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Learning Goes Better in Study Groups

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Certification candidates should find a study group to help prepare themselves for exams. Here's how to find a good one.

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockWhile studying can, and often should be, a solitary pursuit, learning about tools and technologies can also benefit when working in a group. The former is important to internalize and understand basic concepts and information, but the latter opens doors for discussion, questions and different approaches. I recommend certification candidates find themselves a study group as they prepare to take one or more exams in pursuit of one credential or another. Fortunately, there are many, many such groups to choose from.

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Official versus Ad Hoc

If you're chasing a specific credential, you should visit its sponsor's official website to see if they also sponsor study groups. Thus, for example, you'll quickly find that both Microsoft and Cisco host study groups for a wide array of their various exams. Click the Study Groups link at the top of the Microsoft "Born to Learn" home page, which brings all of the company's study groups together together in one place. For Cisco study groups, you have to find a study group link on each certification's landing page. And, as far as I can tell, CompTIA doesn't sponsor any study groups itself, though by searching on "A+ Study Group," for example, you'll find plenty of third-party – or what I call ad hoc – study groups out there.

Find the Best of the Ad Hoc, When You Can

But once you start looking outside the halls of study groups associated with certification sponsors, you must understand that you've not only taken up a search, you've also taken on the job of quality control. That is to say: not all cert study groups are created equal, and you're better served by hooking up with the best one(s) you can find. How can you make this determination? It will take some time and effort, but you can figure out which ones are worth joining if you'll do the necessary homework. Here are some things to look for or check on:

  1. Traffic volume/membership. A quiet study group isn't going to provide much input, information or much of anything else. Look for study groups with a sizable and active membership.
  2. Recommendations and favorable mentions. Sometimes the best way to suss out who's hot and who's not is to ask (or look) around. Find some active social networks or user forms where your certification is talked about regularly and see who's getting accolades and who's getting knocks, when it comes to certification study groups. If you can't find specific recommendations or warn-offs, ask about study groups that you find in online searches on your own.
  3. Chemistry. Once you identify some candidate study groups, you can lurk in them for a while and see how well they work for you. Are the people friendly? Accommodating? Knowledgeable? Do the other members share the same concerns and discuss issues that interest you? The more positive answers to such questions you rack up, the more likely it is that joining the group will actually help you prepare for your upcoming exams.

Once You Dive In, Get Busy, and Stay Busy

Study groups are like many other things in life. Once you find a good one, you'll also observe that the more you put into such a group, the more you'll get out of it. Don't just use the study group as a source for references and resources. See if you can help other members who may know less than you do, or who may be puzzled by topics that you understand reasonably well. As the old saying goes "The best way to really learn something is to teach it to somebody else." You'll find your own understanding improving as you help others make sense of things, and you'll also be able to learn from watching (and helping) others go through that same process, too.

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