Nov 22, 2023 4 min read

Exam-Taking Techniques - #1: Pick a Good Time for the Exam

Imagine yourself sitting an exam, clicking on the "End Exam" button, and receiving a passing grade! That's the goal of this series of posts.

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This is the first post in the Exam-Taking Techniques series. Whether it is a computer-related exam or any other exam, I hope these tips, tricks, and techniques help you to become a better test taker.

Timing is Everything

When scheduling an exam, set a time that works well for you, a time when you don’t have to worry about anything else. Sounds pretty obvious, but let's dig a little further.

Make the exam first and foremost. Give it your utmost attention. I find that sitting the exam as the first order of business for the day is the best method. For me, that means 8 am. However, your routine may differ. The key is to arrange things in a way where you can take full advantage of your brain's best hours. For many people, this is an hour or two after waking.

  • For exams that have to be taken at a testing center, I find that Monday and Friday mornings usually have the least amount of people, and tend to go more smoothly. This is a generalization, but it makes some sense. People often have important things to get done on Mondays (other than exams). Fridays tend to be vacation days.
  • For exams that are taken online (from home), the most important element is quiet. You should select a time when you will have the quietest environment, the least number of distractions, and the lowest amount of stress.
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Depending on the type of exam, the time might be set by the testing entity. In that case, you are tied to their schedule.
However, it could be that there are multiple time slots or days available. Watch out for these and use them to your advantage.
That said, most technology exams can be scheduled when you wish to do so.

Be Prepared!

I don't like to speak in absolutes, but in this case, I have to. DO NOT schedule your exam until you are ready! If you do schedule and are not prepared, you risk failing the exam, possibly losing money, and definitely, losing time.

Understandably, deadlines have to be set sometimes, but in general, try not to register for the exam until you feel confident you can pass. Things come up in life that can sometimes get in the way of your study time - and often, they pop up at the worst times! It happens, but keep in mind that most exams can be canceled as long as you give 48 hours' notice. (To be sure, check that time frame when registering.)

So how can you do this effectively? How can you be sure that you are prepared? One method is to make sure you have studied as much as possible, and have checked off every objective for the exam - with confidence. Then register for the exam, to be taken in one week. This gives you extra time to do the following:

  • Study concepts that you suddenly found you have missed (common).
  • Take a day before the exam to do something completely different (I recommend this strongly).
  • Back out of the exam gracefully, if necessary (also common).

Remember, preparation is key. Don't be afraid to spend a substantial amount of time preparing. Here's a good quote:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

As a rule of thumb, the more time you spend in preparation, the more time you will save overall!

Pace Yourself

Take your time. Be patient. Patience is what it's all about in the tech field. If you are impatient, you invite failure.

For example, I present to you the two-day trap. What I mean by this is when a person registers for an exam with the exam date just two days away and plans to cram for that exam for 48 hours. This is usually a recipe for disaster. I've seen it many times. Some people can do it, but studies show that well over 50% of people who cram in this manner... fail. I don't know about you, but I don't like those odds, especially at today's exam prices ($$$!!!). Also, if you find halfway through your cram that it isn't working, and you try to cancel the exam, you will probably lose your exam fee. Money talks.

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Fun fact: Every time you study for an exam, it's a cram!

It's true though. Whenever you study for an exam, you are trying to encompass a huge amount of professional knowledge that would normally be gained in the field — and you're trying to do it in a short period of time. If a person actually works in the field and uses the technology that the exam objectives cover, then that person has the advantage. However, most of the time, a typical technician uses/knows only 25% of the content listed in an exam's objectives—even if that person works with the technology every day. So, don't get a false sense of security, the advantage is not as great as it may seem. On the other hand, many of you reading this will not have field experience at all, so you are at a disadvantage. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you work in the field or not—you will have to cram to a certain extent.

Essentially, when you cram, you are trying to force several periods of time into one. For example, 6 months of professional, on-the-job learning, into 1 month of study. That's the typical breakdown. When looked at this way, you get a new level of respect for the quantity of studying that should be accomplished (not to mention the quality of study).

So, I strongly suggest that you don't rush signing up for an exam.

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Going further... Don't rush the exam itself.
(More on this in a future post.)

Time is of the Essence

Use your time effectively. I alluded to the quality of study time. That's what it's all about. For example, 10 minutes of quality study beats 30 minutes of poorly executed cramming.

This mindset can have vast implications for your tech profession. If you can improve the quality of learning in general, you can save yourself one or more hours per week. We're talking hundreds of hours of saved time throughout your career. We'll cover this concept in more depth in future Exam-Taking Techniques posts.

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So remember, pick a good time for the exam. It could be the extra boost you need to pass the exam the first time!
And know this - you are the expert. You can do this!
Thanks for reading. 🙏

Cover Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu / Unsplash

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