We all know that when you start something, you really ought to finish it. This principle applies to many things in life, including the certification process. After you decide to pursue a certification, you must do so with the commitment to do the best you can and to finish only when the job is done. Certification isn't a race; it's an education. And you haven't completed that education until you've taken and conquered every test.

You might find that when you start down the certification path, putting forth a lot of time and energy is easy. You're excited about the prospect of becoming certified, you're eager to learn, and the thought of appending letters to your name is genuinely appealing. But the process takes time—some certifications take 2 to 3 months, others take more than a year. As time passes, distractions will arise and priorities will change.

Staying focused is important. Education isn't simply another task; it's something you must learn how to do. You must immerse yourself in the habits of picking up books, reading white papers, and frequenting forums such as CertTutor.net Live! Your success depends on your ability and, more important, your commitment. Here are some tips that can help you in this process:

  • Set a schedule. Your schedule doesn't have to be hard and fast. Missing a night of studying isn't the end of the world. But if you keep to your schedule as much as possible, you'll find that it quickly becomes routine.
  • Enlist others to help you. Find study partners. Seek out colleagues or others who are also trying to become certified. If you don't know anyone who's pursuing the same certification, look to computer groups in your area and check out the Internet. Certification discussion boards can become virtual study partners—and they're open 24 x 7.
  • Share your goals with others. You don't want to bore people with every detail of your studies, but sharing your aspirations with others is constructive. For example, if you tell your boss that you intend to take a particular test in 3 weeks, you'll likely see it through. Peer pressure is a great motivator.
  • Become your own teacher. One of the best tools I bought when I was preparing for exams was an inexpensive white board. When I encountered a difficult topic, I'd read as much as I could about it and take notes. Then, when I thought I really understood the subject matter, I'd stand at the white board and try to present the information for 15 minutes. Sometimes I'd trip up or find holes in my knowledge as I tried to explain the concepts, but these missteps only alerted me that I had more work to do.
  • Schedule breaks. If you try to devote all your free time to study, you'll burn out quickly. In my case, I know that burnout has set in when I read several chapters but remember little of it the following day. I find that the speed at which I read doesn't change much, but my retention changes dramatically. Remember, quality—not quantity—is important.

Certification takes time, so make time for it. When you're first starting out, the excitement of your new endeavor can carry you through your studies. But as time passes, the "fun factor" recedes, and you begin to see your studying for the work that it really is. So plan for the long haul, and stick with it!