Preparing for Citrix Certification Part 3 of 3

November 2, 2009

Blog, Certification

In Part 2 of this series, you were given my personal observations into preparing for and taking Citrix certification exams.  In the final article in this series I will give you some short random thoughts about:

  • Why should you get certified?
  • How do I study for exams (since I’ve taken so many)?
  • How are exams scored?
  • What to look for in an exam center.
  • My favorite exam centers.
  • Dealing with not passing an exam.

Why should you get certified?

Certification is one way to prove you have a basic and specific level of product knowledge.  If you work, or plan to work, for a Citrix Partner, certification may be a requirement of your job.  Earning CCA certifications is also one way to get a jump on others who may apply for the same position you have applied for.  Having your CCA certification can help prove to a potential employer that you have worked and studied to improve your product knowledge.

Not everyone needs to be certified.  I doubt that a company would ask Brian Madden if he was certified before he implemented a XenApp farm.  There could come a time when your resume and experience level is so impressive that being certified may not matter.  Even those with a lot of heavy real world experience still spend a lot of time in the lab keeping current and also working to stay ahead.  Until you move into a company management position, there should never be a time when you are not spending time in the lab improving your current and future knowledge and skills.

How do I study for exams?

I take exam preparation very seriously.  I have a serious personal flaw that does not like failure and will accept nothing less than a perfect score.  If I do not make a perfect score that means there is something I didn’t know or misunderstood about the product I was tested on.  It could also mean the test was wrong or there was a flaw in the product documentation!  J I do not wish this curse on anyone else.

I start by looking at the Exam Prep Guide to see what kind of test will be given.  Will it be what I call a:

  • fact based exam
  • decision tree based exam
  • simulation exam

If there is an online course available I will take it.  When I take the online course, I look at the online resources to see what other material I may need to study and I download it.  Once I have worked through all the labs in the course, I then start reading every line of all the product documentation (did I tell you I read around 600 words a minute?).  While reading the product documentation, I will also build a lab setup to work with the software.  I also monitor the Citrix support forums and the relevant zones on Experts Exchange.  This allows me to see if I understand the product well enough to maybe answer a question or even to see if I understand what is being discussed.

Once I feel comfortable enough I schedule the exam for at least one week away.  That gives me enough time to go back through the online course lab to see if I can do the labs with just the overview directions and not use the step-by-step directions.  I will also continue reviewing the admin guide for the product.

The day before the exam, I will review product documentation and then stop studying after lunch.  That night, I will waste some time watching TV and go to bed early.  Being a morning person, I wake up very early, review the admin guide a final time and then head to the testing center.  My favorite testing center just happens to have one of my favorite breakfast places just around the corner.  I go eat a breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham, review my notes and go around the corner to the testing center.  I sit in my car for a few minutes just to chill out.

When I enter the testing center I make a quick trip to the rest room and then go sign in.  The exam proctor will take me to my assigned computer and log me in.  After I enter my credentials and verify I am taking the correct exam, I sit for a minute, take a few deep breathes, stretch and then start the exam.

How are exams scored?

Citrix is the only vendor I am aware of that will tell you how they score their certification exams.   The Scoring Secrets for Citrix Exams – Divulged is an article written by Citrix employee Alejandra Amador-Garcia that explains the scoring process.  Also, some Exam Prep Guides will tell you how an exam is scored.  For the Citrix Access Suite 4.0: Design (1Y0-614) exam, the prep guide section 9 is titled Scoring Design Decisions.  The Citrix Access Suite 4.0: Build/Test (1Y0-456) Exam Prep Guide also has a section devoted to explaining the scoring and answering process.

What to look for in an exam center

A good exam center will allow you to concentrate on the exam.  A bad exam center can hurt your exam experience in that you will spend most of your thought processes complaining about the testing environment.

A good exam center will have:

  • Fast computers
  • Large monitors
  • Clean keyboard
  • Clean mouse
  • Comfortable room that is neither a meat locker nor sauna
  • Good lighting
  • Clean rest room that is close by
  • QUIET

A bad exam center will be a testing nightmare.  Here are some of the things I have come across in what I consider really bad exam centers:

  • Computers so slow it can take a minute or longer to move from question to question
  • Keyboards so filthy you want to get a penicillin shot after the exam
  • The mouse rollers are so coated with filth the pointer barely moves
  • Computers with the cases off
  • One place was so cold I had to wear a winter coat
  • One place had the exam room right next to the training room so I heard every word of the course being taught
  • One testing center was on the top floor and the only rest room was on the bottom floor

Once you find a really good exam center, you will not want to test anywhere else.

The exam companies used to send out e-mail surveys to find out about your testing experience.  I have not seen a survey in a couple of years.  If you think your exam center is a bad center let Citrix Education hear about your bad exam center experience.

My favorite exam centers

I have taken over 100 certification exams in numerous exam centers in seven states (not counting the states of confusion and paranoia that exist during the exam).  I have had more worse exam center experiences than good.  My top two exam centers are:

#1:  DataSchenk, Inc.

611 Potomac Plaza

Suite 101

Smyrna, TN

#2:  New Horizons Computer Learning Center

10200 Linn Station Road

Suite 110

Louisville, KY

DataSchenk is my #1 choice because:

  • IT IS QUIET — no road noise, no office noise, no training room noise
  • Very clean facility — even a private rest room that is clean, well supplied and roomy
  • Very friendly staff — never seen the receptionist without a smile and a helpful attitude
  • Free water and soft drinks — fridge is full of all kinds of soft drinks including my favorite ginger ale
  • Free snacks — for AFTER the exam of course
  • Free candy outside the exam room – to help control your blood sugar or nerves
  • Fast computer — no delay no matter the type of exam questions
  • Large monitor — great for viewing exhibits and other exam features
  • Comfortable exam room
  • My two favorite breakfast places are just around the corner

Dealing with failing an exam

I know of no one that has not failed at least one exam.  I have failed four: one Cisco, one Microsoft and two Citrix exams.  The two Citrix exams were 456 and 614 and I failed those miserably the first time.  How do you deal with failing an exam after putting so much time, energy and effort into the preparation?

First realize it is just an exam.  An exam failure does not mean you failed as a person or an administrator/engineer/architect.  As soon as possible following the exam, write down notes to yourself about what was on your exam and what you were not prepared for or what took you completely by surprise.  Review the Exam Prep Guide.  Did you miss an exam objective or requirement while you were studying?

Note: revealing these notes to other people is very likely a violation of your exam contract.  Don’t do it.

Use your notes with the product documentation.  Is what you missed covered in the documentation?

Use your notes with your lab.  What else can you do in your lab to learn about the questions you missed?

Use your exam score sheet and review your weak areas.  Spend more time in the lab going over your weak areas.  And then spend more time in your lab.

Remember this about failing an exam: relax, life goes on, you are not a failure.

Parting Thoughts

Certification is a rewarding trip even though at times it is frustrating and painful.  I hope your journey rewards you with the titles and money you seek.  I hope your quest to improve your product knowledge and skills does not stop once you obtain your certifications.

Best Wishes for your journey

Carl Webster

Holder of 13 Citrix Certifications

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About Carl Webster

Webster is a Sr. Solutions Architect for Choice Solutions, LLC and specializes in Citrix, Active Directory and Technical Documentation. Webster has been working with Citrix products for many years starting with Multi-User OS/2 in 1990.

View all posts by Carl Webster

3 Responses to “Preparing for Citrix Certification Part 3 of 3”

  1. Leo Palad Says:

    Dear Carl

    Thank you for showing me the way…although the learning curve is quite steep, I began the path to mastering citrix by slowly collecting those valuable materials you’ve shared including taken your advised. I got Moskowitz book already, so thats a good start.

    Although the journey is mammoth at least i’m on the right track, thanks to you and that’s good enough for me. Throughout the journey, i will share what I’ve learned to those who seek guidance with Citrix.

    Because you’ve unloaded your knowledge, you have now more room to be filled in to acquire more knowledge. God bless.

    Yours faithfully,
    Leo
    P.S., I wish there are readily available CBT materials for XenServer much like XenApp?

    Reply

  2. Leo Palad Says:

    Dear Carl,

    It is nice to see that a guru like yourself give helping hand to every day admins wanting to better their experience with Citrix.

    What would your advise for an engineer who has a desire to master Citrix but not sure how to go about doing it?

    What else I can do to learn immensely with Citrix besides building my virtual lab with Citrix?

    Thank you sir.

    Yours faithfully,
    Leo
    Australia

    Reply

    • Carl Webster Says:

      Thank you for the nice words. Others give freely to me so I can continue to improve my skills and knowledge, so I freely give back what little I know.

      1. Continue working in your lab.
      2. Break stuff and fix it.
      3. Start answering Citrix and related questions on Experts Exchange, Citrix support forums, Brian Madden’s forums, The Thin List, etc.
      4. Read, analyze and begin to understand the Citrix product documentation.
      5. Continue working in your lab. There are so many Citrix products available, there is NO way you can have too much lab time. Just trying to figure out PVS and XenDesktop/XenApp images will keep you busy for a long, long time.
      6. When you are ready to start taking exams, go to my friend Jeff’s site, CitrixXperience.com, buy his excellent and Citrix approved exam guides to help you study. But go one step further than just trying to answer the questions just so you can pass a Citrix certification exam. Write down and explain why each supplied answer is either wrong or right. If you don’t understand a question, then you need to lab it.
      7. If you are new to the Citrix/Terminal Server/Remote Desktop Services world, then you have a lot of catching up to do. Here is my list of recommended books to get up to speed (I hope you like to read):
      a: Windows Internals – the chapters on system startup and memory management are key
      b: Any Group Policy book by Jeremy Moskowitz – understanding Group Policy is a key area of working with Citrix
      c: Microsoft Windows Server 2993 Terminal Services – Bernhard Tritsch (super smart and super friendly guy and fellow CTP)
      d: Terminal Services for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 – Brian S. Madden and Ron Oglesby (two of the brainiest and most knowledgeable people and also fellow CTPs)
      e: Windows Terminal Services – Christa Anderson (I doubt anyone knows more about this subject than Christa)
      f: Citrix MetaFrame XP Advanced Technical Design Guide – Brian S. Madden (a lot of the info in this book is still vital to understanding to fundamentals of what we still do today. I think Brian makes a PDF of his book freely available on his site)
      g: Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services Resource Kit – Christa Anderson and Kristin Griffin
      h: Windows Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services Resource Kit – Christa Anderson and Kristin Griffin

      And – just when you thought you had spent enough time in the lab, spend more time. There is no way you can install every Citrix product and feature and related Windows technology and be too familiar with it all.

      For examples:

      Profiles: Mandatory, Roaming, Citrix UPM
      Folder Redirection and Home Folders
      Streaming/Profiling applications
      Web Interface
      Citrix Secure Gateway
      All the new stuff with “Cloud” in the name
      XenServer
      XenApp
      XenDesktop
      Provisioning Services
      PowerShell
      Server and Desktop Lockdown
      Imaging
      Disaster Recovery
      High Availability

      Until you can stand toe-to-toe with Joe Shonk or Thorsten Rood or Denis Gundarev, you don’t know the products very well (I can’t and I don’t).

      Hope this helps you get started in your journey.

      Thanks

      Webster

      Reply

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