In following and observing IT certification learning and study habits over nearly two decades now, the ratio of those who self-study to pursue credentials has remained fairly constant at over half the overall population (probably in the 55-60 percent range). That means aspiring and practicing IT professionals are always on the lookout for good self-study materials. To aid them in their search for same, I suggest another category of publications that they might not otherwise consider -- namely, college textbooks that aim at specific certification exams or credentials.
College textbooks are costly but those that cover cert topics offer good value.
But first, there's something important that readers must recognize about college textbooks -- namely, they're expensive. For example, I have created a college text on TCP/IP (it's called Guide to TCP/IP, 4th edition) with various co-authors over the years (the current edition also names Jeff Carrell, Laura Chappell, and James Pyles on the front cover; other contributors have included Mark Mirrotto and Tom Lancaster). This book lists for a whopping $186.95 (but is available from a variety of sales outlets for around $150)!
Why on earth would you want to spend that much money on a certification oriented title when you can purchase typical commercial full-length study guide for about one-third of the cost instead? Good question! Here are some of the things you'll find in real textbooks that many commercial study guides lack to some degree or another:
1. Rigorous design of materials to meet academic standards
2. Peer review from qualified instructors is used to shape, guide, and produce the text and supporting materials
3. Each chapter includes a bank of study questions, exercises, and hands-on labs
4. Instructor materials that include slides, additional reading, tests and exercises, and more are usually available to little or no cost
5. Lab requirements (equipment, software, connections, and so forth) are spelled out clearly so that lab set-up and operation may be easily conducted
6. Many texts will clearly identify exam objectives covered, and related or relevant reading, exercises, and labs to help students tie materials together
There is some value to be had -- sometimes substantial -- for the extra outlay you'll expend to purchase a college textbook. And if you can buy a textbook used rather than new (be sure to check editions and make sure you're buying coverage for the exam(s) you'll be taking) you can cut costs even further.
How can you find such texts? There are at least two good ways. One is to search for specific certifications at Amazon or elsewhere, and to include textbook in the search terms. Another is to visit online course catalogs at community colleges, colleges, and universities, and to see what kinds of textbooks they're specifying for certification related courses. Armed with that information you can then start shopping for deals on titles of interest.