This is what I usually do to learn a new skill or pass an exam. I hope you find it useful
- I ask some basic questions: Why do I need this skill or exam? In some cases it’s pretty clear: with the 300-209 exam (SIMOS), I will be able to configure and troubleshoot VPNs. With the 300-207 exam, I will be able to configure and troubleshoot IPS devices. Is it something I need at this point or is there a risk I will forget this skill soon after learning it? Will I use it in the future? Does it open any doors for me? Is it part of some bigger plan that I have for myself?
- I do some research into available courses on the internet. Generally, I prefer video courses to books because IT knowledge doesn’t lend itself well to the book medium
- I buy 2-3 video courses. My usual picks are udemy, cbtnuggets, ine. If I can’t find anything there, it’s a warning that the exam may either be not very relevant or very new. Is it better to wait and see? Sometimes, compiling your own course based on whatever you can find is very time-consuming.
- I buy a book or two on the subject. Is the scope broader than the video course? If it’s much broader, it’s a warning that much more practice will be needed later. Safari is the best place to find books. If a book is particularly content-rich and hands-on, it’s worth considering a paper copy, because you can make notes.
- I try to either buy hardware on which to practise or find a rack rental company.
- I create a detailed plan for the next three months. This takes some thinking: how much time can i spend every day? Do i need weekend breaks? Try to be realistic. After a few exams you will know your learning capability better and planning will be easier. Follow the plan as much as possible but don’t be too religious about it. Avoid burning out. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- I start watching the video courses. One – two hours of learning is what I can usually do, up to 6 hours when I’m at my best. If I get tired, I take one or two days of break. Try to make notes or take screenshots of any non-trivial configurations
- After the video course, I read the books once or twice.
- After the books, I book the exam. This is a good time to ask yourself the question whether you really need the exam. You’ve learnt the skill so why waste time and money on the exam? Weigh in pros and cons. If you’ve decided to take the exam, remember that you still haven’t done much/any practise so you need another 4-6 weeks. Booking the exam early makes me more disciplined in the last weeks because at this point I’m usually a bit tired with the learning routine.
- I spend the last two-three weeks practising everything you’ve learnt. Get a lab book if available (e.g CCNA, CCNP, CCIE)
- Talk to a person that has passed this exam or who has experience in this area. Is there anything that is particularly important? Are some practical skills particularly useful? In case of job skills, what sort of tasks are the most common?
- One week before the exam it’s a good idea to read recent documentation on the subject. Have there been any changes in the technology? New features? has something become obsolete?
- Two days before the exam ask yourself honestly: Can I pass the exam? If not, postpone the exam if this is option is available for free. I’m not a big fan of postponing but after failing a few times i became more humble regarding my chances. With time and experience you will be able to make better judgments. Remember that a task usually takes as much time as you have available so don’t be too humble either.
- I take the exam. If it’s a success, it’s time to celebrate. If I fail, it’s time to analyze what went wrong. Does it mean that I haven’t learnt the skills or does it mean that the test is flawed because it asks irrelevant questions. If you’ve learnt the skills (good score in labs but worse in theory), rethink the point of the exam. Retake the exam only after a detailed analysis of what went wrong the last time.
Remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you’re learning. The most important thing is to have a plan and to follow this plan. If you have 20 minutes a day – fine. If you have 2 hours a day – all the better but will you be able to sustain this pace? if you have 6 hours a day, is it still healthy for you to spend so much time learning?