I have previously blogged about Cisco Learning"s "Premium Subscription" for IT Career JumpStart. The company's approach is simple and the cost is surprisingly low: $10 a month with a 30-day commitment, $99 a year with a 12-month commitment. What's more, the value of the discounts that the 1-year program delivers will more than justify the out-of-pocket costs with savings on virtual labs, practice tests, and online training materials for those who want them.
This got me thinking about the ways in which savvy certification chasers can save on out-of-pocket expenses as they study and practice for their exams, and then go forth to tackle them. Here are five of my favorites:
1. Watch out for promotions
Sign up for email updates from the certification sponsors you're interested in getting certified with and use the offers that fit your schedule and budget. The Cisco subscription just mentioned fits this bill, as do the occasional "Second Shot" promotions from Microsoft. In either case, you get access to discounts on exams or prep materials, or a chance to re-take an exam a second time at no cost, should you fail to pass it on the first try. You have to participate in a program (Cisco Premium Subscription) or sign up through a specific website (Microsoft Second Shot) to qualify for these extras, so be sure to investigate what's being promoted and understand the requirements to exercise promotional offers before paying for anything.
2. Look for package deals
Many certifications require passing two or more exams, and both cert sponsors and third-party training and study providers will often offer bundles to match (this kind of thing is common for CCNA, and more advanced Cisco Professional certs, and for MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD certifications, too). If you sign up for a comprehensive offering (which usually means exams or exams plus training for cert sponsors, or a variety of bundling deals from training or cert prep materials companies), you will typically save 15-25 percent over the normal costs for the items involved, with savings up to 45 percent occasionally available.
3. Take advantage of "all you can eat" offers
Some training companies even offer "all you can eat" training deals at surprisingly affordable prices. For example, well-known video training company Pluralsight (which now also includes TrainSignal's video training) offers access to their entire online training catalog to certification candidates for $29 to $49 a month, depending on whether or not you include exercises, assessments, and offline viewing capability in your signup, with further discounts available for those who pay once a year instead of monthly. With a catalog of over 500 courses and most major certs covered, this kind of subscription is enough to cover training for most of one's IT career. Other training companies or publishers offer similar deals (such as the Pearson Safari online library, which mingles out-and-out technical topics with certification coverage) as well.
4. Shop around for vouchers
Sure you can provide a credit card number to Pearson VUE or Prometric to pay for most of your certification exams, but you can also shop around online for vouchers with which to defray those costs. The difference between direct payment and voucher submission is that you can shop around for -- and often find -- deals on exam vouchers that bring costs down by 10-25 percent for individual exams, and sometimes up to 35 percent for multi-exam voucher purchases (these are usually associated with promotions or bundles). As the old saying goes, "it pays to shop around."
5. Get there early
The bleeding edge sometimes pays unexpected dividends. If you're required to get in on the early phases of certification exams, or simply interested in getting a jump on the market, you can usually sign up for and take beta exams (question banks in the process of being shaken down and analyzed to determine final, statistically defensible question items suitable for widespread proliferation) for substantial discounts (or even for free, in some cases). You must usually register with the exam sponsor to let them know you're interested in taking beta exams, and sometimes you must qualify to get invited to take such exams (by earning other certifications, and showing some expertise in various test domains), so there are some hurdles to jump through here. But if you can surmount them, you can also combine an early look at a cert exam with a substantial discount or a free peek at those materials. Worst case, you'll be armed to take the public exam version by virtue of prior exposure to a question pool that will still have elements in common with the beta exam you took and failed. Best case, you'll earn the cert as early as anyone can, and save money doing it. Ask around the user communities for your exam sponsor, to learn more about how to participate, if you're interested.
The main ways to save money on certification involve seeking out and taking advantage of deals, promotions, and bundles that are relevant to your pursuits. If you keep an eye out for them, you should be able to spend your money more conservatively and still earn your credentials.