I see people making mistakes all the time in their quest for certification. Because my mission is to help you get the most out of the time you spend studying, I'll share some of the most common things that I see people doing wrong and offer some suggestions for avoiding these "certification pitfalls."

  • Relying on rumours. I've been working with students for a long time, and I've heard a lot of outlandish rumours. These rumours have the unfortunate effect of distracting people from what they really should be doing—learning a product and preparing for an exam. If you're uncertain of something (e.g., when an exam will retire, what the requirements are for a specific certification), your best bet is to go straight to the source: The Microsoft Web site. If the site doesn't give you the specifics you're after, try posting a question on MCSE Live! If you get the wrong answer from someone in the forums, someone else will typically step in and correct that person.
  • Researching purchases insufficiently—if at all. Recently, I bought a new television set. I'm not the type of person who can just go to the store and spontaneously pick out a unit. Instead, I have to hit the Internet and dig up every morsel of information about the various brands and models. I want to go to the store knowing that a particular TV is the best unit for me and the best buy for my money. I'm not saying that everyone should go to this extreme, but consider spending some time surveying what's available before you buy your study materials. You can turn to several great resources. If you're in the market for books, search this Web site for book reviews. If we haven't reviewed a book you're interested in, visit Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Fatbrain and look for reader reviews.
  • If you're looking for other kinds of practice materials, such as practice exams and online tutorials, be sure to visit the CertTutor.net Live! discussion forums. Use the search tool to locate discussions about the products you're interested in.

  • Not scheduling your exams in advance. We've heard of and experienced this pitfall. People who don't schedule their exams well ahead of time procrastinate endlessly before taking the exam and needlessly delay becoming certified. People who say that they'll schedule their exam "when they're ready" somehow never seem to get ready. Write down a set plan that specifies when you'll take your exams and schedule them out several weeks in advance. Tell yourself that you won't cancel the exam unless a serious emergency arises. You'll be amazed by the motivation that a written plan can give you. Nothing lights a fire under your feet better than an approaching deadline. If you don't set a date, you don't have a deadline—and we all know how quickly things get done when you don't have a deadline.
  • Using braindump sites to "prepare" for the exam. You're probably sick of hearing us talk about braindumps and how bad they are for your preparation efforts. Yet just about every day, we encounter someone who doesn't quite understand what braindumps stand for and why they shouldn't be using them. If you think you need to use the braindump sites to pass the exams, please take a few minutes to post your reasons to the CertTutor.net Live! discussion forums. We'll be more than happy to help you find some great alternatives. So many high-quality resources are available on the Internet, and virtually all of them are free. Just let us know what you're looking for, and we'll be glad to assist you.
  • Viewing certification as a destination rather than a journey. If we could point to the number- one misconception that people have about certification, it's likely this: Instead of seeing certification as an ongoing process, people tend to think that they're done with the hard work once they have their certification in hand. With such a mindset, it's easy to see why people resort to braindump sites and other types of "cram" materials. Once you start to view certification as something that you'll pursue throughout your IT career, your focus will change. Instead of viewing the exams as huge events to prepare for, you'll start to see them as ways to assess the knowledge you've already gained on the job and through ongoing study. The study process begins to change and the question becomes not "How can I pass this exam?" but "How can I learn this material?" When that shift occurs, you're well on your way to a prosperous career in IT.