What is a Certification Practice Test?
There are two types: Practice Questions and Practice Tests.
Practice Questions help you test your knowledge and prepare for certification. These could be as simple as a list of questions where you select an answer.
Practice Tests often called Practice Exams, help you test your knowledge, experience, and preparation for certification. Good Practice Tests provide detailed real-world questions and answers that match the certification exam objectives. The best practice tests simulate a testing environment with timers, detailed explanations, and study material links.
When should I take a practice test?
This depends on the practice test. If the practice tests provide a training mode and a testing mode, complete your first pass at training and then take the training mode test. Review each question and the answers and study again. When you believe you are ready to take the certification exam, take the testing mode test.
If the practice test only offers testing mode or is a simple practice test, complete all of your training first. When you believe you are ready to take the certification exam, take the practice test. Review each question and the answers and study again. Then take the real certification exam.
For me, I tend to have a lot of real-world experience before I certify. I often take a training mode test at the beginning of my training to find my weak areas. This means I try to find practice tests that offer multiple modes and have a large question base. You should modify your strategy based upon your circumstances. If you are just beginning your training without substantial experience, forget about practice tests. Learn the material, practice with the products and/or services until you are comfortable with the certification exam material. Then look into practice tests. If you are experienced with the certification exam material, practice tests typically are unnecessary.
What makes for a good certification practice test?
The following points outline what I feel is important in high-quality practice tests. I am writing this as advice to test creators.
Questions that match the exam objectives
The best practice tests are designed to be a thorough review of the exam objectives. Where possible, create multiple questions for each objective. All exam objectives should be covered.
Detailed explanations for each answer
This is very important. Explain the logic and reasoning for wrong answers and the correct answer. Time invested in this area will separate a so-so practice test from a great one.
Good links to additional documentation to study
The aim of a practice exam is to test knowledge and experience. Providing good reference links makes the study and review process better.
No Exam Piracy
Practice tests with questions that are identical or even close to the real exam are bad. This is cheating and sometimes illegal. Do not take exam dump type of tests. Doing so could invalidate your certification. Why cheat a certification if you are then not qualified to be certified? I have interviewed many job applicants who brought me their certifications. When I asked real-world questions, they were lost. This wastes my time, wastes your time, and you will not get the job.
No trick questions
Each question should be designed to test knowledge and experience. Using trick words is not a good idea. Using relevant keywords is a good idea. The questions should be clear and concise. Reading ability is important. English is a second language for many test-takers.
Provide two answers that are very close, but only one answer is correct.
This is to test actual knowledge and experience and not memorization. Keywords and requirements in the question should determine which similar answer is correct.
Similar presentation format as the actual exam
Where possible, present questions in a clear, organized manner that matches the real exam. Include scorekeeping, timers and time limits.
Create multiple types of practice tests
One issue that I find is that some practice tests have only one length. Create multiple tests so test takes can complete a 15-minute session instead of only a two-hour session.
Real-world example. I am often asked to take a certification exam as part of my job. Let’s assume the certification has five domains. I would prefer to take a practice test each morning (M-F) for one domain and then polish my weak areas for a couple of hours that day. On Saturday I take a simulated final exam test. Then I certify. This is a nice strategy for us that have experience in the subject matter. If I don’t have the experience, I might spend two weeks on each domain and then certify.
Create focused practice tests
Some certifications are broad and cover many subject areas. Create practice tests that allow the user to select a subset of the total content. This facilitates a focus on specific areas.
Create numerous practice questions
Often, it is very easy to memorize the questions and answers in practice tests. Create enough questions so that several practice tests can be completed with no question duplication.
Provide a training mode and a testing mode
Design the practice tests so that users can use them early in their study. Also, design the practice tests for the final stage of training to validate real-world knowledge and readiness to take the actual certification exam.
Create a final exam-style practice test
Given that shorter practice tests are available, create a final exam-style practice test that does not include questions from the shorter practice tests. This practice test should match the real certification exam in the total time allowed, the total number of questions, presentation format, and stress level.
Practice tests can be a useful tool in your journey to certification. However, too often I see people putting a high emphasis on repeating practice tests until they get a high score. You are doing yourself a disservice as you are focusing on the wrong item. You are memorizing questions and answers. The key is to know the material. After you take several certification exams, you will realize that test-taking is just a small part of being certified. You should memorize facts as part of your training, but a good certification exam will test your experience in the subject areas and memorization won’t help you. You might score 95% on a practice test and then fail the certification exam with a 53% score.
For each question on the practice test, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I understand this question?
- Do I know the subject matter that this question covers?
- Do I know how to reduce the number of possible answers by removing the obviously wrong answers?
- Do I know the correct answer?
- Do I know why the correct answer is correct?
If you answer no to any of those questions, study more on that subject area.
Practice tests should only be a small part of your strategy to certify. Learn the subject matter, know the products and services well.