Preparing For a Professional Test/Certification Without Going Broke

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In almost any field you enter, at some point you will be faced with a decision:  to take the professional test or to not take the professional test?  These tests can be the difference between getting into grad school or not.  Think MCATs, LSATs, or GMATs.  These tests can be the difference between getting a certification to work at all.  Think Praxis, NCETM, or the NCLEX.  These tests could give you bargaining power when you’re negotiating for a raise.  Like the ASATT, SPHR, or MCSA.

But these tests can be expensive to take.  Often the study materials are produced by the organization that administers the test, and that organization usually charges an arm and a leg for them.  They know you want to work, and if you want to work you have to study and prepare, and if you want to study and prepare why wouldn’t you pay a high premium to the only seller on the market?  Here are some tips to help you study up without shelling out hundreds and hundreds of dollars:

Use Other’s Knowledge

Many internet savvy college students know about sites such as that let you create on-line flash cards that are accessible anywhere to help you study on the go.  Not only can you make your own, but you can look up flash cards that others have made to help you get ready for that big mid-term or final, too.  Many people don’t know that these flash cards are also great for professional tests or certifications.  You can either make your own or look some up from other’s who have been preparing themselves.  You can use their material to get you ready for your own exam.

Form a Study Group

If you’re getting ready to test, others are likely preparing as well.  Getting together can be a great way to study.  Not only can you get useful feedback from peers, but you can pool resources.  Maybe someone in the group has a study packet from the organization that administers your test.  If not, maybe you can all pool your money to get one together.  Your work may even agree to offer CEUs to participants if the organizer requests it.  This is a bonus in frugality as those are something you’d usually have to pay for.

The single best person to have in your group is someone who has taken the test before and not passed.  This may seem counter intuitive, but they will be the one who knows for sure what kinds of questions are on the exam, the format of those questions, and other oddities you should expect so your anxiety levels aren’t as high the day you go in.  They didn’t pass, but by sharing their knowledge they could save you from having to re-test in the future.  Don’t press them too hard for details they seem uncomfortable giving; many of these organizations require a level of confidentiality for what happens in that testing room.  The last thing you want to do when preparing to up your professional game is cross an ethics line, or coerce someone else into doing so.

Check Out Your Library

Libraries are a great resource for many things, and professional certifications are no exception.  They may have study materials from the organization itself, or publications put together by others depending on how popular the particular exam is.  If you are in Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Library system makes most materials at any branch available to you.  If you request a book or DVD or any other item they lend out, you can request that it be transported to your local branch free of charge.

But traditional libraries aren’t the only place you should check.  If you are a student, your college library will more than likely have shelves of study materials for various professional exams.  If you are not a college student, you can see if you’d be allowed to borrow or even just come in and study in person as a community member.  You’ll probably have the best luck with this at community colleges.

Surprisingly enough,  your workplace may have its own little library that you never even knew about.  Ask your boss or supervisor if there are any study materials available through the office.  You’ll be saving money, and they’ll be impressed by your initiative.


Have you ever studied for a professional test?  Did you save money on your study materials or did they bust the bank?


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8 thoughts on “Preparing For a Professional Test/Certification Without Going Broke

  1. brian503

    I have not had to prepare for a test in a long time. 🙂 Have been considering study aids for my children as they get ready for the SATs. I’ll have to check out CRAM.

  2. Andrew@livingrichcheaply

    I’ve had to study for a couple of professional exams…getting the study materials from the library is a big money saver. Just checked out CRAM…I know a lot of people who swear by flashcards. Pretty cool that you can have access to it online and have it on the go.

    1. femmefrugality

      Absolutely. With our schedule, we take study time where we can get it. If I’ve got waiting room time at the doctor, someone is running late when I go to pick them up, etc, pulling up flashcards like this allows me to study without staying up till the wee hours of the morning.

  3. catherine gacad

    i took the GMAT so long ago! i remember a bunch of people did GMAT classes, but i just purchased a booklet of old GMATS and simply studied by taking those old tests. and it worked out fine.

  4. Rebecca Stapler

    We busted the budget on our Bar/Bri study materials for the bar — my class was $3500 and my husband’s was $4200. OUCH! Plus, it’s a M-F study schedule for 2 months, so neither of us was making any income.

    1. femmefrugality

      Shoot. The bar is one of the most intense ones. When Imy lawyer friends are taking it, I don’t see them for months beforehand. Hopefully there was some EF money to tie you over, and it paid off in the long run!!!


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