The short answer to your question is: study, learn, practice, assess; repeat as necessary. To be more informative, those terms should be interpreted as follows:
- Study: take courses, read books, perform labs and hands-on exercises to get familiar with the subject matter.
- Learn: work your way through sample test questions, problems and so forth to make sure you're understanding the information you need to know to pass the exam.
- Practice: take one or more practice exams until you can pass them with ease; then, you should be quite ready to tackle the real thing.
- Assess: examine your practice test scores and performance to identify areas in need of further study, hands-on work, reading, or thought.
- Repeat as necessary: repeat the four preceding steps until you can attain a passing score on the exam that is at least 10% greater than the minimum passing score (this helps you compensate for "exam anxiety" when you take the real thing, which usually results in lower scores than in a less stressful situation).
This was first published in April 2002