Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Look at CompTIA CertMaster

CertMaster Trial

In the summer of 2014, CompTIA launched a new learning system called CertMaster, which was a fairly large step for them. They have offered official training in the past, but it was always through the use of authorized third party vendors for live training or providing their stamp of approval for guides from publishing companies.

CompTIA’s information page for Network+ CertMaster

CertMaster is an interesting idea, you begin by taking a multiple choice test with clickable buttons for the answers. You indicate you are sure about an answer by clicking the selection twice to completely fill the circle. If you are unsure, you must select at two different answers (creating half circles) before you can submit your response. You can also simply choose the option that you do not know the answer. If you answer incorrectly, even partially, or that you do not know, the system will flag that question and you will eventually cycle back to those incomplete questions to re-attempt them. During this second (or third, or fourth…etc.) attempt, a “What You Need to Know” section with appear at the bottom, with a bite-sized blurb of information of a suitable length for a flash card about the question. An “Additional Learning” section is also available that delves deeper into the question’s subject matter.

I selected Network+ as my test unit, and it allows you to complete nine questions in the trial. In my limited exposure to the additional learning material I thought it was generally well done, expanding on the topic but still making sure to keep brevity in mind. I tried the course through a browser and the iOS app, and both worked extremely smooth. Once you have completed a module you can review your answer history, and it will show the complete log of how many times you answered for the questions that you did not get completely right on the first try. You can jump to the learning material for each question from this section as well. You can also refresh yourself by retaking the section as many times as you like.

CompTIA believes that the learning methods and theories used to construct CertMaster provide advantages to both the speed of reaching an understanding of the material and of the ability to retain information. Referring to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle I believe that it focuses too heavily on Concrete Experience (useful for actual exam situations, to be sure) and Reflective Observation, while being weak on Abstract Conceptualization and offering basically no Active Experimentation at all. You’ll still need to supplement the course with practical hands-on work when possible. These criticisms can be applied to almost any online training, but I bring it up to highlight some of the issues I have with CompTIA’s “revolutionary learning tool.”

At the price of $139 US dollars, the cost of an individual CertMaster course feels a little steep. One of the issues that spring to mind is the question of how one would use this as an ongoing study resource. I can refer to a section of a paper study guide or go back to Professor Messer video at almost any time (with an internet connection, admittedly) without logging into anything, and without having to worry about a license expiring on me. I remain unconvinced about the value of the program in relation to other options out there. Really, is it more interactive than books or videos? I don’t mean to come across as too reductive, but what you are doing is taking a pre-assessment test that takes you directly to the written study material that deals with the question at hand. It’s definitely convenient, but the issues I have all come back to the current price.

It’s always good to have options when it comes to training material, and despite what I feel are the flaws in CertMaster, CompTIA has a competent offering here, if you can stomach the cost. I hope to revisit the product at a later time, perhaps I will consider buying a license if CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner becomes available through it so that I can provide a thorough review of a full course.