Some Cisco Testing Advice

If you follow the blog, you know I’ve had quite an adventure getting my CCNP.  Finally, this past Monday, after what seemed liked years of struggling, I finished up my ROUTE test and got the email telling me I’d made it.  I’ve learned a lot over the course, but, more than the technical details, I learned more about how to prepare for the exams.  It’s too bad I hit the moment of enlightenment after I reached the end of the line.  Well, at least this line; there will be others very soon.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned about preparing for Cisco exams.  I’m not the authority on test taking, mind you, but I’ve done my fair share of test taking.  I hope someone can use the advice and not have to struggle through things like I did.

  • Create a blog and update at least weekly.

A blog  makes you check your facts beyond a shadow of a doubt.  No one wants to get embarrassed by posting inaccurate information, and, by forcing yourself to go public with your studies, you’ll find yourself going that extra step.  One of my big problems was that I would read a topic, think about it for a second, then move on thinking I knew it thoroughly.  Usually I was wrong, and my blog actually forced me to go through a topic over and over again and focus on the details.

  • Get on Twitter.

I try to avoid using buzzwords, but the collaboration is just astounding in the Twitterverse.  There are some great people on Twitter who are more than willing to help you out and provide motivation.  I’ve found that CCIEs are helping CCENT candidates, and CCNAs are all exchanging study notes.  If you don’t understand a topic, use your 140 characters to ask, and someone will usually help.

  • Read more than one book.  Read more than 2 books.

The latest CCNP exams (ROUTE and SWITCH at least) go beyond any one book.  In order to understand a topic, I had to get the same information from several different places to understand what was really going on.  My ONT experiences taught me that.  I used only one book to study for that test, and that was a huge mistake.  The three chapters on wireless weren’t enough to cover the shear number of wireless questions on the exam.  I finally passed when I got other books involved, and, without them, I may still be scheduling that exam weekly trying to pass it.  🙂

  • Don’t rely on the official certification guides.

The official certification guides are notorious for being incomplete.  I had purchased the library a few years back, so I used those to study for the ISCW,  ONT, and BCMSN.  In retrospect, I can see that they are a good desk reference, but they fail to cover a lot of topics and situations that appear on the exams.  See “Read more than one book.”

  • Use the blueprint.

The blueprint is Cisco’s official word on the topics on the exam, so make sure you understand each and every bullet thoroughly.

  • Read blogs.

There are lots of network blogs out there, and they’re all worth your time.  Add them all to your favorite RSS reader and check them out daily.  Even if the author is speaking above your technical level, keep reading.  You will catch up quickly and learn a lot of valuable information.

  • Read blog comments.

Make sure you look through the comments of a blog post you find interesting.  Someone may have left some information that will put you over the top of the understanding mountain.

  • Study above the expected level of knowledge.

I’m not saying you should read CCIE books for your CCENT exam, but answer any questions you think of when studying.  If you’re reading about OSPF and read about type-3 and type-5 LSAs, natural curiosity should lead you to ask what type-4s do, right?  Well, what’s wrong with finding out and adding that to your notes?  You’re going to need that information later anyway.

  • Learn the terminology.

One thing that got me was not knowing what terms were defined to mean.  I knew the general definitions of them, but, when presented outside of certain contexts, I had to scratch the old bean to figure out what the question was really asking.  If you encounter a term, define it in your head fully.  Don’t just picture it and move on.  A complete definition is the way to go here.

  • Read the glossary.

After you are confident that you know a topic, go through your books’ glossaries and define everything from beginning to end.  Yes, it’s very daunting and boring, but it’s a great test of the terminology and reinforces how different terms are related.  You may know the definition of a term, but you may not realize how it’s related to a topic or line on the blueprint.  As an added benefit, the glossary also tells you where to look if you don’t know the definition.

Send any CCIE study guides questions my way.

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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9 comments for “Some Cisco Testing Advice

  1. July 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Nice summary. I love the “be curious and learn more than you think you need” perspective 😉

  2. July 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Good stuff, I agree completely with everything here. Almost felt like I was reading my own thoughts. People need to be more resourceful in obtaining the level of knowledge that one needs to be the best!!!

  3. Maurice Zenarosa
    July 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    You forgot about using Labs. Setting up a physical or simulated lab helps in assimilating concepts during one’s studies.
    Congrats! Don’t you just love that feeling of accomplishment 😉

  4. July 25, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    I agree with the concept, my highlight is the blogging part which help you with the facts and build the commitment and motivation
    I also think that labs should take a major part in the process as an hour labbing is much more than 2-3 hours of reading (and falling asleep ;))

  5. July 26, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I really liked this post and confirmed to me a lot of what think are good learning methods. I feel the best to solidify your knowledge of a subject is to teach it. I think one has really mastered a topic if they can make it their own and convey it to some one else. I started my own blog shortly after getting my CCNA. I hope this blog that I have created will reinforce all those topics that will be on the CCNP (and my networking knowledge in general). I am hoping to have the ROUTE exam out of the way this September if all goes well.

  6. July 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I agree with everything you just said.

    Writing on my blog has really helped me learn the material. The best way to learn something is to teach it, right?

    I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with twitter. Sometimes I think I spend too much time on it, but the fact that when I do have a question that I couldn’t find on google and I get several replies within seconds I LOVE it so much. The people you connect with on twitter are really valuable resources and friends that you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

    The only other thing I would like to add is to be consistent. When you study every single day you really build momentum and make a lot of progress. Taking a couple of days off can easily turn into a week because it can be hard to start up again.

    Thanks Aaron!

  7. August 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Excellent post buddy .. As always, and the reason why you need to change your blog tagline – very worthy information 🙂

  8. August 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Nice article. Informative and to the point
    “No one wants to get embarrassed by posting inaccurate information, and, by forcing yourself to go public with your studies, you’ll find yourself going that extra step.”
    so true 🙂

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