Although a wide range of IT certification information is available on the Web, you can’t trust everything you read. When such high stakes (job promotions, time spent studying, money spent on training, expensive and nerve-racking tests, etc.) are in play, you should ensure that you’re obtaining your tips and information from knowledgeable sources and using the best resources you can.

But which sites offer the best and most helpful IT certification information? My list of the top 10 sites might surprise you. Not just because of which destinations made the list but because of those that didn’t. A year ago, even six months ago, my list would have looked much different than it does today.

For example, you won’t find Exam Cram listed. On March 28, I read a Publisher’s Weekly newsletter announcement that Coriolis was shutting down the next day. Even though the former certification-publishing leader was still trying to sell some of its assets at the time this column was written, the Exam Cram Insider Newsletter hadn’t been updated for a while.

As you read the following list, keep in mind that the only sites I omitted from contention were those that actually sponsor a widely recognized certification exam. That said, here are my picks for the Web’s 10 most helpful certification sites.

Surprised to find MC MCSE in the top 10? Can a low-budget player really compete with the big guns in the market? I think so.

Don’t let the site mislead you. More than just Microsoft (MCSE) exam and certification information can be had. The portal also covers Cisco, CompTIA, and CIW certifications.

MC MCSE offers study guides, practice exams, online labs, news, forums, and more. Best of all, everything’s free.

9. Transcender
I’ve never tried a certification exam without first giving Transcender‘s simulation exams a go. Neither should you. That’s why Transcender’s Web site makes my top 10 list of the best certification resources.

Besides demonstration simulation exams and flash card software you can download for free, Transcender offers technical how-to articles. Join the Transcender Club (it’s free; all you have to do is register) and check out the Transcender TechCenter. There, you’ll find technical articles and article archives from a few IT industry writers, including the venerable Spike (Transcender’s “certification guru” who writes a regular column for Certification Magazine).You won’t find a ton of technical content in this section, but I’m hopeful that Transcender will expand it to offer even more of the news and inside information certification candidates always seek.

One thing’s for sure. The content and software you find on Transcender’s site can be trusted. That alone makes it worthy of inclusion on my top 10 list.

8. MCSE Directory
The MCSE Directory is just that: a directory that points you toward a wide variety of resources you can use in the pursuit of Microsoft certification. You’ll find links to practice exams, study resources, and other online resources. You’ll also find links to popular independent Web sites run by individuals, forums where certification topics are discussed around the clock, and even MCSE Web sites in languages other than English.

All told, you’ll find more than 150 links to other certification resources on the Web. Considering the wide range of links the directory points you toward, it’s no wonder that Windows 2000 Magazine rated the MCSE Directory a Certification Web Site Gold Mine a few years ago. I think the designation still holds true today.

But one word of caution: Although the MCSE Directory does a good job of linking to other resources, there’s no guarantee that every resource the site links to is accurate. So don’t take as gospel everything you read, even if you found a resource using the MCSE Directory. Instead, use the information you find on lesser-known sites to help round out your understanding, not to serve as truth.

7. CertMag
You can turn to Certification Magazine for feature articles, guest editorials, and news items written for the IT certification crowd. But that alone isn’t enough to make my list of the 10 best certification resources on the Web. The site qualifies for my list thanks to its informative study guides and salary survey, two items that are always in demand.

In addition to those resources, you’ll find links to other sites. You can also enter an online request to subscribe to the paper version of Certification Magazine, something you should do if you haven’t already. It’s a free magazine that regularly offers timely news and guidance for IT professionals pursuing Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, and other certifications.

6. Rapid Assess/2Test
Thomson Prometric hosts both the RapidAssess and 2Test exam registration Web pages, so I count them as a single destination in this list. Both sites are among the most helpful Web resources available because you can use one to help gauge whether you’re ready for the real exam and the other to actually schedule your test.

If you’ve never scheduled an exam online, I recommend you give it a try. You choose from available exam slots at the location of your choice.

You should also try the demonstration exam that maps to the test you’ll be taking before you schedule your real exam. The free simulations offer another opportunity to see how well prepared you are. Should you wish to try more questions, you can order them online, although I recommend you consider purchasing the Transcender product in such a situation.

5. ExamNotes
The ExamNotes Web site boasts busy forums where certifications are the focus of discussion, exam descriptions, study guides, and even practice exams. Best of all, ExamNotes isn’t limited to covering a single certification program—it covers a wide range of certifications, including the following:

  • MCSE
  • MCSD
  • CCNA
  • CCNP
  • CCIE
  • CNE
  • A+
  • Network+
  • I-Net+
  • Linux+
  • LPI Linux
  • OCP
  • SCSA
  • RHCE

ExamNotes provides links to other certification sites and offers various electronic newsletters. I expect you’ll find the site’s real value comes from its study guides and practice exams (powered by Cert21).

4. MCP Magazine
MCP Magazine is edged out of the top three only because its focus is essentially limited to Microsoft certifications. The magazine, as a result of a strong relationship with Microsoft, may well be the best source of Microsoft certification news available.

In addition to being a first-rate news site, MCP Magazine offers what may be the industry’s definitive salary survey. Other valuable resources on the site include live chats, forums, quiz questions, reviews, and editorial columns.

If you don’t subscribe to MCP Magazine, you should. It’s a 101communications-powered resource you should take advantage of each month.

3. CertCities
CertCities claims to be the Ultimate Site for Certified IT Professionals, and it definitely comes close. The site offers a clean look, timely news articles, book reviews, salary surveys, links to other certification sites, newsletters, and exam reviews. CertCities also offers forums, sponsors chats, and provides conference information. Another 101communications-powered Web portal, CertCities covers a wide range of certifications, including Microsoft, Cisco, A+, Network+, and Oracle.

However, CertCities isn’t my first choice for certification information. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, I prefer sites that offer grassroots information about what’s on an exam and how you can best study for it. Thus, while you should probably drop by CertCities at least once a week, I think I’ve found a couple of sites on the Net that can better prepare you.

2. CertTutor
It should come as no surprise that CertTutor earns runner-up accolades. You’ll find the most active certification forums here, as well as articles covering certification topics. Yes, there’s a newsletter. There are also certification-related polls, sample exams, and book reviews. There’s even some peace of mind knowing the site is a member of the trusted Windows 2000 & .NET Magazine Network.

But what really accounts for CertTutor landing in the number two spot are its robust certification forums. There are tons of threads, and more important, tons of folks responding to those threads. If you have a question about certification materials, recent announcements, a particular exam, or a question you haven’t figured out but must before you take your exam, hit this site’s forums. You’ll be glad you did.

1. CramSession
I don’t like the color purple, and I recently received a CramSession Byte Back News item (a collection of top 10 lists promoting content that was far from politically correct) penned by A. J. Axline that should never have been sent. Still, CramSession offers some of the best forums and study guides to be found on the Net.

CramSession’s study guides are outstanding. They set the bar. Plus, they’re available for Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, Novell, Lotus, and other vendors’ exams. And they’re free. All you need to do is register.

The StudyGuides feature alone earns CramSession a spot in the top 10 list. The fact that you can subscribe to CramChallenge newsletters that deliver an exam question a day to your inbox, visit popular forums, find study tips, and read product reviews helps vault the site into the number one spot. The site’s SkillDrill feature, which allows you to take 45-question exams similar to real-world vendor tests, helps ensure that CramSession retains the number one spot.

Eckel’s take
That’s my top 10 collection. Maybe you have other sites and resources in your top 10 certification sites list. Post your favorites in the discussion below.