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Interested in MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)?

When I first started taking certification exams, I visited certification related message boards to find information on the tests and what skills were required to pass them. Having never taken a certification test, I wanted to be sure that I was ready before forking out the $$$ required (I'm guessing that most people have employers paying that bill, but to date that has not been the case with me). However, I found myself mostly disappointed in the information that I found on those boards; very few people were sharing any particularly useful information. So, to try to contribute to the people who follow me, I wrote the following:

Prerequisites

It took me 17 days to get certified in Network+ from the time that I started studying until the day when I took the test. Everyone starts from somewhere and what people bring with them when they start may influence how easy is their road to success, so I should indicate what I had before I began studying for Network+: I had passed the A+ certification exams and I had a few years experience which came in the form of self-employment in the website development/server administration community (although I also had done some contract work in hardware and software installation and troubleshooting). If the question were asked: "How important is it to take the A+ before taking Network+?", I'd say that, on a scale from 0 to 10 in which 0 is "Completely useless" and 10 is "Essential", I'd rank taking the A+ first at about a 2. The A+ tests were on a Friday, and I started studying for Network+ the next day. (More on passing the A+ certification exam.)

 

Studying for the Network+ Certification Exam

I used two textbooks for my primary study of Network+:

I chose these two books because one is very terse, black and white, and to the point (Exam Cram), while the other explains things in great color with analogies and even humor to facilitate understanding. They're two very different books on two ends of the spectrum.

I read these in parallel, not in series. It seems to me that if you read the two complete sets of the material in series, then your eyes are likely to glaze over when you read the second set since it'll seem like old news. So, what I did was divide both books into tenths, rounded to the nearest end of a chapter, and then I read the first tenth of the Mike Meyer's book followed by the first tenth of Exam Cram; I then switched back and forth reading a tenth of one book followed by a tenth of the other (rounded to the nearest chapter end). This had the effect of having the material presented to me twice, once in each book, as if it were being presented to me the first time. This provided strong reinforcement of the material. When I'd come to things in one book that I'd already read in the other, seeing it the second time not only reinforced the material as it was presented in the previous book, but my understanding from the previous book enhanced my understanding of how the material was presented in the second book. I read a tenth of each book per day (about 105 pages) for ten days. I finished the Mike Meyers textbook and the text portion of the Exam Cram book on a Monday.

On Tuesday, I took the first 60 question sample test in the back of the Exam Cram book and then reviewed the questions that I missed. I did the same with the second 60 question sample test on Wednesday (I did NOT open the CDs in the back of the books nor did I use any other electronic media for my studies) - and then I scheduled my test through VUE. The first available day to test was Monday, so although I had intended for the above to be the extent of my study I actually had some time on the weekend to do some more.

My extra study consisted of using Barnes and Noble like a library. I spent about 12 full hours there with two textbooks:

I studied with these two textbooks by going straight to the end of the chapters and quizzing myself with the chapter quizzes. If I felt like I didn't do well on the material in the quiz (like not knowing the correct answers to at least 75% of the questions), then I'd read the associated chapter through in its entirety. That introduced me to things that weren't mentioned in the two texts that I'd previously read, although it was insisted that Network+ would question on the subjects, including: Which operating systems are accepted by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and at which level of security?. Yet, I encountered no similar questions on the exam. However, I'm guessing that although the exam is linear in format and has 72 questions total for everyone, those 72 questions are pulled randomly from a pool of a greater number of questions. However, that's just a guess.

I thought that the test was easy and I scored an 820; the receptionist at the tech school where I tested said, when she saw my score, "You got a really high score!", so I guess I did okay - but I've nothing in my own personal realm of experience to compare it to other than the scale (100-900) and the minimum passing (646).

This method worked for me and I'd recommend it to anyone else who wants to make sure that they pass the first time.

. Original Copyright, May 2004. All Rights Reserved.