Take a CompTIA exam, they said. It will be fun, they said.
Studying the Wrong Material
You do no need to spend thousands of dollars or spend months in a formal class to pass CompTIA exams.
Between the end of April 2019 and the first week of December in 2019 I studied for and passed the A+, Network+, and Security+ while also working on a master’s degree. The only two sources relevant to pass are CompTIA’s Certmaster Practice (have to pay) and ProfessorMesser.com’s free study videos. That is all I used and have had plenty of students pass using only those two sources.
Please do not waste your time and money on secondary sources that are not straight from CompTIA that charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege of learning their interpretation of what is on the exam. CompTIA does not care what they say, so you should not either. The point is to pass the certification not to read a novel about technology. You can do that on your own time.
CompTIA does a very good job replicating the style of questions asked on the real exam with their own material and practice exams. Secondary sources created by other people will never be able to get as close to the real exam as CompTIA. Half of the battle is studying the way CompTIA phrases the questions because it is truly confusing if you do not know exactly what they are asking.
Not Studying Enough
It generally takes 6–12 weeks to study for and pass a CompTIA exam. Unless you are already a pro in a particular area of the exam, there is going to be a lot of unfamiliar material and probably a good amount you already know. From the students I have worked with, less than 6 weeks of study time tends to not be enough to consistently pass, while longer than 12 weeks is just needlessly dragging it on.
CompTIA exams are not the kind of thing people can just cram for a few days and pass. They also need to be done as quick as possible because there is just too much detailed information about too many topics to retain enough of it for more than three months to pass. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’m not one of them and you probably aren’t either.
If you start getting to 12 weeks of studying for the exam (or part of the exam) and haven’t made it through the material, you have to just get it done. The fact of the matter is that you are procrastinating and not putting in the work to get it done. I guarantee you will start forgetting easy material from the early sections of the material at that pace, which is going to be your downfall when you take the real exam
Striking the balance is hard. Too little time is bad and too much time is bad. 6–12 weeks is the “Goldilocks Zone” for most people where it balances the trade offs. I generally tell people to budget 8 weeks from the day you buy the study materials to the day you take the exam. Variation around that is okay, but do not go more than a week or two either direction.
Problems Taking Tests
Sometimes people truly do know the information well enough to be considered competent enough to be certified, but they just cannot get it done on the exam. People who are notoriously bad test takers tend to really struggle on this because it is a high-pressure situation.
Some people have high test anxiety where they blank when it counts. Some people have real learning disabilities where multiple choice sitting in silence at a computer with other people doesn’t work for them very well. Other people show up without getting enough sleep the night before or without eating a good breakfast, so sustaining the high level of focus is not possible.
If you are one of the people with real, documented test taking problems and/or learning disabilities, please contact PearsonVUE or CompTIA about it as soon as you can to work out how to work with your particular situation. Click here to be taken to CompTIA’s official Testing Accommodations for People with Disabilities: Your Questions Answered guidelines post.
I failed the Network+ the first time by 3 questions. I failed it because I rushed through the studying too fast to truly internalize all the new networking concepts. It was an extremely hard exam, but my downfall was I did not put in the work to truly understand subnetting well enough to make it through. It was a ~$150 mistake that could have easily been avoided. I got overconfident from passing both parts of the A+ well above the mark quickly.
How to Pass
I have written a series for the A+, Network+, and Security+ here on Medium that gives practical advice on what I have found to be effective for those exams.