My favorite recipe for preparing for an IT certification goes something like this:
1. Purchase one (or at most two) big fat study guides on your exam topic (I often call these books “doorstops” for a very good reason). Usual cost: $50 a pop, cheaper if you can buy used via Amazon, HalfPrice, and so forth.
2. Purchase an Exam Cram on the same exam topic. Usual cost $20-30.
3. Purchase a good set of practice tests from a reputable well-known vendor such as Boson, Transcender, and so forth. Costs vary by topic from $70 to $150, sometimes more.
4. Beg, borrow, steal, or build a test lab to practice your skills to prepare for the exam. You can spend anywhere from $0 to $1,000 on such gear, but generally costs will be in line with the cost/value of the cert involved.
5. Sign up for the exam of choice, preferably with some kind of discount (search for “discount voucher” or “discount exam voucher” online using the exam ID or some other unique string to identify the cert involved). These days, most cert exams go for $125 and up.
6. Study like heck, practice like the dickens, and squeeze ever iota of info out of your practice tests. Then, take the exam and pass on the first try (if you’re lucky; if possible always look for a Second Shot style deal where the cost of the exam includes a free retake if you don’t pass on the first try).
On the other hand, if you want to see some more good information on exam prep, check out my old tried-and-true 25 Exam Prep Tips at HyperLearn.com, or Eric Geier’s great little article “IT Certifications on a Shoestring Budget.” Either way, you can’t go wrong.