There are two elements common to all of my test-taking experiences. I call them “the twins.” I’ve never taken an IT certification exam without first using this powerful pair of tools. Which two resources have helped pave my way to an eight-for-eight exam track record? That’s the subject of this week’s IT Certification Corner.

Hint: The first twin is red and black
I wouldn’t think of taking an IT certification exam without first reading the respective Coriolis Exam Cram. The distinctive soft-cover, red-and-black guides are invaluable tools.

In fact, I found Exam Crams so helpful that I approached Coriolis with my first book proposal. Before you worry that my interests are conflicted, as I’ve written two books for Coriolis now, know that I’ve neither authored nor edited an Exam Cram. Neither do I earn a single cent based on Exam Cram sales.

I still purchase Exam Crams at my local Books-A-Million store. I pay full price just like you. Why?

I can’t find a better resource that collects exam objective information as neatly and concisely, without leaving important information out. Chapters are logically organized along exam objective lines. Should you still have questions at the end of a chapter, you’ll find the authors have included a Need To Know More? section listing additional resources you can refer to for more information on the chapter’s topics.

Like most publishers, Coriolis also includes sample test questions at the end of each Exam Cram chapter. These questions offer yet another opportunity to determine whether the experience you’ve obtained working with the software, studying, and reading have prepared you well.

Best yet, at the end of each Exam Cram, you’ll find a complete sample test covering all of the real exam’s objectives. I like to try those before scheduling my test. In areas where I have trouble, I usually resort to rereading the corresponding chapters in the book.

Unlike some IT professionals, however, I’d never think of taking an IT certification exam having read only the Coriolis Exam Cram. That’s not the book series’ strength.

Exam Crams are not substitutes for spending time with the software. They are not substitutes for reading a Microsoft Press guide or another publisher’s study guide. They are not substitutes for on-the-job experience.

Instead, Exam Crams work best because they help consolidate all the information you’ve read. They collect all the various commands, services, permissions requirements, procedures, and processes you’ve practiced on the real-world software and need to know in order to pass your exam. Furthermore, they help prepare you for the actual exam by offering the sample test questions.

But I wouldn’t head into an IT exam without first working with additional test simulation software. That’s where the second twin comes into play.

Hint: The second twin is built in Titan country
If you’re a National Football League fan, you know the Titans play in Nashville. And you’re probably also aware that Nashville is known as Music City U.S.A. What you may not know is that Nashville is also home to Transcender Corp. From my perspective, Transcender builds the best practice exams money can buy.

I’m not overjoyed with the Transcender Flash products, which essentially pop up various facts you should know for the exam you’ll be taking. While I enjoyed reviewing them, I’m not sure I’d enjoy paying for them.

Instead, I believe Transcender’s crown jewels are its simulation exams. I’ve often heard IT professionals say that if you can pass all the Transcender practice tests related to a specific exam, you’re ready for the real-world test. That’s the truth.

While the Transcender exams are tough, and I absolutely dread sitting down with them when I study for a test, they show me exactly what I know. They’re good for me. Plus, they help build my confidence.

I rely upon two Transcender features, in particular. First, I like to know immediately after I’ve answered each question whether my response was correct. Transcender let’s you configure that option, which I recommend.

Second, Transcender offers Live Updates. While I have to check Coriolis’ Web site and print out an errata filing for the Exam Cram I purchased, all I have to do with a Transcender practice test is click on the Live Update feature. All updates and corrections are loaded to my machine, and I can continue on my merry way.

Just as with the Exam Crams, though, the Transcender simulation exams are no substitute for spending quality time with the software or hardware you’ll be tested on. Further, you should still read a few books, too. Frankly, if your preparation consists of only a few practice tests, you deserve what you’re likely to receive on exam day.

Eckel’s take
There you have it. The twins. Spend time working with the real-world software and hardware before you take a test. Build your expertise. Read a complete study guide. Then, fill in any holes you may have missed, consolidate your knowledge, and build your confidence using Coriolis Exam Crams and Transcender simulation tests. I think you’ll be glad you did.

What are your favorite certification resources?

What do you rely on for your studies? We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.