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Any book you choose should have a recent publication date. Computer stuff just changes too fast to use a book thats more than couple of years old. When possible, seek out second or later editions. This means the author has had a chance to correct any errors that were reported by astute readers. Correspondingly, before making your purchase check for more recent editions of the same book. Believe it or not, older editions are often still for sale long after updated versions have been issued.

Check over the table of contents to see if the information is well organized - which doesn't, by the way, mean sequentially keyed to certification objectives. Does the book seem to cover the requisite material to an appropriate depth? Specific features too look for include end of chapter quizzes and a writing style that is dense enough to convey the necessary content without dragging on forever, but won't put you to sleep right away. Books that present information in more than one way including illustrations, for example, are best. With the possible exception of a trial version of an operating system you'll have difficulty obtaining elsewhere, don't let packaged software swing your purchasing decision. It may well be out of date, and all to often is thrown together at the last minute, without as much care as the rest of the book received. You can always pick up quizzing software, for example, separately.

If everything else looks okay, turn your attention to the index. Look up a few topics that should be in there and turn to the actual pages indicated. A superficial or erroneous index substantially detracts from the value of the book.

Although this seems like a lot of work for picking out a book, the book(s) you're looking for are going to help you advance your career and reach personal goals. It's worth the effort, especially when you make that first purchase or two. Once you find a series, publisher, or author that you like, become a loyal fan, and you'll be able to bypass some of this vigilance.

Read To Learn With SQ3R

Buying the book is the easy part, and using it as simple as reading from beginning to end, but if you want to get the most bang for your study time, follow a more specific plan of attack: apply the age-old SQ3R system and you'll learn more and remember a larger percentage of it over time.

SQ3R is an acronym for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. The first step Survey means to assess what lays before you. Read the title, preface, introduction, and table of contents. Then flip through the rest of the book reading the headings and subheadings and scanning the illustrations. You should be finished in under half an hour, and ready to move on.

The Question step involves transforming yourself from a passive to an active reader. In this step you will determine specific things you intend to learn from this book. To accomplish this, scan back through the book, and every time you encounter a heading or subheading, rephrase it as a question. Understanding Java Classes could become What are Java classes and what are they used for? When you're done creating your questions for a particular chapter, it's time to read.

As you read (the first R), keep the questions you just formulated in mind. Seek out the answers. Pay special attention to the first and last sentences of each paragraph as they will introduce and sum up the main idea being presented.

After you read each section do your best to answer the question(s) you formulated for that section. State the question and its answer, silently or aloud. This is the second R, which stands for Recite. If you can't answer one of the questions, go back and re-read for the information.

The final R in the SQ3R system is to Review. This is the step that will help you build long term memory. Take all of the questions you created, and, without looking at your notes or back in the book, run through them and answer each one again. Best of all, write the questions and answers down instead of just repeating them aloud.

Thats all there is to it. Start by choosing your book with care, then use the SQ3R system to greatly increase your comprehension and recall of the material. It may take a bit longer, but when it comes to exam time, and even long afterward, the study dividends are well worth the investment.