I don't know if you’re this type of person, but I can be very competitive.  But only in certain situations, which is kind of an odd thing.

For instance, while at work one time a co-worker made eye-contact with me moments before speeding up the stair well leading to the second floor of our office building.  I knew, in an instant, that I was engaged in a competition.  Of course, we had to race, it was decided before my feet even started hurtling my body up the stairs. But that same co-worker and I later had tasks divvied up between us and instead of racing to complete the tasks first, we cooperated and assisted each other to ensure they were done quickly.

That’s "the thing" with most people who feel the drive to be competitive, they only want to be competitive when there is a +1 sum game being played.  By this I mean, competition breads excellence, by pushing each other we are essentially co-building our skill sets.

What does this have to do with IT certifications and overcoming a failed certification attempt?  That same innate sense of competition, the need to always 'win' or at least finish "on the podium" can make failing an exam feel like it’s the end of the road.  I know MANY people who, after failing an exam, abandoned the topic completely and moved on.  They suffered (in their eyes) a humiliating defeat and they just wanted to distance themselves as much as they can from that failure.

I have been there, study for MONTHS(!) on a certification.  I booked the exam, confidently started the exam and swiftly moved through the question and with the surest of clicks, answered the questions.  It was only at the end, when I received my score that I realized I was not going to be standing atop the podium today.  I was not going to be spraying my success all over Twitter and LinkedIn, instead I would be announcing my defeat.

Now, like I said before, many people I know at this point would shy away from publishing their failures on social media.  They would also throw away their study guides, delete the confirmation emails for the certification and burn the score report containing the failed exam details.

I learned from them though, because most of them eventually returned to the exam that "defeated" them. Whether it is a month later or years later, the quantity of people that return to the exams and succeed is quite large!  For this reason, I knew that when/if (because I had never failed a cert up to this point) I failed an exam I would need to double down on the study.  There was no way I was going to re-study a topic months or years later!

I also knew I should have a strategy in place for when this occurs so that I can capitalize on the experience that is taking the exam!

So, without further ado below is a framework that I used to overcome my exam failure and succeed on the second attempt!

The "how-to overcome an exam failure" framework looks like this:1) Take notes IMMEDIATLY after the exam is completed2) Announce your failure publicly3) Review YOUR study guide4) Take a break5) Review your post-exam notes & find sources

1) As soon as you are able, right down whatever is in your head.  This will be things like:-questions you know you got wrong-questions you struggled with-questions you didn't expect-topics that felt "new"-specific words that were "new “Whatever is banging around your head, needs to go onto paper.  It’s hard to write down too much as this point.  Your fresh out of the one of the most valuable experiences that you can have during the exam prep phase (the experience of taking the actual exam)!

2) Announce your failure publicly. If you have social media, let it out that you failed today.  Let your support network know that you didn't earn a "PASS" but that you are sticking to it.  The amount of support you get from people you have never talked to will amaze you!  If you are not on the socials, bounce it off coworkers, friends, family, etc....they will probably ask questions, take your time and think about a response.  This is a process as well; their perspectives can guide you to your weak areas!

3) Review YOUR entire study guide. There is a reason "your" is in CAPS, it’s because during the exam prep you should be making your own study guide.  I don't mean writing a 700-page Sybex study guide, but you should have a few pages of bullet points with details and information found on the internet (or outside of the study materials).  Building your own study guides forces you to do some research and then write it down, both of those are fantastic methods for retaining and recalling information (multiple times better than just reading alone). The reason reviewing YOUR study guide is important is because it is very likely you skimmed over a portion of it.  Looking at its post-failure, the weak spot will jump out at you, you will feel foolish, but you will also feel joy because you have identified a weak spot (and fixed it!).

4) Take a break from studying! Most exams (maybe all?) requiring a "cool down" period after taking an exam before you can attempt it again.  This ranges, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (or longer).  After you have dumped out your exam experiences (step 1), let everyone know you bombed the exam (step 2) and have done a quick review of "your" study guide (step 3), you should plan some down time.  This might be a day off; it could be a week off.  Only you will know what the optimum amount is.  During this time, I would avoid learning new tech, new certs, etc... you want to come to the study game with a hunger to learn.  Let that build up!

5) Finally, the (2nd) home stretch before your exam!  Using those notes that you dumped out of your head post-exam, "your" study guide and new sources of information you want to seek out weak areas and eliminate them!  Finally, a word or two on how I study: I don't like to spend more than 30-60 minutes a day studying cert topics. I prefer the "marathon of sprints" method, which is stringing together many consecutive days of short, focused study 'sprints' into one larger study session.  If you don't yet know what your preferred style is, give this a shot!  Keep the study sessions short and intense, then get back to life for the rest of that day.  Rinse and repeat for success!

As I mentioned before, this exact framework and method is what I used to overcome a failed exam.  And I must say, passing something after failing feels even better than passing on the first attempt! Good luck and let me know how your (2nd) attempts go!