study certification exam

Sean Shares Study Tips

I often receive questions about taking certifications in our industry, so I thought this article would be a good reference for the LitSuppGuru community.

Sean O'Shea

My friend and fellow blogger, Sean O'Shea, has agreed to let me share his article below. Sean shares what it was like to study for and then take the RCA exam developed by kCura. I hope you find it helpful. Additionally, I asked Sean some follow-up questions and he answered them.

Sean continues to impress me with his diligence in resolving technology issues and being a life long learner. You may remember Sean's case study.

Most of the article below was originally posted on Litigation Support Tip of the Night on October 6, 2016.

Followers of this blog will have noticed an awfully large number of posts about Relativity lately, and with good reason. I have been studying in earnest the past few weeks for the Relativity Certified Administrator Exam, which I took on the morning of October 5, 2016 at kCura's offices in the Chicago Loop. Much to my relief, I was able to pass this test.

kCura's Offices

As you can see from the photo, kCura has become quite an institution in Chicago. Its offices are directly across the street from the Chicago Board of Trade Building. The test consists of a 75-minute hands-on exercise in which you are asked to complete a series of tasks in a workspace with sample data from the EDRM Enron data set, (this counts for 60% of the total score) and 150 questions which you are given 90 minutes to complete, which comprises 40% of the total score.

kCura does try to make the test challenging in ways that will not be immediately apparent from the materials one practices with to prepare for the exam. See last night's tip for a big hint on one ‘trick' that kCura uses. I was able to get an almost perfect score on my hands-on exercise despite not knowing this during the exam.

You are given the hands-on exercises when you sign up to take the exam. There are four scenarios, but you are only tested on one of these on exam day. I prepared PowerPoint presentations showing each step I needed to take and vetted them carefully. I went through the results of searches I ran and made sure they were accurate and did lots of testing of permissions I was asked to assign to groups given rights to the exam workspaces. The exam prep environment lets you see how other people registered to take the exam are performing the hands-on exercises, and if you're smart, you'll find one or two people appearing to be particularly adept and get guidance from them.

Amy: Why did you choose PowerPoint, how did it enhance the study process? How many slides did you have in the end?

Sean: I used PowerPoint simply because it was an application I was familiar with that allowed me to quickly edit screen grabs from the prep environment, and add annotations to them. Viewing the slides in presentation mode created a fair approximation of what I would need to do in the test environment.  I wanted to get used to the rapid flow I'd have to go through to complete the exercise.  I created at least 100 slides for each hands-on exercise.

Amy: Specifically, what can you see of other people’s work?

Sean: Many people registered to take the exam will perform each of the hands-on exercises in the prep environment. You can see which rights they assign to groups; how they set up views; what terms they put in saved searches; and any other steps they have taken for the exercise which may differ from your own approach.

The load files given with the data used on the test are a point of concern. The load files for the practice data only had one error that I noticed – a date without slashes in the SaltPepper.dat file.  The load file given for the exam had additional errors but nothing too tricky. Be sure to practice loading data with extracted text linked to as a separate text file AND with the document text part of the load file itself. The load file was huge (there were a few hundred documents) and when I opened it with NotePad++ it worked very slowly – which is something that shouldn’t really come up on this kind of test. Also, the same delays loading document images or whatever that you get in the prep environment come up in the test environment. Nothing major – a few seconds delay – but it’s annoying and I would have guessed that kCura would have a setup that eliminated this kind of problem.

Amy: Are you saying that the load files are designed with errors that the learner has to find or are you saying that the load files unintentionally had errors in them?

Sean: kCura intentionally puts errors in the load files. This seems to be a standard feature that you need to account for on all of the hands-on exercises.


kCura's test site is pretty casual. You simply walk right into a conference room and sit down at a computer of your own choosing.

Only a few people (7 or 8?) were taking the test at the same time as me.  I was slightly bothered by the mouse they provided – the right click was stiff – but still, this wasn’t a major concern.  They give you a hard copy of the hands-on case – but no PDF. Apparently, the proctor has a stack and just distributes them at random.

Amy: How exactly is the hardcopy used? Does it contain the steps you need to follow for the hands-on portion of the exam? Are those steps also on the screen? Is the hard copy just in case the learner prefers to use it?

Sean: You have to rely on the hard copy. The steps are not listed anywhere in the test environment on the PC you use. The four hands-on exercises are provided to all of the test-takers in advance and the one you receive at the exam is an exact duplicate of one of these four.

The 90-minute quiz doesn’t take long to complete. I was somewhat concerned that it would be hard to answer 150 questions in this time period, but it’s not. All of the questions are of the type that you either know or you don’t. No real pondering involved. I was able to go over all of mine a second time (I think I only changed one) and still had time to spare and I was the last person left in the conference room. I think one woman (a current RCA, renewing?) did hers in 45 minutes and then just left.

Amy: Several people have told me that they ran out of time taking the exam, both on the questions or the hands-on section. It sounds like they pondered more than you did. Ha! Any other pointers here?

Sean: I consider myself to be a fairly slow test taker, but I wasn't rushed at all on the quiz. I think if you spend a fair amount of time studying, you won't run out of time. The hands-on exercise is by design something that must be completed quickly. Even if you complete each step without hesitation, you can only hope for 15-20 minutes at most to go back and check what you did.

Clearly, there’s a large pool of questions they draw from, so what I saw may not be what you will see if you take the exam. The questions don’t seem to be of a tricky nature. They aren’t trying to mislead you much. While the Search Quick Reference guide is clearly a very helpful study tool, I was really surprised not to see any questions about which operators are available for certain fields, and which filters are available for certain fields. No questions asking you to recognize what a Custom List filter is as opposed to a Multilist filter and so forth. That’s no guarantee you will not get those questions, but apparently, these aren’t a core feature of what they test you on. I spent a lot of time memorizing the really boring details on these. They do ask you quite a few questions on what kinds of searches can be run in keyword, dtSearch, and Data Grid, so definitely focus on that.

Amy: Was the topic of list filters included in the study materials, implying that it should be a study topic?

Sean: When I attended the training class the teacher emphasized that it was important to study the Search Quick Reference Guide which covers list filters. More than once, the moderators of the RCA Q&A webinars also recommended studying this guide. kCura has RCA Exam Q&A webinars every couple of weeks or so. A trainer from kCura will show how to complete one of the steps from the hands-on exercises, and then field questions. Getting tips from these webinars is an essential part of studying for the exam.

Most of the questions are multiple-choice, a lot are True / False, and many are ‘select all that apply'. With the last, it certainly seems to me that kCura generally wants you to select three options. There were very few matching or hot spot questions and the ones I got seemed very easy. Ignore the quizzes in the Study Materials. I actually went over those the night before and I think it was a waste of valuable time – the silly word scramble questions are something they should discard. More than one question from the online Practice quiz was repeated word for word.

Amy: To clarify, are you suggesting the learner ignore the quizzes in the study materials, but not ignore the practice quizzes in the exam prep environment?

Sean: ‘The RCA Exam Study Materials' booklet includes a ‘Study Puzzles' section with Searching match and word scramble ‘games' – which are like something that you'd see in the old Highlights magazine that always used to be at my pediatrician's office. Those you can ignore, and I have no idea why kCura includes them. The online practice quizzes are taken on the kCura site. These are the best way to study for the RCA quiz, but not sufficient in and of themselves.

Also not on my quiz were any questions about the options in the related items section or the icons in the section above the layout, which include the Keyboard shortcuts legend and the ‘show/hide tab strip' option. This was a surprise.

They may ask a few questions on the quiz about scripts or the options outside of the workspace (queue management and so forth) but not many came up on my quiz. I was going over Resource Pools the night before and this really wasn’t a good use of my time. The main focus seems to be on workspace-level stuff, and I don’t think they necessarily exclusively concentrate on stuff highlighted in the admin manual or study materials as things to remember.  They want you to be really familiar with the ins and outs of the workspace and spending a lot of time just looking around in the workspace could be quite helpful.

Amy: Was the topic of Resource Pools included in the study materials, implying that it should be a study topic?

Sean: Yes. ‘The RCA Exam Study Materials' booklet specifically mentions ‘Resource Pools' as a quiz topic.

Sean O'Shea

I was super stressed out by this test, and when it was complete, I was worried I had not passed. I wandered around the Art Institute just to try force my senses to get preoccupied with something else. As you can see, I found some other night owls just like me.

After completing my test at noon, Relativity sent me the results around 6:30 PM.  When I finally checked my email after a long night of whiskey drinking, I was relieved to find this.

RCA Certificate - Sean O'Shea

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