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Getting the Most Out of a Microsoft Certification Class

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Certification training classes cost a lot of time and money, and Microsoft’s classes are no exception. But whether you pay yourself or your company foots the bill, a large investment has been made to help you achieve your certifications. In this article, Brien Posey offers some tips for getting the most out of Microsoft’s certification classes.

Whether you are being sent to a Microsoft certification class by the company that you work for or you are attending the class on your own, there is a lot of pressure to make the most of your training experience. Most of the people who attend a Microsoft certification class do so with the goal of eventually passing the certification exam, so it is important for them to absorb as much of the material as possible. However, the bulk of the pressure often stems from another source.

If you were sent to the training course by the company that you work for, then the training class represents a large investment for them. Typically the company will have spent thousands of dollars on tuition and travel expenses, but there is more to it than that. The company’s productivity may also suffer because you are away from the office.

As you can see, the training class is an investment for your company and as with any other investment they probably expect to see a return on the money spent. While having you pass a certification exam is nice, the company is probably much more interested in having you learn as much as you can about the subject matter so that when you come back to work, you can deploy and/or support the product for which you received training. In fact, I speak from firsthand experience.

A long time ago when I had a corporate job, I went to a SQL Server training class. I did my best to learn the material as well as I could. The problem was that the class had been scheduled at the last minute and by pure coincidence it ended the day before I was to leave for a two-week vacation. When I eventually returned to work my boss expected me to be a SQL Server expert. The problem was that I hadn’t touched (or even thought about) SQL during my vacation, and I had forgotten much of the material that I had been taught. Needless to say, my boss was livid. I tell this story to illustrate the point that it really is important to try to get the most out of a Microsoft training class even if you aren’t planning on taking the exam right away.

I have taken numerous Microsoft certification classes over the years and although everyone learns in different ways, I have found that there are three main things that you have to do if you want to get the most out of a class. These things include fighting boredom, fighting distractions, and looking for other learning opportunities.

Fighting Boredom

For me, the number one issue that I have with training classes is fighting boredom. Technical material isn’t always the most exciting thing in the world, and sometimes certification classes can drag on for many hours between breaks. It can be really tough to keep boredom at bay.

Boredom doesn’t seem to be much of an issue during the hands-on portion of a class because working through the lab requires you to actually interact with the computer. However, boredom can really set in during the lecture portions of a class.

The trick that I use for fighting boredom is that whenever I start feeling board or sleepy I challenge myself to think of any possible questions that I might have about the material. Asking questions means having direct interaction with the instructor rather than just sitting back and waiting for the class to be over. For me, this interaction usually snaps me out of my current state of mind. Besides, the way I look at it, it is better to try to get your questions answered when you have an instructor present than to have to figure it out for yourself later on.

Fighting Distractions

Personally, I have rarely had problems with fighting distractions during a certification class. Even so, I wanted to mention it because it seems to be a problem for some people. I attended a class about three weeks ago, and one of the people in the class spent the majority of the first day either texting or checking email on his phone (I’m not sure which). During a conversation later that night, I realized that he had absolutely no idea what had been discussed in class that day. Even though he physically attended the class, his mind was elsewhere.

The biggest thing that I do to avoid being distracted during a training class is to put my phone on airplane mode. That way I am guaranteed not to receive any texts, email messages, or phone calls throughout the day.

Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. About five years ago, I had to attend a training class and the dates just happened to conflict with a major construction project that was being done on my home. It was really difficult to concentrate during the class because I knew that the construction crew still needed my input on several design and budgetary matters. I knew that my wife was perfectly capable of making the decisions in my absence, but it still took major effort to keep my mind on the training.

Looking for Other Learning Opportunities

There are countless Microsoft-authorized learning centers throughout the country, and they all teach the same Microsoft approved curriculum (although some may offer classes that others don’t). It is important to remember, however, that the training centers are businesses and they can only survive if they manage to consistently get students to train with them.

Since a training center is required to teach from a Microsoft-authorized curriculum they can’t advertise that they have better training than the place down the street. After all, all of the training centers are teaching the same classes. That being the case, most training centers will offer various incentives to try to get students to train with them. Many of these incentives come in the form of additional learning opportunities.

For example, before I moved down south, I used to go to a place in Indiana for most of my training. That particular learning center had a policy that once you had taken a class you could retake it for free as many times as you wanted over the next year (many training centers have similar policies). The people who ran the training center realized that it’s tough to absorb all of the material being taught, and for some people, sitting through the class for a second or a third time made a big difference in how well they understood the course material.

Some of the other training centers use variations of this policy. For example, one of the training centers that I have used a few times actually records each of their classes. I’m not talking about a generic recording of the presentation—I mean that recordings are made on a daily basis. The class recordings are made available to students over the Internet.

I realize that you might be wondering what the advantage is to providing students with a recording of the class that they were in rather than giving them access to a recording that was made when the same material was being taught to a different group of students. The advantage is that when a recording is made of the class that you actually attended then the recording contains all of the questions that were asked during the class. Therefore, if you asked the instructor a question but can’t remember what the answer was, you can find the answer by replaying the recording from that day.

Each training center comes up with their own promotions to enhance the student’s ability to learn. Some training centers give students access to an e-book library. Others provide computer-based training as a supplement to classroom training. In any case, it is important to find out what the training center offers by way of supplementary learning, and then take advantage of it. Doing so will help you to learn the material much more thoroughly than merely sitting through a training class.

Incidentally, some training centers will also take steps to help you to prepare for the exam. One of the training centers that I once visited actually had a mock exam room. It was an exact duplicate of their testing facility and was designed to help students get comfortable with the testing process. The facility was even equipped with practice exams written by the center’s instructors. These practice exams were administered free of charge as a way of helping former students to determine whether or not they were ready to take the actual certification exam.

Conclusion

Most people seem to get out of a certification course exactly what they put into it. By taking steps to fight boredom and distractions and by taking advantage of any extra learning opportunities, you will likely absorb the training material better than other students who simply show up and sit through the class.

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