IT Career JumpStart

Oct 24 2012   2:00PM GMT

Prepping for Cert Exams? Consider a Checklist!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

 In plowing through my usual blog fodder this morning, I came across a fascinating article from long-time learning expert and CTO for Learning@Cisco David Mallory. It’s entitled “Checklists for Studying” and includes several pearls of wisdom well worth chewing over:

1. It does a great job of explaining the virtues and values of checklists: simple lists of items, features, status, and settings to check when embarking on routine or complex technical tasks. Mallory observes that there’s a very good reason why pilots and healthcare professionals routinely use checklists to drive task start-ups such as preparing an aircraft for use or starting a shift in a clinic or hospital ward. He puts it like this “The knowledge required to perform complex jobs frequently exceeds an individual’s ability to remember or their capacity to apply the knowledge in a time-constrained environment without making mistakes.” I think it’s fair to observe further that this applies likewise to routine or repetitive tasks, and that learning how to do such things benefits even more from checklists than getting them right once the elements and sequence have been walked through repeatedly.

2. He cites Atul Gawande’s excellent book: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Though the subject matter may sound dry, this book is a real eye-opener and a page turner, according to the many published reviews and accolades it’s received. If you really want to understand the whys and wherefores of checklists, and learn from some great and sometimes amusing examples of how they’re best used and applied, this is the go-to resource on this subject. It’s available on Amazon for under $17 for the physical book, and $10 for Kindle.

3. He uses a great decision diagram — which he explains as a kind of “branching checklist” (aka “decision tree”) — to show how checklists apply to a broad range of technical tasks and analyses, many of which are prime fodder for most certification exams I can think of. It’s for assigning an IP address to a router interface, and it looks like this:


Working through IP address assignment possibilities.
Working through IP address assignment possibilities.
Source: Charting Technical Learning 9/19/2012.

Don’t forget this valuable technique as you take notes and try to distill the skills and knowledge you need to master for certification exams. This technique will not only come in handy for exam prep, it’s also extremely well-suited to putting your new skills and knowledge to work on the job!

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