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.