Passing the CompTIA Network+: A Study in Study

CompTIANet+
From the CompTIA Website

I wrote this article for work on 4/18/2018, the day I passed the CompTIA Network+, and though I took that exam 2 years ago, the information below is definitely still relevant for you if you are studying for the current Network+, the N10-07.

I passed my Network+ N10-06 exam today, 4/18/2018. Now, I’d like to tell you about my experience with the exam, both studying for it and sitting for it.

Why would you read this?

Well, for one, if you’re reading this, you’re either interested in taking the Network+ and it’s one of your first IT certification exams, or you’ve already started studying but are interested in how and what I did, or you’re somebody who is helping to begin building something I find quite admirable: an IT education program.

For two, I got an 811/900 on the exam, which is a pretty decent score, and though we can’t truly know how that exactly maps to a letter grade since CompTIA won’t release the method they use to grade their exams, I can tell you I am thankful for getting that grade, because it is reasonably far away from failing, which is anything below 720/900 on a scale of 100-900.

For three, I think my experience with the exam is an average experience. When it comes to IT knuckleheads, I’m a pretty knuckly head, and I’d say I’m pretty average in the brain power department. Yes, I had almost five years of IT experience before taking the exam, but two years of that was part-time as a student and usually more associated with hardware and Help Desk than with networking, and I had only been a network tech or networking-related sys admin for 2.5 years when I took the Network+. On top of that, my networking experience was fairly specific, and, when it comes to the studies, I am good at discerning concepts but not super at memorization. Yes, I had taken the Microsoft IT Fundamentals cert suite (4 entry level certs, which I recommend to all IT beginners, covering the Windows operating system, Windows servers, general networking, and general security), but CompTIA cert exams are most definitely NOT Microsoft exams, in that I have found the questions in Microsoft certs much more straightforward.

By the way, everything I’m talking about here will still be relevant when the N10-07 is the only available test, after September 2018. Just replace N10-06 with N10-07 and run with it. I am also going to use the things I learned preparing for and taking this exam when I study for certs in the future, starting, probably, with CompTIA’s Security+.

MATERIALS I USED

  • CompTIA N10-06 exam objectives
    • Print these out or download them. Look over them as you begin your studies to see what you need to learn, and use them to review. This is the single most helpful document you can get as you study for the exam, because – in it – CompTIA gives you, hands you on a silver platter, every single concept they might test you over. The objectives even include some helpful terms and definitions. To be fair, though, the document is 22 full pages long, so certainly nothing at which to sneeze.
  • Mike Meyers’ All-in-One N10-06 book
    • If you’re going to read one book, or one book first, I recommend this one. It’s comprehensive, and though I didn’t like that at first, I grew to love it.
  • Mike Meyers’ N10-06 Passport book
    • Great for review but NOT for comprehensive study. The Passport is meant solely for either review use after going through other materials or for use by seasoned networking pros.
  • Mike Meyers’ N10-06 video series on Lynda
    • Excellent. Anyone from beginner to experienced professional can watch this series and get a good deal out of it. Mike does tend to ramble a bit, though, so I would recommend you watch this series at the beginning of your studies, not near the end when you’re trying to ramp things up.
      • Lynda includes useful quizzes along with the video series, which you will not get if you buy the Meyers’ series from Udemy.
  • Mike Meyers’ Total Seminar’s N10-06 Total Tester software
    • $75 on sale, but I think the sale will last for a while, probably until the N10-07 version is the only one available. Yes, the price may seem a bit steep, but these practice tests were more than helpful for me. The format is very similar to the actual test, and Mike includes many detailed explanations for correct answers, and even explanations of why many of the wrong answers are incorrect. A great tool for (1) taking at the beginning of your studies to see where you are and (2) for practice and review when you feel you are almost ready.
        • 1,050 practice questions
        • Total Seminar has a guarantee included with their Total Tester software, which you can find here: http://www.totalsem.com/guarantee/
          • To summarize, if you get a 90% or higher on two 100-question practice exams taken in exam mode and you still fail the Network+, Total Seminars will refund you the Total Tester software cost.
        • Use this, but don’t overuse it to the point you begin memorizing Mike’s questions instead of the concepts. Especially take a few practice exams, and if you are regularly getting 90% or above, you are ready. That’s what I did. My Total Tester average grade (any kind of quiz or test included) was 92% (because I only started using the paid version when I was only reviewing in the days before taking the test), and I made an 811/900 (~90%, if we take that score for what it is) on the real N10-06 exam.
  • Professor Messer’s N10-06 video series
    • Excellent series but may be slightly inaccessible for someone completely new to the discussed concepts. James Messer does the whole series by exam objective, so I highly recommend downloading or printing out the exam objectives and following along.
  • Professor Messer’s 65-page N10-06 Course Notes
    • $15 for PDF; $32 for PDF and printed book. I bought the printed book, as I find studying from physical books better for me.
      • A helpful resource for quick review and following along with the Messer video series.
  • Professor Messer’s Network+ practice quizzes
    • Free at https://www.professormesser.com/popquiz/
      • 10 20-question quizzes.
      • It’s a shame James only has 10 of these quizzes available, because they are the closest thing I found to the way CompTIA asks questions, especially the difficulty level, the vagueness, and the number of correct answers included in the multiple-choice choices.
  • Professor Messer’s Network+ study group
    • Consumed as a podcast, though you can access them live as well once a month.
      • James Messer discusses the test, discusses test concepts, gives listeners practice questions, and takes listener questions. I found it very useful to tune in to these and even listen to past casts.
  • PocketPrep Network+ test prep/practice tests/quiz Android app
    • Free download, but the Premium version, the only version worth using, is $11.
        • 500 practice questions with thorough explanations of tested concepts
        • Progress tracking
  • My own 7-page quick review notes
    • For about 3 weeks before the test, I looked over these twice a day, trying to memorize the specific things I added there, and that certainly helped me. I definitely recommend having a compiled but quick notes resource like this one.
  • Cram flashcard Android app
    • Here, I made my own flashcards for important CLI tools, leased lines, metro Ethernet, special IP addresses, wireless standards, Ethernet standards, UTP cabling, and common application ports. I found these incredibly helpful, as I sometimes have a bit of trouble memorizing things.
  • Jason Dion’s video series: “How to Pass Certification Exams with Strategic Test Taking!” Currently available for $10.99 at Udemy
    • 2.5 hours

MATERIALS I DID NOT USE BUT RECOMMEND TO OTHERS

  • A different Network+ study app that includes more terms, definitions, flash cards, etc. than the PocketPrep app.
    • I’ve heard Darril Gibson’s LearnZApp is like this, and I will probably be getting the Security+ version of LearnZApp instead of the PocketPrep Security+ app. $8

MY METHOD (A.K.A., THE METHOD TO MY MADNESS)

  • Looking into the test, familiarizing myself with the objectives and expectations for myself and from the test, creating strategies to set myself up for success, gathering the materials I needed to study, looking over as many kinds of materials as I could, consulting with as many qualified people as I could, and using practice tests – along with researching concepts I wasn’t sure about – to create a baseline for myself from which to start studying: 9 hours
  • Professor Messer Network+ study group podcasts: 7 hours
  • Reading through once and studying the Mike Meyer’s N10-06 Passport book, often listening to music as I did (mostly Metallica, and mostly Master of Puppets) to slightly distract my brain to keep me from getting sidetracked or bored: 22 hours
  • Going through end-of-chapter quizzes in the All-in-One book for review, identifying weak areas, then looking up and studying each weak area in the All-in-One book, plus making notes to memorize from both Meyers’ books, as well as doing PocketPrep quizzes: 13 hours
  • Going again through both All-in-One and Passport end-of-chapter questions and marking chapters in which I got under a 90%, then watching the relevant and/or corresponding Mike Meyers’ Cert Preps (the divisions of the Lynda Mike Meyers’ training video series) portions that I knew – when I got to them – that I needed work in (with the aid of the Lynda preview and review questions), plus going through “to-memorize” notes twice a day: 22 hours
  • Taking practice quizzes and tests, then for the first three days looking at Professor Messer notes covering my weak areas, on the fourth day only studying Total Tester explanations over missed concepts, on the fifth day doing another Total Tester assessment quiz and watching any objective areas I didn’t get a 90% or above in, then for the rest of the days before my test watching Professor Messer videos covering my weak areas on Practice Tests, also going through “to-memorize” notes twice a day: 29 hours
    • This includes the night and morning before the test. The evening before my test, I felt ready, so I only studied a little bit, and only over things I knew I needed to cover. Then, in the morning, I only reviewed for 1 hour. I planned to review more when I arrived at the testing center, but that didn’t work out.

All in all, I invested 102 hours into this cert, not including the 3 hours spent traveling to and taking the exam or the time writing up this document. 9 hours preparing, 7 hours listening to podcasts about the test, 57 hours of regular study, and 29 hours of practice and general review.

In those 9 prep hours, I took the Total Tester assessment exam (which is also included accessible via the demo CD in Mike Meyers’ books) to (1) get a baseline from which to begin studying and (2) calculate, using Mike Meyers’ formula in the first part of the All-in-One book, how many hours I needed to study. Doing the calculation, I was very hard on myself and came up with a number of ~52 hours needed. As you can see above, I spent 57 hours doing regular study (by which I mean reading chapters from the book or sitting down to commit to and watch training videos), and some of that was quizzing from my PocketPrep app. So the ~52 hours was very close. I highly recommend going through that assessment.

I set a goal for myself, during my prep, to start with not-too-much study the first week and progressively raise the bar. I prepared, studied, reviewed, and practiced for 8 weeks before I took my exam. Here are my hours spent for each week: Week 1: 6 hours; Week 2: 9.5 hours; Week 3: 10 hours; Week 4: 10 hours; Week 5: 12.5 hours; Week 6: 14 hours; Week 7: 20 hours; Week 8: 20 hours.

WHAT I WISH I WOULD HAVE DONE

I don’t really have any regrets about the way I studied. I spent the 9 hours I mentioned above preparing, so I set myself up for success from the beginning. I recommend you do this as well. I do, however, wish I could have been just a little more organized and a little more succinct with the way I studied. However, I studied the way I did because I wanted to take the exam as soon as possible.

MY TESTING EXPERIENCE

OK, so, anyone who has taken a CompTIA exam will back me up on this one:

I can’t tell you much about my exam experience, because CompTIA makes you agree to a strict and strictly-worded agreement not to divulge much information about their exams. There’s some scary wording in there, so I want to be careful. With that in mind, I’ll tell you what I feel I can.

In accordance with the awesome IT education program that my IT department had begun putting together when I began studying, and as part of putting stricter (read, from my point of view, more reasonable) accountability requirements on their IT staff, my IT department bought my Network+ voucher, the number of which I used to schedule the test myself. I made a PearsonVUE account and scheduled the test for 4/18/18, a Wednesday, at 9 AM, at a local technical college. Once I had my voucher in hand, I scheduled the test in mere minutes. It’s that easy. *Hits the “Easy” button. . .

I scheduled the exam for a testing center close to my house, and I recommend scheduling the exam at a location close to the place from which you’ll be driving. The reason: You want as little hassle as possible. If you’re like me, you’ll be nervous when you go to take your exam. I was, and, thankfully, I had no issues. The technical college’s testing area was easy to find and a good setup, with reliable computers, comfortable seating and peripherals arrangements, a room set at the perfect temperature, clean ear muffs, and helpful attendants, although being in my own cubicle like some testing centers have would have been even nicer. At the exam, you can’t take anything personal in with you other than your clothes (required) and glasses (optional), so leave as much as you can at home.

The Network+ exam itself can be up to 90 questions long, and you have 90 minutes to take the test. That means you need to scurry. The test will shoot a few performance-based questions at you first, and I recommend skipping them, unless you only get one or two easy ones. You’ll have a few minutes before the test begins to read instructions and write things down on your provided scratch pad. I recommend doing as much of a brain dump as you can onto your scratch pad. I put on there the OSI model, the TCP/IP model, Professor Messer’s two handy-dandy “Seven-Second Subnetting” tables, and the T568 A & B wiring standards. You should jot down anything you’ve memorized that you fear you will forget or freeze up on in the heat of battle.

When you hit that button to begin the test, the clock is ticking, and though 1.5 hours seems long, trust me, it’s barely enough time, unless you’re a full-blown-wizard-Harry. CompTIA engineers their tests this way. What else did they engineer for your displeasure? Tricksy, tricksy questions. Some of the vaguest-yet-still-oh-so-specific test questions I’ve ever seen. They’re not impossible to figure out, just difficult and ambiguous, though not indefinite. It’s kind of hard to explain, and you’ll just have to take a CompTIA exam to understand CompTIA’s question-asking sorcery. Except for the performance-based problems. Those are actually straightforward. My advice: Know your stuff, and know the objectives. Also, take Total Tester and Professor Messer practice questions. That will help you tons.

If you’re taking the CompTIA exam and, even though you felt ready when you sat down, feel like you’re going to see a failing grade when you click to submit, don’t worry too much. That’s the way I felt, and that’s the way two of my friends felt as well on their Network+ exams. I got a good grade – as did my two friends – and you can too.

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