scheduling your retake as soon as it is possible.  The information inside your head is busy leaking away, and testing does not get better with age.
  • Ending the test – This is when you go back to the questions you missed and marked for review.  I usually have 7 or 8 questions marked for review, and I never change more than two answers, and only if I am certain the first choice was wrong.  Once done with review, push the button to end the test.
  • I passed! – Some tests give you your score in the testing room at the end.  Try to avoid doing your end zone dance inside the testing center.  But certainly celebrate once you are outside the facility.  Don’t forget to collect your personal items from the proctor.

So you passed!  Congratulations!  Call a technically minded friend, and go have a beer or other adult beverage.  You earned it.  In our next post, we will discus what you need to do to keep your certification valid.


About the Author:

Cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. Owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, Bob also conducts security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. Bob also teaches Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. Bob works as an instruction for CompTIA’s non-profit IT-Ready Program in the Twin Cities. IT-Ready is a tuition free 8-week program designed to teach students of all ages the fundamentals of IT support to prepare them for an entry level position in Information Technology Support. Graduates of the classes take the exams to become CompTIA A+ certified. Bob is a frequent speaker at conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. Bob has been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

Add a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.