So you’ve decided to try to get that certification by studying on your own, eh? You’ve looked at those class prices and thought, “Okay, decision time: $1,600 for a class or $49 for a book?” Tough choice, right?

Or maybe it was the class schedule. You couldn’t get off during the day, your boss wouldn’t okay it as company-paid training, or you just couldn’t tie up your evenings like that. I have two seemingly contradictory responses to your decision:

  • You can do it!
  • Get real.

Here’s what I mean.

You can do it! Even though it sounds like I’ve been spending too much time in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, you can get a cert by studying on your own. People will tell you, “Oh, that one’s really hard. You’ll never get it without going to a class.” Let’s be real honest—when you tell people, even family members, that you are working on a technical certification (or anything that makes you seem smarter, more progressive, or improved in some way), you will stir up stuff in them that has nothing to do with you. Don’t let their need to keep you where you are influence you and your dream. People do self-study every day on a wide range of subjects. If someone can get a law degree at night after cleaning toilets all day, you can pass a technical cert on your own. I’ve done it, lots of my friends have done it—lock it in your head: You can do it.

Of course, it’s going to mean some work, right? You understood that going in, didn’t you? You didn’t? Well, bucko, that leads me to my second point:

Get real. Lots of people go into the self-study “home schooling” biz without really understanding what it’s going to take. Let’s be real plain—nothing worth having is free. Getting that cert is going to cost you—in time, money, or both. I’ve known any number of people who went out, bought a book, gave it a cursory read, and then failed the test. Why? They hadn’t paid their dues.

To get real you have to take a realistic look at what it is going to cost you to get ready for this test. You didn’t want to take the time to go to class at night? Then count on studying after the kids go to bed or before everyone gets up in the morning. You don’t have the right machine at home on which to practice? Then count on staying late or spending Saturdays at work to do the exercises or to get your hands in the box.

Bluntly, you need to stop, assess your finances and your schedule, and ask yourself, “What am I going to give up to pass this cert?” If your answer is “nothing,” then take the book back to the bookstore and get your money back. You’re not ready.

By the way, if you are reading this and thinking, “Well, I went in and passed that test and I didn’t study or nothing. I didn’t pay any dues,” I’ve got a flash for you: Sure you paid your dues. You paid them in the work you did that gave you the experience to pass that test. If you know the product well enough to pass the test, then you’ve paid your dues at some point.

Books and home schooling are a way to speed up the due-paying process—to learn enough in a shorter period of time and over the entire feature set. But be sure you understand this:

It’s not going to happen by putting the book under your pillow.

So, as you stand there in the bookstore, looking at that Exam Prep book, ask yourself two questions:

  • “Do I really believe I can do this?”
  • “Am I ready to pay the price to make it happen?”

If you can answer yes to both questions, then and only then, is it time to put your money on the counter. You’ve got the drive, and you’ve faced reality. You’re ready.

Bruce Maples is a technical trainer and writer. Bruce is certified in several Microsoft technologies and frequently travels to client sites to troubleshoot problems and train employees. Follow this link to send Bruce an e-mail