Thursday, September 06, 2007

My first A+ exam is tomorrow. I have gone from feeling very anxious, to pretty confident, to very anxious again. I've covered 1800+ pages of material; I've written copious notes, run flash cards, and taken review quizzes till blood oozes from my eyes. I've gone from looking at practice questions and having utterly no idea what they even meant, to reading them, understanding them, knowing the right answer (more or less), and being able to explain that answer. Last night, for the first time in my life, I cracked open an old, dead PC, and I understood what was going on inside it. I could name its parts and explain how they worked together. I took it apart and put it back together again. I was, I admit, pretty proud of myself.

So why the fuck do I keep failing my practice exams?

I'm hoping that a big part of it is just piss-poor test design. I know that CompTIA put considerable care into designing their own exams, but I won't get to see that until tomorrow. Until then, I'm stuck with practice tests written by dubious examiners, and some of this shit is just stupid.

Okay, so let me ask you one of the exam questions; see what you think of this:

You arrive at a job site to discover that everybody working in the office only speaks Spanish, and you only speak English. How should you proceed?

a) Hire an interpreter.

b) Call your supervisor.

c) Try to gather information using drawings and hand gestures.

d) Leave the job.

And apparently the correct answer is... C. Yeah, apparently official CompTIA policy on language barriers (according to this) is scribbled diagrams and gesticulations. The explanation is that you should at least try to do the job -- well, obviously -- but frankly, pointing and grunting at the PC seems unhelpful and embarrassing to me. I understand the rationale behind the answer, but saying that that's the "most correct" answer seems pretty arbitrary. I figured I'd refer to my boss first (hey, asshole, you left out a crucial piece of information -- who the hell called this job in, anyway? Somebody here must speak English well enough to hire a tech, so what gives?), but that was WRONG WRONG WRONG!

Bizarrely, on just about every other question involving tricky workplace situations, calling your supervisor was the right answer, even when that seemed patently silly. Go figure.

Here's what I've got going for me: I've studied the official exam objectives, and I've covered all of that material. I know the difference between IDE and SCSI; I know the different types of RAM and their common form factors; I know all the connectors inside and outside the box; I know how an LED screen works, I know how a laser printer works, I know how many wires are in a Cat 5 coaxial cable, I know the Windows boot process, I know how to use the command line, I know how to configure BIOS without screwing things up. There are things I'm shaky on, too -- I'm having a hell of a time memorizing the I/O addresses for common components, for example. But I've also quizzed the actual, working PC techs around me on that stuff (what's the I/O address for the LPT 1 port? what socket does an AMD Athlon 64 processor fit into? what's the maximum throughput for IEEE 802.11g?), and they don't know either. When I ask them those questions, they look at me like I'm fucking crazy, because that's obviously the kind of stuff that a) never actually comes up, and b) when it does, you just look it up. I mean, that's what Google was invented for. Duh.

You never know everything. The biggest issue, as I see it, is to understand the fundamental points so that you know how to find the things you don't know. This is a basic-level exam; I'm not supposed to be an expert to pass it. I can actually get a lot of answers wrong and still pass. My knowledge is imperfect, but I know that I know the material as well as should. But I just keep... fucking... failing.

Anyway, my point is, I'm feeling a little frustrated today, a little stressed out. Hopefully tomorrow afternoon I'll sit down to my exam and breeze through it. My fear is that I'll get four questions in and realize that I'm fucked. It would kill me if I sat down, breezed through it, and then found out that I'd failed. Again. Just like on the practice tests. And probably over a question about an office full of people who don't speak any English.

Update: Okay, so, I passed... but not by as much as I wanted. I was honestly a little surprised by my score, because after I finished I felt pretty good and thought I'd done better. In any case, I'm feeling relieved, but also deeply vexed. My second exam is in two weeks, and I'm going to be hitting this shit hard, because I intend to nail that fucker to the wall.

You see, I'm the kind of person who has always been able to walk into an exam cold and ace it. I scored a 32 on my ACT, I was a national merit semi-finalist, and did almost as well on my SATs, and all without a lick of studying or preparation. Which isn't to brag -- though it is impressive, no? -- but rather to underline that studying this hard for months and still getting a middling score is something that really gets stuck in my craw. I was a grade hound from childhood, and mediocre performance just doesn't go down well, even if, in the end, it's irrelevant.

I think my problem isn't core knowledge; I think it's the practical troubleshooting stuff that's tripping me up. I just haven't had much experience troubleshooting, and it's sort of an arcane, experience-based art form -- knowledge of basic principles doesn't in itself translate into skill in troubleshooting. And there were quite a few troubleshooting questions on this exam, and there will only be more on the next one.

Anyway, I got past this one, but the next one will be harder, and the pass mark is higher, so I've still got some hard work to do.

Goddamn, I'm tired of studying computers.
11:01 AM ::
Amy :: permalink