For CCIE recertification, I opted to take Cisco 350-001 v4 exam. My test today was 77 questions; a passing score was 790 out of 1000. There was a 2 hour time limit, which I used most of. Thankfully, I passed with maybe a question or two to spare. I found the test to be an exercise in “trivial pursuit”, in that the CCIE written qualification exam is an exploration of the test taker’s arcane knowledge of a long topic list. This exam is not an exploration of what the taker knows about building networks, or of how sundry networking technologies work together. I did not find the questions hard to understand or oppressively difficult, so much as either within my scope of knowledge, or not. Generally speaking, the questions were in plain English, and the diagrams clean and legible. A few of the graphics were overly compressed which caused text to suffer, but never so badly that I could not understand what was presented. One huge positive for me was that on questions where you needed to select multiple answers, you were nearly always told how many to pick. I always hated those questions where you’d have 6 or 8 choices, and then be told to “choose all that apply”.
To prepare, I bought the CCIE Routing & Switching Guide, 4th edition. It’s quite the brick, at over 1,000 pages. I bought the 2nd edition about 3 years ago, but it was time for an update. The authors are great writers who build concepts one on the other. Some topics are just dry beyond saving, but Wendell Odom, Rus Healy, and Denise Donohue do a great job of engaging their readership. My original plan was to go through it chapter by chapter, reading through the “do I know this already” sections, and then going through the chapters I didn’t already know. That didn’t happen. Instead, I opted to read through the technologies I know I am weakest on: multicast, MPLS, and IPv6. For the rest of the topics, I took a shortcut: the CCIE Routing & Switching Quick Reference Sheets. The link is to the Kindle edition, although my version is a PDF from SafariBooks, back when I had an account. The quick reference sheets contain all the bits of info key to a topic, but with little or no explanation of how the technology works. This presentation of the information is a great way to review if you are already grounded in the technology. I hope there is an update to this great reference to reflect Cisco’s version 4 flavors of the written and lab CCIE routing and switching exams.
The last resource I used to prepare was the Boson practice exam that came on the CD with the 4th edition book. The practice exam contained 203 questions total, covering nearly all of the knowledge domains in the book. The Boson web site offers a book-independent version of this practice exam with even more questions. I highly recommend it. The practice exam knowledge delivery format puts you in the mindset of taking an exam: a lot of information presented (diagrams, code, CLI output) that you have to quickly make sense of so that you can answer a question in a timely fashion. In addition, there are comments explaining why the right answer was right, and often why the wrong answer was wrong. I would not have passed the exam today without using the Boson test to gauge my reading comprehension and level of understanding of a given topic. Their multicast questions drove me particularly bonkers, in a good way.
My last comment is that I was not as prepared as I should have been. If I’d known the book better and if I’d been stronger on my Boson practice results, I would have done more than just squeak by on this exam. My motivation to take this exam was extraordinarily low, as I’m into other pursuits that take time. I have an awesome job that, six months in, I am still thanking God for my good fortune to have been hired. I’m contributing to the Packet Pushers podcast. I am very active in my church, along with my family. I’m getting back into tech blogging more seriously. I have a couple of side project fiction blogs that I want to pick back up. I am exploring a master’s degree, very likely from a seminary as I want to contribute even more at my church. I am a runner, a time consuming sport, especially as you ramp up distance. Winter is blowing into New Hampshire, which is prime hiking season for me; every time I pack up the snowshoes and crampons to hit the trails, it kills a day. So I just needed to get this test out of the way, and therefore spent much of the last week cramming my brain with relevant trivia. I could have (and maybe should have) done better; cramming is never desirable. But nonetheless, the exam is done, at least this time. The next recert due date will loom all too soon.