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Not all prep course companies are created equally.

Many people make the mistake of trying to pick a prep course company based on who has the best price. Unfortunately it's these people who often end up paying the most.

Those who choose the cheapest course are not getting the best material. This often means failing the exam, and since there is a limit to the number of times one can take the exam, this may mean having to wait a full year to retake the exam. During that time there could be some major contracts that one would miss out on due to lack of having a license.

Even if missing out on deals wasn't an issue, having to buy a better prep course still means spending even more money. If you purchase the best course the first time, it will save you money in the long run.

Since price is the worst way to compare General Contractor prep courses, what are the best ways to compare to make sure you're getting the right prep course?

The most important thing you should do is pick up the phone and call the company. Make sure the exam experts are truly exam experts and not just order takers. Do the people on the other end of the phone sound knowledgeable, caring, and friendly? Do they seem to care more about you passing the exam or getting your money?

What about features and benefits? What should you look for in the actual prep course?

Online workshops vs. in person seminars

Often people search for a live general contractor training seminar. They say "I just learn better in a classroom environment".

The problem with that is, most have the wrong idea of what the classroom will be like. It's not like when you were in school and got to ask questions and work through problems with the teacher.

These live seminars are often put on by "training companies", that just hire a local person to stand up and deliver the content. They are only there to tell you what the questions and answers are. There's no discussion. If they say the joint compound drying time at 60 degrees and 60% humidity is 29 hours, and you disagree, there's nothing to discuss. That's the answer.

And don't forget about the classroom environment.

First you'll have to take a couple days off work. You'll go to a hotel with 20-30 other contractors and be herded into a room for 2 long 8-10 hour days of someone reading to you.

If you get an important phone call or need to use the restroom you miss out on any of the questions and answers they covered. There's no rewind.

In just about every class, there's one guy who is missing books or has the wrong version and keeps interrupting the instructor.

There's also someone who's hard of hearing and keeps asking the instructor to repeat himself.

And then there's that one guy who always wants to argue with the instructor. Remember, if you don't agree with an answer, it doesn't matter. They are just showing you what the answer is according to the test.

Some of these companies even teach different classes all together. That means sometimes they'll be talking to only half the class for an hour or two.

After this 48 hour period, you'll leave the hotel with your books highlighted and that's it. No audio discs, no study guides, no practice exams.

This is why it's so important to make sure any prep course you choose offers Online Workshops that are broken down by book and viewable on demand. You need the ability to pause or rewind, or review an entire course when necessary.

Ample time to access the study material - Let's face it, sometimes life gets in the way of our best plans. Sometimes a new project pops up and you need to postpone your studies for a few weeks or months. Make sure you can access the material for at least six months.

Quick reference study guide - it's important to get the information in multiple formats to make a stronger impression on your memory. Having a quick reference study guide will help you stay focused so you can concentrate on just one book at a time.

Audio discs - Repitition is helpful for memorization. If you've got audio for each book you can let that play in the background during your daily commute and learn without even trying.

Regular updates - make sure that you are not getting old stale information. Ask when the last time the course was updated. If it wasn't recently, then you may be getting old information which may or may NOT be on your exam.

PSI modeled tests - One VERY important feature you'll want to find is a practice exam that looks and responds just like your real exam. This fully prepares you to pass your exam with ease. When you go in to the test facility to take your real exam, if it looks just like what you've been studying for the past several weeks, you'll be more at ease and able to focus on the answers rather than trying to learn a new format on the fly.

Current books - There are many fly by night prep courses out there which try to lure you in with a low price. If the books cost hundreds of dollars less than the competitors, it's most likely because it's not the right books or it's not all the books. You will only be allowed to bring in certain books and certain editions. Even though you may be able to study with an older book, you will NOT be allowed to bring it into the exam. Compare the books you're about to buy to the official PSI candidate bulletin.

Test taking strategies - When you speak to the people at a prep course company, ask them if they know any strategies to give you an edge when taking your exam. They should be able to give you some very specific strategies to help you save time and maximize your effectiveness when it comes to your exam.

Specific questions for your exact test - Your prep course should be designed for your specific license exam. Many prep course providers just have generalized contractor knowledge in their courses. This will not help you pass the exam. Your study needs to be focused on the specific questions and content that will be on your real exam.

Actual test questions - As mentioned above, your prep course should be specific to your license exam. Furthermore, the course should include actual questions that have appeared on the real tests.

Final Check List:

If the prep course you are considering meets these basic criteria, then you've found a good one!

1. Not the cheapest
2. Offers Online Workshops
3. Provides ample time to access the material
4. Includes a Quick Reference Study Guide
5. Includes Audio Discs
6. Is regularly updated
7. Is modeled after your real exam
8. Only uses the current books
9. Contains Test Taking Strategies
10. Includes actual test questions for your specific license exam
11. Has real exam experts that are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable