Which Certification-Test Preparation Strategies Actually Work?

computing certification banner image
Reading Time: 2 minutes

By: The Cengage Computing Team


If you were to ask a roomful of professionals about the best certification-test preparation strategy, you’d likely receive a wide range of answers. “Take a class” is what some would say, while others would counter with, “No, just do your own self-study.”

Still, others might say, “Be sure to take a practice exam” as others say, “No, just study the material and don’t get confused by practice exams.”

So, who is right when it comes to which certification-test preparation strategies actually work? Up until now there was no good way to answer that question.

But now we do have an answer—courtesy of CompTIA.


Know the Stats Behind the Certification

CompTIA analyzed over half a million certification test-takers for its A+, Network+ and Security+ certifications. They did this by asking certification test-takers which training methodology they used to prepare for the test. Their certification exams typically include various questions at the end of the test-taking process. Then, CompTIA looked at the pass rate of those individuals based on their training methodology.

In terms of how test-takers prepared for taking a certification exam—known as the distribution of training methodologies—these results were reported by Security+ CompTIA:

  • 51% – Self-study Computer-based
  • 48% – Self-study Textbook
  • 43% – Practice Exam Taken
  • 25% – Live Instructor-led Training
  • 19% – Virtual Instructor-led Training
  • 14% – On-the-job Training
  • 11% – Self-study Group


Using a statistical measure known as logistic regression, CompTIA then compared how test-takers prepared against how many passed the certification exam. The top four most effective preparation techniques for Security+ was:

  • On-the-job Training
  • Practice Exam Taken
  • Self-study Textbook
  • Self-study Group


This data contains a wealth of information for someone studying for the Security+ certification exam. While the most effective preparation is on-the-job training, that preparation type would obviously be the most difficult to achieve. The test-taker must first be employed at an enterprise where the person is actively combating attacks while learning “in the trenches.” However, the remaining preparation activities are well within the reach of most test-takers.


Preparation Strategies that Pass the Test

While some claim a practice exam is not beneficial, the data shows that it’s the second-most effective preparation—but it’s only used by 43 percent of those preparing for the test. The third-most effective technique is using a textbook for self-study.

One of the most glaring inconsistencies is taking advantage of studying in a group of other preparers. Forming and using a self-study group was the fourth-highest technique.

Anyone who has been part of a group in preparing for an exam knows that because everyone in the group has a similar level of knowledge, they can quickly learn off each other: if one person doesn’t understand something, the others in the group can explain how they learned it and remember it. However, only 11 percent of Security+ test-takers reported that is what they did for their preparation.

Going forward, upcoming Cengage security titles such as Security+ 7e and CySA+ 2e will be emphasizing more group activities while providing strong practice exam questions and stressing their importance to learners.


IT, Networking and Cyber Security Instructors—take a deep dive into the Live Virtual Machine Labs in MindTap by watching the recording of our recent webinar: Just in Time Training for Live Virtual Machine Labs.