SWITCH – Epic Fail

I did my standard 2ish-hour drive to the closest testing center today to take the SWTCH test (642-813).  Utter failure.  That’s 3 for those scoring at home.

The test was the absolute worst I’ve ever taken.  I know that I complain a lot, but this is totally justified in my eyes.  My 4th grade spelling tests were better than this.  I’ve seen kindergarten plays with better production value.

First of all, it was poorly written.  Whoever wrote those questions has a few pieces of information about English sentence structure missing from their skill set.  A sentence needs a verb, right?  Well, a lot of the sentences were missing those.  It’s kind of important to know what the whole point of the sentence is, or is that too much to ask?  The “drag this over here” exercise questions all started with the same 13-word phrase that left the question so long that it was unreadable.  A couple of commas would have been nice in some.  Others I just had to infer from the answers what they were trying to ask.

There were lots of spelling errors as well.  Most of them were just stupid stuff like switched letters or missing characters, but, at one point, I had to figure out that I needed to look at the “router” instead of the “route”.  That’s not really cool.  The misspellings were so bad that they were actually misspelling the hostnames on the diagrams provided.  Does anyone even try any more?

Let’s talk about the technical level of the test.  If I didn’t know any better, I would swear I was taking a CCNA test.  The technical material was so elementary that it bordered on comical.  If I recall correctly (which I never do), there were about 3 questions on trunking which were so easy that my wife could answer them.  There were about 4 FHRP questions that were out of the “Cisco for Dummies” book.  I could go on, but I have better things about which to complain.

“So,” you might ask, “why did you fail it if it was so easy?”  That’s a great question.  I failed it because the name of the test is misleading.  When Cisco says “Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks”, they really mean “Collecting Documentation About VLANs.”  There were at least four questions on this test that asked what information you need to collect before implementing some unknown step of a project involving VLANs.  Sometimes, the reference was to rollback plans.  Sometimes it discussed IP assignments.  Sometimes it even talked about collecting user requirements.  It seemed that nearly half of the questions on the test discussed planning for making changes or preparing change documentation.  There was very little “implementing.”

To top it all off, too, one of my labs froze.  I entered a command into a router, and it didn’t come back.  I couldn’t change to the other lab windows, either (the “Scenario” or “Topology” windows included), but my timer kept ticking.  I could click around in the testing software, but the lab itself was toast.  I got the administrator who helped me out a bit after the machine was rebooted.  I didn’t run out of time or anything, but getting up to find help to troubleshoot a problem really throws you off.

How about some closing words?  First of all, I have given up on the Cisco Press books and other materials.  Each time I use them they have little to no coverage about topics on the test itself.  The ISCW was that way, and we all know about my problems with the ONT.  I figured that those were just aged text, but SWITCH is only a month or two old, isn’t it?  That means the test hasn’t had that much time to change, but the materials are totally different already.

I actually have an example of the books leading the reader directly away from the test materials.  I’m reading from the “CCNP SWITCH 642-813 Quick Reference” book by Donohue.  On page 8, it discusses the PPDIOO lifecycle approach.

Network engineers at the CCNP level will likely be involved at the implementation and following phases.  They can also participate in the design phase.

That doesn’t make any sense, does it?  Didn’t I just say that there were a good number of questions on preparation (the first P) and planning (the second P).  Both of those come before the design phase.

Somebody help me out here.  What am I missing?  Is there some magical book series that has the answers?

I should have bought testing vouchers in bulk when they were $150.

Audio commentary
[audio:http://aconaway.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/SWITCH-Epic-Fail.mp3|titles=SWITCH – Epic Fail]

UPDATE:  It seems that the idea of seeing topics on the exam that aren’t are the test go beyond just me.  I’m getting in touch with as many people related to the SWITCH book as I can to let them know that this is a serious problem.  I’m sure I’ll have a post or two on the outcome of that effort.

Aaron Conaway

I shake my head around sometimes and see what falls out. That's what lands on these pages. If you have any questions, the best way to contact me is through Twitter at @aconaway.

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18 comments for “SWITCH – Epic Fail

  1. May 6, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    you’ve forgot about such obvious exam topics as catalyst 6500 supervisor redundancy, sso and nsf, ip sla, qos marking best practices, and others you do not really expect in ‘switching’ exam.

    but do not give up! the test is still passable!
    review topics you’ve scored worst, and do second attempt.

  2. May 7, 2010 at 6:39 am

    These tests always seem to me to be 1/2 knowledge and 1/2 trivia contest. I’d much rather there were more sims or maybe some sort of a practical element similar to CCIE.

    I also hate that the screen shots they use in the tests are very blurry and hard to read.

  3. May 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    boy, its never boring around you…
    I think this is part of the price you pay for taking a new exam. they didn’t get enough feedback and the web doesn’t have enough info from past testers like yourself.
    remember: in Aaron we trust!!!

  4. Tim Whisnant
    May 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    So, if we can’t turn to Cisco Press for knowledge on test material, where do we turn to? Will the guessing games continue for other Cisco certs? This is getting ridiculous.

    I truly hope that the Cisco Press material and the tests one day align.

  5. Iain
    May 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Does anyone out there have access to the rough cuts version of the soon to be released SWITCH Self-Study Guide? If so, I’d really like to hear some opinions on it.


    Right now I’m hoping it will be the silver bullet that covers the dead spots in the Official Certification Guide (Hucaby).

  6. May 16, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I feel yourn pain. The problem is that authors of the official cert guides don’t see the test questions. They are contracted to write about objectives. We are at the mercy of the authors and the folks who put the exams together ..

  7. John
    June 11, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I just failed with a 685 today. It was tough and I also thought the CP book left a lot to be desired. I was slow on the SIMS and thought some of the wording on the SIMS were confusing. I had one that said use both links to pass traffic. I think they meant use EtherChannel but they didn’t flat out say it. I had another one that said make sure all subnets are available, does that mean they need to participate in EIGRP or is it good enough that my MLS knows they are directly connected.

  8. June 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    George is right that the authors don’t see the answers, but they do see the objectives, and the book utterly fails to meet those. As Terry said, the tests are 1/2 knowledge and 1/2 trivia, and that’s especially true for the sims where they can’t say “make an EtherChannel” to tip you off so they said “make both pass traffic.” Running MST with alternative root ports for different VLANs would do that, too, eh?

  9. David
    August 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    {Laughs} There’s very little I can add to your assessment. Comically simple, kindergarten spelling, grammatical, and unfinished sentence errors. Answers to the planning questions amounted to educated guesswork since there were often at least two answers per question which I half agreed with and half disagreed with. I feel cheated out of $200 and wish I scheduled BCMSN one week before this, before it expired.

    Missed it by 14 points. Taking it again in a week.

  10. Kyle
    August 7, 2010 at 2:39 am

    I tool it this morning and don’t really know why I failed except for some simple mistakes. I would recommend searching for labs and sims from this and the 642-812 exam. They are the same. My test Inc eigrp on mls and using specific wildcard masks ie. Also a radius port security lab vlan filter.. Lots of spelling mistakes and just dumb paper pusher questions that I’m so sick of. I think the labs are the bulk of the test. I don’t hink the questions r weighted very high. I have no idea how I’m going to pass this test I gave it everythig and ended up short a second time. 705. I took the 812 and got a 791 needed a 805. I just got a copy of the cisco press book but think I might need a current book on ccdp stuff bc the test focused slot on non tech

  11. BBFailed....
    August 15, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Sigh….took my exam for the second time today………This is killing me….The first time i got 746….and this time…..756…….WTF! I do believe the labs weight a lot more than the individual questions itself. I had almost the exact same questions as my first attempt but still, those planning and design questions are just……i dunno how to describe them anymore. I knew those questions was my weak points in the first attempt and i tried my best to find the answers in my CCNP SWITCH book but still…..there was nothing much related. The labs was ok, although one of the lab seems to have some sort of mistake when the CLI for the two switches don’t really agree with the topology. Oh well, I’ve tried my best but i really want to know exactly which session in the book talked about preparation for design?

    • August 15, 2010 at 1:08 am

      The worst part, BB, is that there is no section for the PPDIOO stuff. I’ve exchanged emails with the Executive Editor of Cisco Press about it. While he did admit there were issues with some missing materials, he was not aware of the PPDIOO shortcomings. I was lucky and passed the BSCI, so I got around all the planning crap. Perhaps focusing on CCO’s PPDIOO material may be the way to go.

      Tough luck on the attempts. At this rate, you only need to take it 4 more times to pass it. Keep your head up; luck is yours next time.

  12. mserkan
    August 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Hi, I’m in Turkey now and if I buy the CCNP Switch Foundation book on amazon.com, I have to wait 2 weeks for shipping and the book isn’t sold in Turkey. So, I decided to use CCNP Network Academy Program v.5.0 for preperation.

    Is it enough for the switch exam? Are there any additional chapters in the switch exam because the blueprint isn’t clear.


  13. August 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I haven’t used the Network Academy books, mserkan. I also don’t know anyone who has, so I can’t comment on that. Sorry. 🙁

  14. December 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Aaron, these are encouraging words.  I am taking the exam again in 4 weeks.  Until then, I am planning to straight up memorize the PPDIO crap….but yes, in my studies I did not focus much on PPDIO, yet I did not see any material that gave me answers to questions such as "you are getting ready to design an implementation plan since your company is deploying VLANs, what information should you gather before doing so?" <select 3>.  And 4/5 of the answers are reasonable in the real world….HAHA!  But it is encouraging to hear you took this 3 times?  Next month will be my third attempt.
    I will say – this is why brain dumps are so terribly popular.  They work, and they are an easy way to save HUNDREDS of dollars for the aspiring student.  Assuming I pass on go #3 that means $600 invested….you reach a point where you are forced to decide if you have to dump something just to get your $600 back!  Someone above said they felt "cheated" and I couldn't agree more.
    BTW: I feel the labs are great in this test.  Especially the AAA/VACL one.  Very satisfying.  The 5 question HSRP junk is just annoying.  "Let's see if we can trick you with interface tracking values".  Can you do math?  I used all 2 hours…..and got a sim on question 45 too which sucked with 7 minutes to go.  It was an SVI type sim so I blasted through it. 
    I could have done better on labs.  They are weighted heavily I think.  First time I got 609 going blind to the exam.  This time 705.  I am sure I missed a ton of multiple choice.

  15. December 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    By the way, friends…..the one you talked about with 2 segments connecting two switches where they do not come out and say "use etherchannel", they did say something like industry standard.  But I agree – for a minute I was wondering if they wanted me to use STP port priority to load balance the links…..so just to be sure, they do want EtherChannel here right?  My sim was standards based, so really LACP.

  16. David
    October 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Just as a point. I did my CCDA and found that all of the information people are saying is missing from the CCNP switch study guides is in there. It almost appears as though you have to have each Associate level certification before you have a clear shot at the Professional level exams. I am studying for my switch exam now so I suppose brushing up on the PPDIOO topics is going to be required.

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