Habits of Highly Effective Students

"What is the best way to study for a Certification Exam?"

This is probably the most common question I get asked by Network Academy  students and peers chasing Cisco Certifications. While there is no concrete answer that works for everyone, there are some really great pieces of advice that I have heard throughout the years, and implemented in my daily study routine.

1. Goal Setting and Execution: In my opinion, settings goals, and executing them properly is appropriately placed as number one on this list. Not only does the goal technique keep you organized and focused, it is a great motivator. First let me say that there is a right and wrong way to set goals.

  • The Right Way - Follow the two-tier method. Set short-term as well as long-term goals. Both must be realistic and attainable. I usually set goals that I know will be a challenge, but that I have a good possibility of achieving. By setting a goal that causes you to stretch slightly to reach, you gain flexibility and over time you will surprise yourself how far you have progressed. One cool thing is that when you attain these goals, you gain this feeling of pure satisfaction which then turns into motivation; motivation to set more achievable goals. Do it once, and you will see that naturally the cycle will continue.
  • The Wrong Way - As mentioned before, be honest with yourself. Everyone knows their own limits. Don't be over zealous! Failure is part of the learning process and can be disheartening, but too many failures due to unrealistic goals may very well cause you to "give up". We are only humans, take it easy! (I do wish I was a Cyborg sometimes though)

2. Immerse yourself: Jump into that ocean of knowledge! Once you feel comfortable, completely immerse yourself with the material you are trying to learn and stay focused. Don't stray too far from the specific material you are trying to learn. What I mean is, don't juggle a bunch of separate subjects in an attempt to learn more faster. You may be able to cover a lot of material by juggling, but the truth is you will forget it faster, and will not learn it to an adequate depth. As a personal example of immersion, when I am trying to learn specific material, I read about, listen to, watch and discuss the particular technology. Read the available technical documentation (books, guides, summaries), Listen to audio on the subject (podcasts, mp3 training, audiobooks etc), Watch videos on the subject (YouTube uploads, training videos), and Discuss with your co-workers and peers about all aspects of the technology.

3. Give yourself a break: Many people liken the brain to a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. Likewise, it is prone to strain just like a real muscle is. It is good if you are able to sit and study effectively for a lengthy period of time, but even better if you gain the judgement to properly allocate study breaks. I find that 15-30 minute breaks every 2-3 hours is quite mentally refreshing, and allows you to refocus. Grab a snack, watch an episode of your favorite show, and cease any thoughts regarding what you just learned (this is hard and requires practice for many, I have a hard time with it as well). When you are ready to begin studying again you will notice that you are able to focus your attention easily thus making you a more effective student!

4. Stay healthy: Last but certainly not least, you need to stay healthy. I say, from personal experience, that it is not worth sacrificing your health for any certification, or any endeavor for that matter. Without your health, all your achievements are worthless. Remember to eat well, exercise, stay fit and keep your energy up! Wow I sound like someone from that Body Break commercial from back in the day.

There is a lot more to being an effective student, so if you have a tip or study technique for the rest of the community feel free to post a comment!

The CREAM Strategy
• CREAM stands for different aspects of learning:
– C = Creative: using your own strategies and imagination to enhance your learning
– R = Reflective: analysing and evaluating your own performance and drawing lessons from it
– E = Effective: organising your space, time, priorities and resources to maximum benefit
– A = Active: involving yourself physically and mentally
– M = Motivated: keeping your short and long term goals in focus and working towards them

Time Management

• Time is always short in the lead up to exams
• Effective use of your time is critical
• This means you must have a study plan to keep you on track
• A study plan allows you to allocate your time between all your units
• It helps you focus your efforts and cuts down on wasted  time

• Study and discipline go hand in hand. To be successful, you need to:
– Be disciplined about your study
– Approach your study like work
– Take responsibility for your actions and progress
– Study time does not mean sitting at your desk surfing the Internet, chatting on-line, emailing or talking on your mobile phone

The Study Plan
• How do you make a study plan?
• Draw up a daily timetable for the weeks prior to and during exams
• Write in your classes and other regular commitments
• Allocate time for cooking, eating and other household duties
• Schedule in some time for exercise and relaxation

Improving Your Memory
There are four stages in the memory process:
• Taking in new information
• Retaining it in your short term memory
• Encoding it – making links and connecting it with information already stored in the long term memory
• Recalling it – retrieving or remembering information stored in the long term memory

Finding Out About Exams
• Find out as much as you can about the exam
• This helps you target your revision and prepare more effectively
• Attend the last class of semester when lecturers give out exam tips
• Check the format and content of the exam
• Check the weighting of each section

Traps to Avoid
• Leaving revision until the last minute
• Re-reading notes mindlessly
• Re-writing notes with no clear purpose
• Memorising practice essays
• Procrastinating

More Traps to Avoid…
• Memorising without understanding
• Lacking focus
• Being too easily distracted
• Getting bored
• Worrying unnecessarily


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