Making the right decisions about time management is critical to success in IT certification.Whether you are a seasoned IT pro or a fresher stepping into India’s IT market place, there is one rule: You have to stay on top of the Information Technology world in order to stay sharp, and stay ahead of your competitors. This is much easier said than done. Besides the demands of a full-time job, you also have to balance your home, family, and personal lives as well.

Trying to keep up with the pace of technology requires you to absorb a fair amount of information. This can be done by reading trade magazines and journals, social media and blog posts, wikis, forums, and the like, but trying to find the time to do this isn’t always easy. Perhaps at best, you have maybe just 15 or 20 minutes to glance at the latest headlines on your smartphone. But then the thought often arrives that you just want some downtime to disconnect from anything technology related after a long day’s work.

Certification

In the end, spending spare time keeping up with the latest happenings in the IT Industry, is still a good way to prove to your employer (or prospective employer) your willingness to learn. You also show the advantage of bringing to the job all of the new found information which you have soaked into your brain. Anyone, however, can quote interesting bits of information. How do you prove that you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to do the job?

The easiest way is to possess a prestigious IT certification. With more than 1,700 certifications currently available, finding the right one for your career can be difficult and confusing. My advice is that you study carefully your job requirements and career prospects, and then determine which cert(s) is most applicable to your goals.

Bear in mind that taking a certification exam in India can be a daunting and time-consuming task. Many certification tracks now require that you possess a certain number of hours or even years of work experience (which has to be documented), and many times, you must pass a practice exam first before you can even register to take the actual exam.

Sitting for the certification exam can be expensive. Add on the cost of acquiring the proper preparation material and it isn’t long before you’re close to breaking your budget.

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you that you have carefully selected the certification you want to earn and have saved your hard-earned rupees to pay for it. The next hurdle is to find the time to study and prepare. After all, you still have your day job and that family that seems to require a great deal of your time and attention.

Not to worry. In this article, I’ll outline a few tips to help you, in your limited time, to adequately prepare for your chosen exam.

Set a date for the exam

A good goal is timely. Knowing the date you will sit for the exam is a great way to help you focus and stay on track. Plus it is a reminder that nothing lasts forever — there is an end to your hard work and sacrifice on a certain date, and you have to be ready on that date. It is said that, “Knowing you’ll be hung in the morning helps to focus the mind.” This is true, too, with an exam date. Knowing you have until a certain date to prepare can give you a sense of urgency to get ready.

Regular time to study

Regardless of how busy you are or the demands you face, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Hard choices will have to be made. You have to give up something good for something better down the road. Embarking on an IT certification exam involves a substantial financial commitment, and an equal investment in time.

Be disciplined in setting aside a regularly scheduled time to study. Having a set time will discipline you. Perhaps it is in the early morning or late at night. Maybe it’s brief snatches of 15-to-30 minutes during lunch or travelling to and from work. Regardless of the time and the amount that you set aside for studying, make certain that you do it — no excuses!

Hard choices have to be made. Remember that you are giving up something good, lunch with your mates, or treasured sleep, for something better — a career boosting certification!

Involve others

Get family and friends involved in your certification effort. Share your reasons for wanting the cert. Let them know how it will make your job and life better. People can be very understanding and even supportive. They can help protect your study time and cheer your efforts.

You wouldn’t offer a good friend or family member who is trying to lose weight a piece of cake. Instead you would understand their desire and efforts, and do what you could to help them reach their goal. It’s the same studying for a certification — the people who matter in your life will understand and support you in your efforts. It helps to have a cheering section.

Multiple study aids

We live in the “Information Age” with literally hundreds of thousands of pages and examples of study materials — and much of it useful. Find out which study aids best fit your style of learning. Ask other individuals who are already certified what worked for them and then make appropriate choices.

You wouldn’t climb a dangerous mountain with just a rope would you? You’d use carabiners, harnesses, and belay devices. So too with a certification exam. Why limit yourself to a computer program or a book when you can use both? Plus there are discussion boards, forums, tutorials and tons of videos — all within a few mouse clicks.

Study groups

While it is great to study by yourself, the adage that “two heads are better than one” still applies. By this, I mean that you can be just as or even more productive when studying with peers who are attempting the same exam.

Not only can you bounce test taking tips off one another, but you can help each other figure out where you went wrong on practice exams. Plus the group will help you stay focused and certain to get your scheduled study time in.

Practice exams

Making the right decisions about time management is critical to success in IT certification.Just like hitting the “reset” button after dying in a video game, failing a practice exam costs you nothing more than time. Plus it can help you get a better idea of the sort of questions to be found on the real exam.

The upside to spending money on a review course is that it typically comes with plenty of practice exams. Reputable vendors will have access to a student portal with as many practice exams as you may desire. If not provided, you can also find practice exams online, or through other test taking forums on the internet.

A word of caution: Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can take as much time as you want on these exams. In the real testing world, you have a finite time in which to complete the actual exam. You should try to complete your practice exams within the specified time limit.

This will help you get a feel for the pace you need to maintain on the official exam. Also, it is one thing to finish a practice exam, and the official one, on time, but it helps to have left enough time to review difficult questions within the prescribed time limit.

You make the call

Getting ready not only means studying hard and passing the practice exams in the prescribed time period, but you must also feel that you are ready as well. For instance, if you have passed all the practice exams you can stomach, but still don’t feel ready for the official exam, don’t take it!

Remember, you have put a lot of money into taking the exam, if you fail, that money cannot be refunded. You should, however, not be afraid to take the exam. In other words, take your time preparing, but bear in mind that you don’t have all the time in the world.

Sitting for a certification is serious business. Making time to prepare is just as important. There may be times when you regret your decision to take the exam, and you may not like the sacrifices you have to endure. Just keep in mind that the reward is worth the effort — particularly when you have the prestige of a new certification and the larger responsibilities and higher salary that often accompany it.