I took Cisco CCIE R&S written exam 350-001 version 4 today. This was one of my options to complete CCIE recertification. This is the second time I took v4 of this exam. The first time I took it in June 2012 at CLUS. I didn’t study at all, but since an exam is included in CLUS admission, I decided to at least get a look at it. I did not pass on that attempt, but could have done worse, scoring ~700, when a 790 is passing. Today I passed, and I’m glad to have it behind me (again).
- Easy to read all diagrams. No truncated, incomplete, or overly compressed/pixelated diagrams or images.
- Easy to read all answer choices. No truncated text with no way to scroll to see what was hidden.
- Easy to read all exhibits.
- In general, no complaints.
Exam Topic Coverage
- The first time I took this exam, I felt I got a disproportionate amount of IPv6, multicast, and MPLS questions. Now, that could have been the luck of the draw. Or it could have been that I noticed those questions more since they are the knowledge domains I work with the least in real life. Or it could have been that the adaptive exam question algorithm found a perverse joy in poking at the ignorant part of my brain.
- This time, I felt the question load was evenly distributed across all knowledge domains. No complaints at all. Fair test in that regard, in my opinion.
- Some rote memorization is required. You either know how many bits the blah-blah field takes up in the whatzit header, or you don’t. You know how long the default timer is for the flobot protocol, or you don’t. While those aren’t hard questions, memorizing all of the lists and tables worth memorizing to get a handle on all of this sort of information is tedious.
- Several questions were “clever”, meaning you need to understand in depth the nuances of the topic at hand to grasp the point of the question. There were some cases of obtuse wording, extraneous phrases included in the question, or coming at the real issue sideways to make very sure the test taker knows what they’re looking at.
- Being competent reading diagrams and quickly interpreting lots of Cisco device output is helpful.
- Overall, I felt this was not an overly hard test, but a bit of a grinder to study for. The difficulty comes in the sheer breadth of topics the exam can draw from. The CCIE R&S blueprint is wide, and getting your head through all the material is daunting. Especially the first time through.
- The method required to prepare for this exam depends on if you’re recertifying or taking it for the first time.
- For first-timers, get the book. Then read the book, but don’t read it straight through. It’s nearly 1,000 pages of mind-numbing technical detail, device output, diagrams, and lists. You’ll go bonkers. Instead of simply reading the book, you need to read the book while at the same time working with the topics in real life, in GNS3, or in some other sort of lab. You must spend time at the console to make the book content stick. Otherwise, it’s just arcane trivia that won’t mean much. So, read and lab. Read and lab.
- To recertify, my approach was different. I used the Boson ExSim-Max for 350-001. The Boson approach is to give you a practice exam, but there’s a study mode. In study mode, you get a question, give an answer, and then find out immediately if you were right or not. Then a detailed explanation is given for why the right answer is right, and why the wrong answers were wrong. The Boson approach makes a great way to review if you’re already familiar with the material. Note that the Boson ExSim approach is not a braindump. You won’t find the Boson practice questions on the actual exam. You will find questions of all the same style & type as you’ll find on the actual exam, so it is like the actual exam in that sense.
- The Boson exam reminded me that, for instance, I still don’t use multicast in real life, and so I tend to forget a lot about IP multicast operations in between exams. I re-read the exam guide to review multicast beyond what the Boson ExSim provided. I also re-read the exam guide chapters on IPv6 and MPLS.
I hate recertifying. Admittedly, it’s necessary. For the value of the cert to be upheld, recertifying is a not unreasonable way to go about it. But I’m always busy. Taking the hours required to read, study, memorize, and lab are stressful when there’s so many other things that demand my attention. But, that’s the price to be paid. Despite that, I think I might try a different knowledge domain the next time I need to recertify. I met Carole Warner Reece at CLUS 2012, and she made the point that she recertifies with exams from the other CCIE tracks, just to round herself out and keep challenging herself in new ways. And she’s right. I’ve been wanting to tackle the CCIE Security written for a long time, and the next time around, I think that’s perhaps the way I should go.