Free and cheap ways to study for IT certifications

Use these tips for finding inexpensive study resources and getting hands-on experience.

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For as long as there have been technology certifications, IT pros have debated their value. Some believe they're the key to a fatter paycheck, while others contend that they're often not worth the paper they're printed on. Others take the middle road and say they can be valuable in the right circumstances, but experience is king.

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The aim of this story is not to add to that debate. This story is for technology professionals who have already decided to pursue a certification, and who are looking for ways to do so without breaking the bank.

Because there's no denying it: Studying for and taking certification exams can be costly. Instructor-led classes often cost in "the thousands of dollars," notes Tim Warner, a 15-year IT veteran, author and tech evangelist at Pluralsight, which specializes in online professional technology training. Even computer-based classes, which generally don't offer direct contact with the instructor, typically cost "in the hundreds of dollars," he adds.

And once the studying is done you still have to pay for the exams. "On average, exam prices range between $150 and $350 per attempt," Warner says. "Some IT cert vendors, such as Microsoft, offer 2-for-1 promotions that effectively halve the registration cost. Either way, it's expensive."

Fortunately, there are plenty of free and low-cost resources that can help you study for certification exams, and depending on your circumstances, there may be other ways you can cut expenses. You might even be able to save some dough on the exam fees themselves. Later in the story I'll discuss some inexpensive ways to gain hands-on experience in the subjects you're studying.

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