By Michael Aldridge
When my wife became pregnant with our first child, we had no idea what to expect. So we prepared by reading pregnancy books, searching online, taking childbirth classes, and talking to friends who had already gone through the experience. Sure, there were a few things that we weren't prepared for, but we were ready for most of the situations we encountered along the way.
Although taking a certification exam doesn't quite compare to having a child, it can still be a scary, stressful process, especially if you are taking your first certification exam. Fortunately, I've been down that road many times, so I have decided to create a three-part blog series on what you can expect before, during, and after taking a certification exam. In this first blog post, I'm going to describe the process leading up to exam day.
The first thing you need to do is to register for the exam. So how soon do you need to register? In my experience, you can usually register for an exam and take it the next day. Because I have a lot of testing centers in my area, I usually wait until I am ready to take the exam before I register. Others like to set themselves an artificial deadline by registering for the exam several weeks or months in advance, then studying up to the deadline date. If you don't feel ready by the deadline, you can reschedule the exam as long as you give notice 24 hours in advance. However, I've known people who have forgotten to reschedule in time and didn't prepare well enough. You can probably guess what happened to most of them.
Pearson VUE handles registration and administration of Cisco and CompTIA exams, and Prometric handles registration and administration of Microsoft exams. VUE and Prometric are exam providers. They authorize testing centers, handle scheduling of the testing center PCs, deliver the exams to the testing centers, and report exam results back to the certification providers (Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft).
Some training providers offer the use of their testing facilities only to their students, and some even include the cost of the certification exam in their training packages. Those who don't use a training provider can register online with VUE or Prometric. When you register, you will be shown a list of the closest testing centers. Some testing centers offer both VUE and Prometric exams, but some offer only one or the other. Select the testing center and the date you want to test, and a list of available start times will be displayed.
After you select your testing time, you will need to pay for the exam, usually by credit card or voucher. A voucher is a pre-paid payment method that you can use to register for an exam. Vouchers often provide a discount off the full exam price, so they are typically purchased in bulk by training providers, employers, and other organizations. However, vouchers can also be purchased by individuals. If you purchase a voucher online, be sure that you are purchasing your voucher from a reputable source. Also, be aware that vouchers often have expiration dates, so be sure to register before the voucher expires. Otherwise, you'll be out of luck.
Finally, get a good night's sleep before the exam. Cramming at the last minute might feel necessary, but it might do your score more harm than good. Be honest with yourself about your study habits; if you're not ready, reschedule, but you'll need to do so at least 24 hours before your exam is scheduled to begin.
In my next blog post of the "What to Expect" series, I'll discuss what happens the day of your certification exam.