Lots of things in life are unexpected. Who would have predicted, 20 years ago, that Starburst candies would one day be sold in “miniature” form, bagged assortments of individual chews that can be popped straight into your mouth by the fistful without the hassle of removing a paper wrapper? Donald Trump probably didn’t think when he was chatting with Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood bus 11 years ago, that he might someday revisit the contents of that conversation as a widely scrutinized contender for the highest elective office in the United States.
IT certification can be similarly unpredictable. For one thing, the pace of technological evolution is enough to make even the most dedicated computer professional feel like a marathoner stuck in the middle of a self-perpetuating course. The finish line is never in sight, because the end of the race keeps getting moved back. A related but different problem is the one posed by performance-based certification exams. Unlike with more conventional (and predictable) multiple-choice question exams, you can’t just memorize answers beforehand.
A performance-based exam requires you to actually think on your feet. You have to assess a live or simulated IT scenario and make a series of snap decisions about how to successfully resolve it. It’s like in the movie Predator, when hulking mercenary Dutch Schaefer (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), is stalked by a fierce unknown entity and must figure out how to fight back on the spot. Or like in Return of the Jedi, when the peaceable Ewoks have to confront a crack legion of Imperial stormtroopers with only their wits and an assortment of rudimentary tools and gimmicks.
Though the unseen enemy kills everyone else in his crew, Dutch catches a break by tumbling into a river and going over a roaring waterfall. After exiting the river and crawling through some mud, Dutch is temporarily hidden from the sensor technology of the cloaked alien hunter pursuing him. Taking advantage of his new situation, Dutch levels the playing field a bit with a series of clever jungle traps, leading up to a final showdown. Likewise relying on their wits, the crafty Ewoks defeat their stormtrooper foes in similar fashion with logs, rocks, and vine-twisted ropes.
Performance-based exams are starting to be favored by many in the industry because they require certification candidates to both demonstrate critical thinking and apply practical IT skills. The next time that you encounter a performance-based exam, don’t be intimidated or frozen in place by the specter of the unexpected. Instead, be like Dutch Schaefer or the Ewoks: Keep your wits about you and start working through potential solutions until you find something that sticks. It’s a recipe for success on performance-based exams, and also for success in life.