8 Replies Latest reply: Jun 12, 2012 7:47 AM by kelsonlawrence RSS

    First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...


      I took the CCENT/ICND1 this afternoon and thankfully passed with actually a pretty decent score. But for someone new to Cisco certs and a first time test taker there were definetly some aspects that were not what I had envisioned nor expected. This post is just a general reflection (I do not believe I have shared anything that would violate NDA, but if moderators do not agree, please remove/redact/etc) of my experience to share with other new, first-time Cisco exam candidates thinking about taking the CCENT/CCNA for first time. The intention is to give other first timers one perspective (my own) of an idea of perhaps what to expect from the new experience.


      In the past when I had to take a lot of MSFT stuff I had to drive 20+ miles to the nearest pearsonvue testing center, this time they opened up a new testing location that is basically walking distance to my home. It must have detected the same zip code when doing the "search" for sites and thought that it was right next door because the distance reported was 0.0 miles (lol)... (it was close but not that close)


      It has been a while since I took a test with pearsonvue so I was suprised they needed to take a photo of me, in addition to the two forms of photo ID requirement. I can't recall but I don't think they needed to take photo of test takers in the past for MSFT exams. If I had known this I would have dressed up better, combed my hair, and made myself more presentable at the test taking site.


      Also the proctor did not even allow me to take my g-shock watch into the exam room. I had planned to use it in addition to the counter at the top of the testing screen to keep better track of time, simply because I'm gotten more used to keeping track of time using my watch... but it was not alloweed so I had to lock that up in the locker as well... he was not a very polite dude and was the type of person who wouldn't give you the time of day.


      The legal size plastic laminated yellow "sheet" of "paper" that we are provided by the testing center to use as scratch pad caught me off guard. I had gotten used to physical paper and many sheets of scratch paper. The problem with the single sheet is that it can't be used double-sided because once you start writing on the other side the reverse side rubs off... So really you only get one side to write and jot down notes and stuff with... I would have preferred paper and pencil, because half-way through the exam the marker went dry and ran out of ink... I had to get the proctor to give me a replacement pen and he was not happy, gave me a mini-lecture about remembering to cap when not in use.... yeah thanks... easy for him to say, but not like I don't have enough other problems to worry about under time pressure. The upside is that in actuality I did not find myself needing to use that laminated sheet all that much...


      The exam front-loaded me with a bunch of time consuming questions (sims, etc) so pretty soon I got REALLY worried that I was going to run out of time by a wide margin and fail miserably... Usually I am pretty good at managing time, and in the practice exams I also end up with plenty of time to spare, always staying porportionally ahead of schedule in terms of questions answered and questions left to answer, etc.. but in this case in the real exam I was shocked and suprised to see that my progress was slow and time was quickly running out. The fact that you can't hit the back button or go back to review another question meant you have to make a tradeoff of hurrying along and increasing the odds of getting wrong answers, or spend too much quality time on earlier questions and not have enough time left to do the rest of the portion of the exam. So not only is the exam a time management exercise, it is also like a Casino where you have to take a bet on how the questions are distributed and whether or not they front or back loaded you... you kinda have to make a best guess at time management. The only upside to this format of not being able to go back to a previous answer is you don't waste time second guessing yourself, the moment you go to the next question, you can mentally block and forever forget about the previous question, it elminates a lot of the paralysing "doubt factor"... because there is nothing more you can do about it one way or another. 


      Ironically, I so hurried along the middle portion of the exam that I not only caught up time but ended up with plenty to spare... had I known this I would have allocated better time towards questions that I rushed, but then again they could have given me another 2-3 sims/etc at the very end of the test...but luckly my test was not also back-loaded... 


      Honestly this test was harder than I thought. Not harder in terms of the knowledge asked, but the time pressure, not getting used to the testing idiosyncrasies of both the environment and the testing format and structure, etc that make it seem more "difficult" overall...


      I bought and taken both the pearson IT certification practice exam by Cisco Press and the Boson ExSim-Max and I read that many people reported Boson format is exactly like the real test format. I found out not quite true. Without going into too much detail, I will just say that it took me a while (a couple of crucial minutes) to even figure out how to use the sim (the formatting was not the same as the ExSim) and for a while I really started to panic couldn't find out how to get the CLI interface window open... (and without that, obviously you can't complete any sims)... this was a getting used to the test gui/interface thing and not a "knowledge/skill" thing, but it wasted several minutes and put me in a state of fear/disorientation and probably caused me to have a lower score.


      Anyway towards the end of the test I ended up with plenty of time to spare, and since you can't go back, I couldn't use that time to review other questions. So I finished the exam thinking that for sure I had failed (since I had rushed a lot of the middle questions and wasn't sure on some of the sims if I got partial/full or even any credit at all).... my worst fear was like a failing score that was just borderline of passing... that would be most devastating of all... I watched one of the training videos where this CCIE remarked that first time taking the ICND1 there was a moment where in the back of his mind he wasn't sure if he was going to pass... Well I had the same feeling but it lasted more than just a fleeting moment, lol....


      But in the end I was pleasantly suprised that not only had I passed but got a very good score....   When I came home to followed the instructions on the printout sheet that Vue gave me and went to http://www.pearsonvue.com/authenticate to verify my score, I saw my "mugshot" and it just indicated that I "PASS(ed)" without reporting my actual score (but said score is on the paper printout).. I followed the link to www.cisco.com/go/certifications/login but it would not let me create a new account nor map to my already existing cisco.com account. I watched the YouTube instruction video but still couldn't get it working, eventually I called Cisco support at 1-800-553-6387 and their customer service looked me up by name and physical address (the CSCO ID they couldn't find yet) and told me that it takes anywhere from 24 hours to sometimes as much as ten days for it to completely update in their system before Cisco will send me an email with some kind of code or password for me to login and track my certification progress.


      Overall.... I would say that it is better to prepare too well than not enough. Be able to subnet in your sleep with eyes closed and without paper and pencil... the difference between being able to do something and doing it really well is that when you are truly proficient at something you can do it QUICKLY and smoothly while under pressure and still without errors... basically practice...practice..practice.. Of course subnetting isn't all there is, you need to knwo a lot more... but it is fundamental that you are good at it because a lot of questions involves or implies you know how to do it fast. So if you aren't good at subnetting, odds are you will be spending a lot of time on questions that would have been easily solved. Practice until it becomes second nature and muscle memory takes over... (so you can do it without thinking, without effort) otherwise you will end up like me second guessing your calculations and having to repeatedly go back to redo it again just to check and make sure (which stresses you out and wastes precious time) I had relied on calculator for so long that I lost my mental math skills and made a lot of basic arithmetic (subtraction/addition/division/multilplication) mistakes... I had taken all the calculus, and even higher level math courses but forgot the basic stuff I learned in elementary school... the fact is real world techs use subnet calculators but the exam wants to make sure you at least know the fundamentals. The same goes for the simulation part too... it is not enough just to watch the videos and read the Odom books and memorize the individual CLI commands and think you can pull it off perfectly on the sims in the real exam... you will be unpleasantly suprised.... and it will be a deer in the headlights experience when the clock is ticking down and you can't remember that exact command or procedure. if you can afford it it is best to purchase real gear and create a lab at home to practice... but other than that get a simulator... Boson Sim is good enough for the CCNA, and perhaps so is Cisco's own Packet Tracer... GN3 is as real as it gets but you need to get your hands on an IOS image and also they can't emulate the ASIC processor logic of switches.  I've also tried the free demo of Command memorizer and while it doesn't really "simulate" anything, the repetitive brute force training is like a flash card that builds muscle memory, especially crucial since most people don't have actual gear to practice this stuff day in and day out... But regardless of whether it is real gear or simulated lab, there is no substitution for practice and building the muscle memory of the steps, intracies and  idiosyncrasies of the Cisco IOS/CLI. Do as many labs, troubleshoot and configuration scenarios as you can find your hands on... On the real exam you won't have access to all the commands so while in real life there can be multiple ways to do something or look something up, in the exam environment the test expects you to know each way (or at least the specific or particular way it is testing you...) So you really have to know your stuff inside-out and upside-down to be able to perform gracefully while under pressure and still maintain accuracy and score a high mark while exuding confidence. Luckly I passed but I learned hard way this is not a {insert some other well known software company} exam.  

        • 1. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

          Congratulations on passing, CCNA now ?

          • 2. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...
            Cristian F. Stoica

            I see that you were very stressed since you seemed to have been bothered by a lot of things that are still happening to all of us, on most of the exams. I was just about to be late on one exam due to the test site being so well hidden that nobody in the area seemed to know where it was. Sweating, and puffing, I managed to get in, and passed. On a couple of occasions, the test froze and I had to call the proctor. I feared that I have to start from scratch, luckily all the answers were saved and only the last one I had to answer again. Taking pictures after you cycle through a damp and breezy cold weather doesn't make your mug look good either. But guess what, that is not for a cover of a magazine. Once I get in front of the computer, starting doing simulators and answering questions really make me forget about everything else, cause I ENJOY doing this. This is what I've chosen to do. I agree that some test sites are better than others, but don't let the environment distract you that much.

            All in all, congrats on passing the first Cisco certification and good luck with the next exams.

            • 3. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

              Bo, congratulations on passing!  I understand and can relate to your frustrations, but hopefully it makes you feel better in the end knowing that you had prepared well enough to pass despite the difficulties.  Now that you are familiar with the test engine, the next tests will be that much easier. 


              Even though you've completed, it may still be worth your time to write a polite letter (or phone call if you're inclined) to the test center about your experience with the proctor.  I understand that everyone has a bad day once in a while, so this may have been an isolated instance.  However, we expect those providing a service to us (especially when we're paying) to do so in a professional manner.  I'm sure if you describe your experience in a professional, factual manner the test center manager would follow up.  I know that if I were a manager I would appreciate knowing if one of my customers had a poor experience.  Especially in a competitive environment such as test centers, where repeat business is likely and quantity is required.


              Best regards,


              • 4. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

                Congratulations with the pass

                • 5. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...
                  Pete Nugent

                  Congrats on passing.


                  Taking exams of a format you are not used to will catch you off guard. Ive only ever had laminates to write on in exams since I started but the security is getting a little more intense now. Watch off, phota taken at every exam, I dont mind so much but I think the next step will see us getting strip searches. I will have to draw the line at taking exams in my shorts! 

                  • 6. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

                    Passed ICND2 (CCNA) today. Don't get me wrong because to me the test was indeed challenging (given the time limits and such) - and I had a couple moments where the fleeting thought of not passing had crossed my mind - but after it was all said and done I got the distinct impression of "so this is it"?  I bought the Odom (physical and pdf) book and Boson exam to study, did the GNS3 emulation thing and used command memorizer. The sims/labs weren't as difficult as I had imagined, but then again they can't possibly be that involved given the 75 minute time limit and such.... but there were definitely a couple trickly worded questions by Cisco not to test raw knowledge but more like how good are you at test taking and pitfall avoiding type of multiple choice questions...


                    Looking back in rear view mirrior, even at the the basic CCNA level I had thought there would be more to it than just this. I felt like I did learn a lot, but the overriding impression was just how much more I didn't know.... and how much more that wasn't even covered and how vast and deep all this can go and how as humans we are limited by time, by a fallable memory, etc...


                    I'm thinking about continuing on with the CCNP after a short break or two.... At my last tech position I remember during a troubleshooting process for a client site with internet issues the local network engineer was asking me to ask the end-user about color and state of the led of LP/AL/CD on the integrated DSU/CSU for the said router...  I had zero network background I had no idea what he was talking about, but then a quick bing/google search yielded a Cisco article "DSU/CSU WAN Interface Cards" that goes into detail with regards to this topic.


                    The point here is I had assumed/imagined that all of the details and intracies of networking and the cisco world would be taught and the knowledge distilled and imparted through official ciscopress material and text such as the Odom series.... I assumed that a newbie coming in starting from scratch and with zero knowledge of networking can work his way up if he/she was just patient, dedicated and put in enough effort to learn the stuff. I imagined that anyone can work themselves from CCENT -> CCNA -> CCNP -> CCIE and from zero can become a network expert.... But I've read the Odom books for ICND1, and ICND2 now... and browsed the TSHOOT, ROUTE and SWITCH texts that accompany the CCNP level of knowledge and certification... but like the "real world" example above... the purpose of "LP/AL/CD" on the DSU/CSU is not taught nor covered... the network tech that I made reference to in the above is very knowlegable in what he does but he doesn't have a single cert... not even A+ or Network+.. So of course he learned all on his own or job experience... but that is the point... even going through the official channels and certs and learning your way up the ladder of networking knowledge it feels like there are so much that is not covered, so much more to learn, and that there are a lot of real world practice knowledge gaps/holes that even at the CCNP level cannot be reconciled or supplemented. Someone who was brand new to the networking world and worked his way up from CCENT to CCNP would, in and of the official text books, would STILL not know what LP/AL/CD stood for on the DSU/CSU!! . Because simply this is never taught, the knowledge never imparted and the topic not discussed. Of course in the back of the Odom books there is a index/reference to DSU/CSU which links to the online Cisco article/pdf that DOES cover the aforementioned details... but again, this is not in any Cisco book anywhere (at least up to the CCNP level that I checked) and doubtful that it is even in written text for the CCIE Odom materials... so how is one expected to know what he/she does not know? I mean is it not reasonable to expect that at the CCNP level all techs would know that LP/AL/CD is and what it stood for? Yet this is not taught! We learn a bunch of theory, which is good and needed, but the exam imparts very little real world experience or knowledge that would really make a certified person marketable and ready to work in a production environment. It just seems like that even up to the CCNP level (I don't know about CCIE) there are just so much gaps and holes, and that earning a cert doesn't really mean much... You'd still ask yourself, "So this is it"?

                    • 7. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

                      Almost sounds as though you feel hoodwinked into this by some dialogue you were privvy to, wouldn't it have been easier to ask the network engineer what he was talking about?


                      Note this particular WAN Interface Card (WIC) has its very own manual, like all Cisco products and in it is where you would find out what these LEDs meant, if you didn't already know:

                      • LP=loopback
                      • AL=alarm
                      • CD=carrier detect

                      So in essence these gaps are always going to exist, every engineer whether CCNA, CCNP or CCIE has to resort to reading the manual at some point, especially when it comes to a piece of equipment that they are not faniliar with.



                      • 8. Re: First time Cisco, Passed but not what I expected...

                        Hi Bo,


                        Sorry about the initial confusion when you launched the exam. Our engine, the Boson Exam Environment (BEE), is designed to deliver exams from multiple vendors. Since there are differences between vendors' exams, we've designed the BEE to handle these various exams in one universal format.


                        For those wishing to familiarize themselves with the exact Cisco format before the exam, this link should prove to be beneficial.




                        Congratulations on passing the first time and thank you for using ExSim-Max.



                        Boson Software