Tips for Preparing for a Certification Exam

Woman studying and preparing for a certification exam.

Have you found yourself in the stressful situation of preparing for a certification exam? 

While many people can pass any test with a single cram session, others may need to slow down and use a more methodical approach to prepare for an upcoming exam.  

If you are in that latter group, rest assured statistics show there are many more effective ways to study for—and pass—the important upcoming certification exam in your life, rather than cramming.

As a matter of fact, cramming is one of the least effective ways to learn a subject. Research has found that many students cannot recall the information mere days after a cram session. 

This inability to remember new information is because they have trained their minds to recite the material without developing a deeper understanding of it. In short, cramming completely undermines the learning process. 

The techniques we’re about to show you will set you up for long-term success and give you the knowledge, not just the certification. 

Whether you are a rookie or veteran in your field, successful retention of the information offered while preparing for a certification exam can propel you into a more competitive salary within your job market.

Let’s look at 5 of the best ways to prepare for a certification exam.

1) Remove All Distractions

It goes without saying that, on the day of the exam, you will turn off any cell phones or electronic devices that could interrupt your focus while you are testing. The same respect needs to be applied to study time. 

You need to completely eliminate distractions from your study environment when preparing for a certification exam. This includes any and all foreseeable distractions. Meaning, you may have to find a location away from home, family, and work for study practices. 

Even if you are only able to get in 15 minutes a day, this period of uninterrupted studying will benefit you more than 60 minutes per day of distracted studying.

2) Create an Exam Blueprint

Doing your homework before you actually do your homework will help you get an accurate blueprint of what questions will be on the exam. Many providers have an official exam page for your certification of choice. 

An exam page will break down many of the specifics for the exam so that you can create a blueprint for studying. The details that you can gain from the exam page are your best weapon when preparing for a certification exam. 

For instance, every certification and exam is unique. When you take the time to acquaint yourself with the individual exam page for your specific certification, it can give you details to direct you to what you need to know.  

Once you have an exam blueprint, you will know which topics hold the most weight for your certification, which will allow you to study accordingly.

If you can’t find an exam blueprint or are unfamiliar with what one is, don’t fret. An exam blueprint can be easily constructed by evaluating the textbooks, notes, or slides that were presented throughout the class. 

By reviewing resources, you should be able to see patterns of areas that were repeated more than once or where more emphasis was applied. From there you can usually deduce what topics will hold more significance going into the exam. 

Reviewing the exam blueprint will be your first step to maximizing your study time.

3) Take as Many Practice Tests as You Can

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. If there is a practice exam offered, take it. If not, search through any and all of your resources for as many practice test questions that you can find.

Compose your own practice exam based on the questions that you have found and the exam blueprint that you have created. 

Chances are that if there is a question listed in your study materials, that exact question or one similar will be on the certification exam. 

Take your practice exam several times leading up to the exam day. Taking a practice exam is a unique study method, and it will help you develop a different set of test-day skills than other study practices.

4) Create a Study Group

Creating a study group can be your greatest asset as long as you follow these 5 simple rules…

  1. Don’t have more than 3-5 people in your study group.
  2. Meet for between 1-3 hours and take a short break if needed.
  3. Show up prepared! Give specific assignments so everyone knows what they need to contribute.
  4. Elect one person to “lead” the group. This person will be in charge of keeping the group on task and focused.
  5. Form a group with like-minded people who want to benefit from knowing the subject rather than just memorizing information to pass an exam.

5) Pay Attention to the Wording and Instructions

Practice exams not only give you an idea of the content that is covered on the test but also allow you a sneak peek at the structure of the questions on the exam.  For instance, does the practice exam use phrases such as “most correct”? 

If so, you will likely encounter those types of questions on the test. “Most correct” may mean that you have to really search for the most correct answer, as all the answers offered may be correct in one way or another. 

“Best answer” is another phrase to watch for. This usually means there is more than one correct answer, but you must decipher based on the rest of the question which answer is best. Look for specific details that will support one answer more than the others.

Some tests deduct more for leaving a question blank than getting it wrong. Read through all of the instructions before starting your practice exams so that you know how to proceed. Also, it is a good practice to go back and give your best guess when time allows.


Preparing for a certification exam does not have to be stressful when you know how to prepare. 

Start early by reviewing the exam blueprint and spending small, undisturbed increments of time every day studying the subject. 

Certification prep does require time and investment, but when you do your homework preparing for your certification exam, it can make all the difference for a successful career.

Physician Recruitment is challenging enough without our own self-made problems. Learn more about AAMM’s seminars and resources.

Roger Bonds is the founder of the American Academy of Medical Management and president of The National Institute of Physician Recruitment & Retention, based in Atlanta, GA. Find AAMM on FacebookLinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Email AAMM at [email protected], or call their main office at 770-649-7150.