Just because you've taken a course to prepare for the Security+ or MCSE certification exams doesn't mean you're ready for them. How do you know if you're prepared? The quickest route to self-assessment is self-testing.
While you might not savor the idea of volunteering to take a test -- or several -- think of it this way: You're better off uncovering your weaknesses through a practice exam than after spending the time and money taking the real thing.
You can use self-testing in several different ways:
Assess Your Skills
If you're uncertain of your skills in a particular area, practice exams provide a reality check. This is particularly handy when you're looking to increase your knowledge in an IT specialty and want to know where you stand, or if you've been away from a specific technology for a while and want to get a sense of your current knowledge.
Prepare for Interviews
Companies seeking technical employees sometimes ask applicants to take an exam to gain an objective measure of their skills. If you haven't taken a test in a while, self-testing is one way to get back into the groove and learn what sort of questions to expect.
Study for Certification Exams
Of all the reasons techies choose self-testing, certification is certainly the main one. Earning a specific certification is often a key credential for some tech careers. As a result, passing the certification exam is fraught with the same kind of angst teenagers feel when taking their driving test. Once you have paid for a certification course and spent your free time studying for the exams, you'll want to know how you're likely to fare and what you can do to improve your chances of doing well.
Practice exams are widely available thanks to Web-based services and the popularity of certification. Fees vary, with some sites offering free or sample tests. Many of the tests are geared toward preparing for specific certification exams, though some offer testing for more generic skills such as C++ programming and Linux administration.
In an increasingly competitive market, testing and assessment firms often provide plenty of extras, including certification advice, training guides and other resources for IT workers.
Testing sites cater to both IT workers and employers. You may, in fact, be able to glean some insight into what hiring managers are thinking by scouring testing firms' Web sites. Beyond your IT skills, prospective employers may be interested in testing your aptitude for teamwork and the likelihood you will continue to learn and excel on the job.
What should you look for when considering self-test options?
- User Interface: Look for a test demo on the company's site, even if it's not for the exam you want. You'll want to assess how easy it is to use the company's testing system.
- Study Assistance: The results of the self-test should point out areas where you need help and provide assistance in getting that help. The best self-test resources include explanations of exam answers, along with background information and references to other resources for continued learning.
- Question Database: Be sure to choose a test with up-to-date questions for the subject area or certification exam. Ideally, the database of questions should be large enough for you to repeat the self-test without encountering the same ones every time.