Study Tips for the Time Challenged

If you are reading this, you are probably trying to study and a very important question has come up: “How do I even make time?”. I look across social media and that is one question that seems to be a concern for many of us. Whether you are studying for a certification, class or even to acquire a new skill, time must be dedicated. If you can show up at every test without taking the time to study and you ace each test, there is no need to read further. However, if you are like the rest of us who often struggle juggling work, family, and everything else that comes behind it, the next few paragraphs will hopefully provide some encouragement.

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I’ll be honest, I can be a bit lazy at times. Why not? I deserve it don’t I? Don’t we all? My main struggle when it comes to studying is a mix of procrastination and laziness. “Tomorrow is a better day!”. “I am starting next week!” “I am going to start the week after!” These are some of the things that come to mind when I want to sit down and dive in to any type of study. However, I’ll then turn around and burn through a couple hours of Xbox. It makes no sense. Gaming is great, but gaming is not teaching me the necessary skills I need to progress at work or to implement a specific project. Studying will. Yet, my approach to studying is often lackadaisical. When I started studying for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) years back, procrastination was my main problem. The appetite for studying was not really there. Since there was no hunger for it, other things began to distract me. At work, other’s would fill me in on how their studies were going. One thing I noticed about those that were studying…they were learning. They were able to apply what they learned at work. That flipped a switch. For myself, recognizing that the journey to the CCNA was slightly more important than the CCNA itself made a difference. Sure, you can take a test and pass it…but did you learn anything? Are you able to apply the concepts you learned to real-life business scenarios? Memorizing terms is one thing, but knowing what those terms are is another. Having the need to apply what I learned to make myself and the business better pushed me to complete the CCNA. I was already in a Network Engineering role when I started the CCNA journey so it was a little easier to apply learned topics to those real life scenarios. Many who are reading this might be working their way towards their role of choice and studying at the same time. There might not be a place right now where you can apply the learned concepts. There will be. Those doors will open up. The important part is getting the hunger to study. If you do not make it a priority, something else will fall in its place.

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When it came to pursuing my Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) cert, the problem was no longer procrastination. I was on fire to reach another level and continue learning. However, mine and my wife’s time was now spent on learning how to be parents. My son was just born when I started studying for the CCNP Route exam. There was a new priority, my son and he needed to remain the priority. No matter what, family will always come first. Studying, gaming, even coffee will come after. So now it was a matter of finding the time to fit in studies where I could. I would return from work and I wanted to help my wife with my son. She was tired and I wanted to give her a break. The studying happened, but it was not as much as I wanted. I would find time at night before sleep, during the baby’s naps, and on the weekends. I’d say no to hanging out with friends just because that was valuable time I could use to try and lab subjects I was reading on. It took me three tries to pass the Route exam. Now, I am not going to blame my son for that (maybe), but I was able to pass it. Each time I failed I made sure to double-up on studies on the areas I felt weak in. Each time I failed I did feel a little deflated. My wife always encouraged me to go study and to not worry about everything else. At this point, my purpose for passing was just not to apply learned concepts to business scenarios, but it was also to obtain new opportunities that would benefit my family. I continued to study and was able to pass the Switch exam as well as the Tshoot. You might be dealing with a similar scenario. The time to study is rare because there are other important things going on. Don’t let that discourage you. Take advantage of the available time you have. You might have failed an exam once, twice or however many times. Keep studying, keep going! One thing I did not do that I would (and will) is wake up earlier. I love sleep. Especially since the kids wake up early; any opportunity I can take to sleep an extra minute or two, I am taking. However, that can be valuable study time right there.

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This year I took Palo Alto’s PCNSA and PCNSE exams. Now there are two kids running around! Thankfully they are slightly older and have set bed times. As soon as they were in bed, I jumped straight to the material. Some people prefer to study in the mornings. Some people prefer to study at night. I am more of a night owl. I usually go to sleep late. I feel more comfortable staying up late, reading and making notes. Some people do not. You have to see what fits your schedule and more importantly, what is comfortable. If it is difficult for you to study at night, don’t do it. Try to find time earlier in the day. As I mentioned before, waking up earlier is a dreadful option, but some people are into it. If you are not able to study comfortably, it will be more difficult to retain the information. I took advantage of the evenings and was able to pass the PCNSA. I followed the same schedules and studied for the PCNSE. This evening thing seemed to work out for me! I passed the PCNSE. One things I did not do is study more than 4 hours each day. My study time during the week was between 2-4 hours. This worked for those particular tests. I had previous experience on Palo Alto, so that also helped. On the weekends I would spend more time studying. If you are studying for something completely new, you will probably have to make more time for the material and labs. Don’t try to jam in all that time into one day, space topics out to several days if needed. The important piece is to make sure you are comfortable and well rested. This will help you mentally capture more information.

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Sometimes I compare studying to health. The same medicine that works for one person might not work for the next. Everyone is different. Everyone studies differently, takes notes differently and labs differently. Don’t feel discouraged if your journey is taking a little longer than someone else. If you sit down and look at social media, people are passing tests left and right. It’s great! However, don’t compare your progress to someone else. You are at the right place at the right time. Find the time you can and fill it, even if it means getting up early (ugh!). Always keep in mind why you are studying. What is the endgame? Use that as your motivation. Keep studying and good luck!

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