on 03-Jun-2021 14:16
In this series of articles, I will go into the details of how the exams are developed (...as far as I know at least), and how I think you can improve your chances of passing them. In this article, I will share time management tips - how to plan your exam and exam day.
An evangelist for anything software designed and security, and a self-described massive network geek, Alex is an F5 trainer and consultant at ABCT.net. While certified and highly skilled and interested in all things F5, he's just as happy pulling cables in a data center and designing scalable systems as he is messing around with the latest cool kids toys our fine industry has to offer.
The moment that you decide to go for an F5 exam is the moment that you should think about when you actually want to write your exam. Having a rough idea of when you want to do this, will give you the stimulus to prepare for it, no matter if this is in the next couple of weeks, or in the next couple of months. I’m not a fan of planning these things more than 6 months in advance though, as studying for it is then very likely to be pushed forward until it’s too late. Leaving the booking process for when you feel more confident, can - and often does - lead to indefinite postponing the actual exam.
Have a look at the blueprint (more on blueprints in a later article), and once at least half of the topics on it make reasonable sense, would I definitely schedule the exam. You should probably think about doing it sometime in the next few weeks/couple of months then. If necessary, the exam centres allow you to postpone your exam free of charge, so there is no real reason not to book it. Okay, I wouldn’t recommend continuously postponing your exam either – that’s just postponing but with extra steps. I don’t know what the situation is like around the world, but around here, the exam centres are sometimes fully booked (often around December – nobody wants to do actual work, so everyone does exams…), and other times, there are loads of slots available. Anyone who’s first language isn’t English can get an extra 30 minutes for their exam, and if you book the exam in a non-English speaking country, this is automatically added to the exam time. I would highly recommend this if you can! Having extra time is the biggest cheat code you can get! If interested, send a mail to email@example.com for full details/caveats, and make sure you do this well in advance of your exam (at least a month). Lastly, F5 sometimes allows you to take multiple exams on the same day. Great if you can do it, but I wouldn't recommend it. If you have enough energy left after doing one exam to do another one, then clearly you have been waiting too long to go for the exam.
A week before the exam date is a good time to quickly review how you are looking with your studies so far. When you have a look at the blueprint again, I expect you to recognise all the topics, and roughly know what they mean. Make a SHORT list of the topics that you might still be struggling with and leave those that you more or less understand – you don’t have the time to start all your studies from scratch now, so don’t do it. This should also be your last moment to postpone your exam if really necessary. Of course, something urgent can come up closer to the time that warrants a rescheduling, but don’t make a habit of rescheduling close to the actual date. Not only would you kick yourself if you have JUST missed the cut-off for free rescheduling, but it also doesn’t help your preparation. If you are really thinking about rescheduling a day or two before the date, then I don’t think you were ready to begin with – or you are just too hesitant. Hence; don’t reschedule unless you REALLY have to.
On the day itself, don’t even think about trying to cram in those last details; it didn’t work at school/college/university and won’t do you any good now. Instead, grab a coffee and enjoy some sunshine! (Date/Location permitting) The boss has hopefully given you the day off for this, or you have taken a holiday for it, so you better enjoy it! Even if you don’t pass the exam, you at least got to enjoy the rest of it. I am well aware that taking/getting a day off is not a luxury that everyone can afford, but you have to wonder what is more expensive; cramming in an exam and failing, or taking a day off and passing?
Don’t take too much stuff with you – often the lockers at exam centres are small and they aren’t too happy with you bringing big bags of stuff anyway. Don’t forget your two forms of ID though! They get grumpy if you don’t have them – for good reason – and it would be pretty annoying if you NOW find out that you’ve forgotten one. Why not put your stuff ready for the next day so you don’t have to think about what you need to bring with you? Hey, even these little things – however pedantic they sound - already make a difference in having a good night’s sleep beforehand, which in turn makes you better prepared for it, so why not do it?
I always like going for an exam early in the afternoon; 12.30-ish, after rush hour in the morning, and with a bit of luck I can be back at home before the evening rush. I hate being stuck in traffic, or worse, finding out that a train got cancelled and the PA-system helpfully announces that they don’t know when the next train goes. Which conveniently brings to the next point; make sure you arrive at the exam centre well on time. Most exam centres I've been to are happy for you to start early. That is, if they have capacity, so no guarantee. Worst comes to worst; you have an hour to kill around the exam centre. There is sure to be a sandwich shop or other eatery around that you can drop in for some lunch. Having this time beforehand also means you have a few minutes to relax which will really come in handy later on. Since you have to switch off and store your phone at the exam centre anyway, why not switch it off an hour earlier? This means that you don’t get any last-minute distractions. If it was that urgent, they would have messaged you earlier.
During the exam, there will definitely be times that you simply cannot read ANYTHING that’s on the screen. This is normal and happens to everyone. When that happens, lean back. Close your eyes, cross your arms (just so you don’t trick yourself in continuing anyway) and take a few deep breaths. Let this take 30 seconds. “Yeah, but, I don’t have that much time left!!” Don’t care… If you don’t take a moment to take this break, this block will only get worse. Seriously, take this 30 seconds, make it a minute if you have to, and then get back to it. Depending on the difficulty of the exam and my own state that day, I end up doing this at least 2 to 4 times during an exam. For me, it really helps!
Another trick that helps me, is to keep track of how many questions I have left, versus how much time there is left. Say, I have 85 questions in 90 minutes, that basically comes down to a question a minute - which sounds very short! Every now and then I glance at the time and quickly calculate if I still have roughly a minute per question left. If yes, I’m on schedule and no reason to stress, if no, I’m probably better off skipping some larger questions and focus on the simpler ones.
Preferably, don't plan anything too important after your exam either. I've noticed that I tend to get distracted if I'm thinking ahead of where I need to be after the exam – that's all effort NOT being used on the exam itself. If possible, see if you can quickly drop by in that pub just outside the exam centre afterwards to decompress. To be honest, it wouldn't be the first time that I'm blankly staring at a glass for an hour after an exam. no matter how many I've done, I'm still completely toast afterwards. Let’s just hope that was worth it and you passed!