There’s more to passing an IT certification exam than just learning the material you’ll be tested on. You must also build confidence. Creating your own customized “Trip List”—a list of items that trip you up or that are hard to remember—can help.

Why is a Trip List important?
Any longtime reader of IT Certification Corner knows that for years I’ve advocated practicing with simulation exams before hitting the testing center for the real McCoy. But I don’t recommend practice tests just because they help you learn the material you’ll be expected to know on the actual exam. They serve another critical role: They help you gain confidence in your abilities.

Anyone who has ever taken an IT exam, regardless of what he or she might say, has experienced at least some form of anxiety. No one enjoys taking exams, especially those that carry a hefty price tag.

Anxiety, of course, makes you nervous. Nervousness leads to doubt. Doubt gets you second-guessing your answers, which can lead to failure.

Fortunately, building a Trip List can help boost your confidence, thereby minimizing any doubt you might experience. Building the list has an added benefit as well: It helps you master the material you’re studying.

How does it work?
Two weeks ago, I took CompTIA’s Network+ exam. As usual, my confidence wavered upon entering the testing facility. I suffered the typical panic attack. Had I studied sufficiently? Did I really know the material? Was I about to blow 195 bucks?

Fortunately, I had a new weapon to help overcome my fears. In addition to managing the Isabella Factor (I ensured that I prepared properly), I tried a simple method for tracking obscure statistics and facts that I had trouble remembering.

While taking practice tests, I kept a Notepad document open on my PC. Whenever I came across an item that I kept missing, or a fact that I couldn’t commit to memory, I made a quick entry in the Notepad document. A sample line from my sheet reads ThickNet uses RG8 cabling. I studied that list, my Trip List, the night before and the morning of my exam.

For the N+ test, my scratch pad grew to 18 entries or so. While that’s not all I had to master, I knew I’d done a good job of tracking those items that kept tripping me up. Did it work? I scored an 875 out of 900. I missed maybe two questions out of 65.

Rest assured, I’ll use the method again. Not because it helps me remember stray facts that I can’t keep straight. Its real value lies in giving me confidence that I’ve tracked such items and made an effort to memorize them.

What to leave in, what to leave out
Your Trip List will work only if you track those questions, loose facts, and hard-to-remember steps or commands that you’re having trouble memorizing. Don’t try including everything you study on your Trip List. It won’t work. Keep studying until your Trip List consists of fewer than 20 items or so.

The Trip List’s beauty and effectiveness arise from its ability to take those 15 or 20 items you keep tripping up on and tracking them. By isolating those items, you can take a minimum amount of time to review them and even memorize them if you’re so inclined.

The evening before your exam, you can dedicate a half-hour solely to studying those items that have given you trouble. You can even give the list a quick glance in the parking lot, like I did, before you take your test.

Eckel’s take
Even if you don’t remember every item on your Trip List the day of the exam, you will be more confident knowing that you took the time to pay attention to those elements that caused you the greatest trouble. While such a benefit can’t easily be measured, don’t underestimate the importance of confidence.

Working together, your enhanced esteem and the time devoted to studying troublesome issues will make a Trip List well worth the time it took to build.

What are your favorite exam preparation tips?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.