When it comes to preparing for an exam, different methods work for different people. Since not everyone is the same, there are plenty of tips and tricks to ready yourself for an exam and stay ready.
There are three time-tested and well-researched components for preparing yourself to take any major exam, including certifications:
- Staying Physically Ready for an Exam
- Staying Mentally Ready for an Exam
- Staying Emotionally Ready for an Exam
Many people are naturally very good at one or two of these areas—perhaps you have a strong memory, or you don’t get rattled by the significance of the test—but it takes practice to get good at all three.
And if you can master all three of these areas, test taking will not only be much easier for any exams you’re currently preparing for, but it will also get you used to the challenges and routines of staying “on the ball” for future exams, quizzes and tests.
How to Stay Physically Ready for A Certification Exam
Studying will always be the best way to prepare for a certification exam. But how can you prepare to study? Most people need two things in order to be effective while studying—whether you’re cramming or, hopefully, preparing gradually over a long period of time: Low stress and a good space.
But how does one reduce stress quickly, and without the aid of a beach?
The most important area you can start with is your diet. Eating well is important—light, bright foods like salads, grilled chicken and other nutrient-rich dishes will make you feel energetic and alert. Conversely, some big meals that are high in starches like potatoes or rice will seem healthy, but will actually make you feel “heavy” or lethargic and tired. Avoid these before and during your study periods.
Perhaps more important than what you eat is how often—make sure your routine is predictable and helpful to your study habits. You should hydrate often by drinking healthy liquids (water most importantly) throughout the day, and sleep through the night.
The worst thing you can do is lose sleep while studying—studies have shown that preparing for an exam while you are tired reduces your memory retention and negatively impacts you ability to take a test the next day or week.
Following this simple routine and paying attention to your short-term health will help drastically reduce stress in your body, and stress reduction will allow you to remember more for the exam and feel more relaxed while taking it.
After you know what routine you’ll be using, the next step is to identify your study space.
Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and spend time on your subject. Don’t just cram the night before, but instead use and prepare with all of your study materials, including things you think you may not need; you never know what you’ll need until after you’ve begun studying.
Take short breaks, and while studying, write down notes in your preferred format. This will help you remember what you’re having trouble with as well as what you are learning in the moment.
Some note-taking options include: Outlines, lists, flash cards, flow charts, and diagrams.
How to Stay Mentally Ready for A Certification Exam
While studying, remember that it’s best to move from broad concepts to fine details—don’t just try to memorize everything at once. First you must understand the concept you’re studying.
Details become easier to learn once you have a solid base for the concept and theory behind your exam. Taking practice tests or reading through sample questions will help you get a sense of how the exam expects you to be thinking about these concepts.
Many textbooks and websites provide practice tests, and even practicing on old exams and testing yourself will help you remember the theories and concepts that you’ll be tested on. If you’re using Skillset to study, it will also show you which individual skills you are having trouble with and provide skill-based certification practice tests so you know where to focus your energy.
Use Memory Tricks to Remember Exam Material
For short-term memory tricks, try out mnemonic devices or techniques like acronyms, acrostics, or picture-word association.
Acronyms are abbreviations formed (most often) from the first letter of each of a set of words, and can be used as short-hand, easy-to-remember notes. Simple examples include turning the term “Project Management” into the acronym “PM” or to memorize a series of facts, such as the four codes you need to know: C, C++, Java and Python into “CCJP.”
An acrostic is a line or series of lines that, when stacked on top of one another create a word or concept of its own out of the first letter of each line. Say you know that you need to know the mathematical order of operations, parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. You could create the acronym “PEMDAS” from the first letter of each word, or a mnemonic phrase to help you remember, such as the famous: “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” The sillier the phrase, the better you’ll remember.
And speaking of silly, picture-word association works the same way. Associate a concept, acrostic, or acronym with the an easy image to think of, and you’ll be good to go. For example, if you’re studying for an exam where you need to memorize the number 789, imagine the number seven eating the number nine—that will help you remember the phrase “Seven Ate Nine.”
How to Stay Emotionally Ready for A Certification Exam
To emotionally prepare for an exam, it’s all about eliminating stress and building confidence.
Listen to music that relaxes you, such as classical music or jazz, and try chewing gum or mints while studying. Extensive research has shown that if you also chew gum and listen to the same piece of music during or before an exam, it not only creates a habit that relaxes you—it also helps jog your memory of what you were studying.
To avoid further stress, avoid stressful people and situations right before the exam. Concentrate on taking the time, space, and routine YOU need for the exam. Many also swear by relaxing while visualizing the completion and success of the exam.
Most of the tricks you can use are more about feeling prepared than about actually changing your preparation. Many professionals have a good idea of how to prepare for a certification exam. But not everyone feels confident or relaxed while doing so, and certainly not during the exam itself.
A lack of confidence and an unhealthy lifestyle can also increase the difficulty of staying ready for an exam. Whatever you do, don’t stress yourself out!
It’s important to remember that it is just an exam, and while it is a brief and intense moment in your life, there are always do-overs and more opportunities down the road. It’s a small part of your very large career, and you shouldn’t start to feel like it is a life-defining moment.
With a good grasp of the knowledge needed, a concerted effort to keep yourself stress free, a routine you’ve devised specifically for exam preparation, and some of these helpful tips and tricks along the way, there’s plenty to help you stay ready for any important exam.
What types of simple, routine-based study tips have you used while studying for a professional certification exam? Share them in the comments below!