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How to Deal With the Agony of Defeat


So you just failed an exam and you are sulking in a dark room feeling like an idiot and your ego is probably severely bruised. You may be feeling like your career plans are shot to hell and are struggling to decide whether you should stay at your brick-laying job or go join the circus. Well, there is good news! First off, you have already taken the exam and now know what to expect. If the score report breaks down your score into categories, make sure you hang on to this so you can see which areas you struggled with and brush up on them. The other piece of good news is that I am going to share with you our 3 step recovery program that will break you out of your funk and put you on your way to passing your exam.

Step 1:
The first thing that you need to do is realize that most of us fail at some point. I have met very few people that have made it all the way through the MCSE exams without failing, a ton of people fail the CCNA, and even CompTIA exams sometimes catch people off guard when they don't know what to expect. There is no need to beat yourself up about it.

Step 2:
The second thing you need to do is get some perspective, and the best way to do this is to forget about the exam and go have some fun. I would probably search for that fun in the bottom of a bottle, but do what works best for you. This is a key step because studying while depressed and frustrated is futile. A few days break should be enough. Don't take too long, or you will begin to forget what you have recently learned.

Step 3:
Now the hard part - you need to figure out what went wrong. We'll make it easy on you by listing the most common reasons we see in our forums, and some easy solutions.

  • Out of Your League:
    Without getting into a long diatribe about "Paper MCSEs", I will say that this is probably the most common reason for failure. Not all certifications are created equal, and they are designed for specific skill sets and experience levels. If your background is web design and you attempt the CCNA exam with no hands-on experience, you will probably fail at least once (probably more). Similarly, if you work at a helpdesk troubleshooting Microsoft Office problems all day long, a MCSE certification is going to be rough. How can you learn to design enterprise networks from a book? The solution is to start with certifications that match your current experience level.


  • Poor Training Material Selection:
    I have seen countless posts in the forums from people who have failed stating that they used an Exam Cram book and a free online practice exam to prepare. Or took the CCNA exam without ever having touched a router or simulator. Or taken Microsoft exams with only a single 486 computer running Windows 95 to practice on. And while it is hard not to feel bad for these people, I can't help feeling like they might be taking crazy pills.

    For starters, not all study guides serve the same purpose. For any advanced level certification (MCSA, MCSE, CCNA, CCNP, LPIC-1, etc) you should ALWAYS have more than one reference. At least one of them should be a full-blown study guide (not Exam Cram, Passport, Wave Technologies, etc). Supplemental materials can include the previously mentioned cram style books, a second full-blown study guide, online study guides, and vendor tutorials such as Microsoft's "Technet" or Cisco's "Tech Support & Documentation".

    In addition to the above, you should get professionally developed practice test software in order to find your weak areas and assess your overall preparedness. Judging from the ratings, our users seem to think our free exams are pretty good, but you might need more.

    You need equipment to practice on. If you are taking a network exam and only have one computer, there are options such as Real VNC, Virtual PC, VMware, and others. You can get Cisco equipment used and on E-bay. The point is that you need to be able to study hands on.

    For many certification exams, There are plenty of other training options available such as CBTs, audio tapes, and classroom training. Only you know how you learn best, so choose wisely. Check out our Books & Training section for more information.


  • Poor Preparation Habits:
    If you think that studying with the T.V. on while jacked up on Mountain Dew and your spouse yelling at you for not doing the dishes is an acceptable study environment, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you are overly nervous and drink 6 cups of coffee, forget to eat, and smoke a pack of cigarettes before your exam, you'll probably have a panic attack and fail. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will just have you read CertNotes Study Tips.


  • Underestimation:
    Sometimes it just comes down to a person not giving an exam the respect that it deserves. Maybe you have been a hardware technician since there was such thing as "hardware" and felt that you were above studying. Maybe you just graduated from college and thought the exam would be like one of your college mid-terms. Maybe your co-workers told you it was easy so you didn't study very hard. What you may not have taken into account is the fact that your co-workers might be smarter than you. In any event, if you underestimated the exam you would have to be a magician or a moron to make that mistake twice.


  • Sad Truth:
    I hate to end this on an unhappy note, but I have never been much for Hollywood endings. The brutal truth is that not everybody belongs in the I.T. world. I could spend the rest of my life trying to teach my wife how to troubleshoot basic computer problems and it would probably just get worse. Why? Because she is a Pisces and and artist. Her brain simply does not work that way. There are way too many people pursuing certifications that have no earthly business doing so. Not only are they in for a miserable career loaded with failures, they also wreck their co-workers days until the inevitable pink-slip party. KNOW THYSELF!!! If you continue to fail your certification exams, you should consider the fact that you might be missing your true calling.


  • It is easy to blame the test, the test center, the alignment of the stars, but remember that people pass these exams (without cheating) everyday. When you point at something, there are always 3 fingers pointing back at you - acknowledge them.

    Best of luck!





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