My CCNA Exam Experience
by John D.
You have probably already guessed that my real name isn’t John D but in the interests of keeping my identity a secret I wanted to remain anonymous.
I work as an IT contractor doing basic router installs. I basically swap out old models for new versions and copy over the configuration files. Nothing too complicated. I work as a contractor for a large company and have been in IT for about five years now. I did pass my CCNP a few years ago but it expired and now I consider myself very rusty indeed. I don’t really configure Cisco equipment apart from copying over the config which is a very low level skill. I want to get back to CCNP level and go and work on a network support team somewhere.
I wanted to share with you my CCNA exam day experience. Things didn’t really go that well to be honest so I didn’t give myself the best chances of passing. Perhaps if I tell you my story it may give you a few pointers on how you can perform at your best on the actual day. I won’t be telling you what my questions in the exam were but I will be sharing with you how I was caught out several times with questions on topics I thought I knew pretty well.
How I Prepared
When I passed a few years ago all there was by way of study materials was Cisco press and one by a big name author. I bought both books but it took many weeks to trawl through all the information in them. At many points I thought I must be stupid because the information simply wouldn’t sink in. I failed the CCNA twice before finally passing it but that must have been a fluke. I went on to study for the CCNP but for that I used some old CCIE books which actually seemed to explain things in a far easier way than the CCNP ones. I also used lots of practise exams from Boson and Transcender who at the time were the leaders in the field.
This time round things have changed and it seems everyone wants a slice of the IT training pie. I was recommendedwww.howtonetwork.net by a colleage who was at the Cisco Academy doing his CCNA. He was very unhappy with the trainer he had there and had found Paul Brownings site mentioned on the forum by another academy student.
I couldn’t believe it when I found the site. It seemed that there was finally somebody out there who could explain stuff without going off on a tangent or losing me with useless babble. As I watched the videos, followed the lessons and did the hands on labs with walkthroughs I felt a massive improvement in my confidence levels. I posted questions on the forums and had replies from some very helpful people within the hour most of the time.
I didn’t bother to buy any more books this time. I just used www.howtonetwork.net and bought a copy of CCNA Simplified because I travel to work on the train so I wanted something I could read. For hands on experience I bought some second hand routers from ebay. Three 1720 routers and two 2950 switches. I used the live racks on http://racks.howtonetwork.net/as well and they were excellent. I bought all the cables I needed from ebay.
My Study System
I just got up every day one hour earlier. I like to study early in the morning because I know there will be no distractions. I asked my wife to help with the children for that hour and I explained to her (on Pauls advice) that it would only be for a few weeks so I could pass the exam and get a better contract. The ‘CCNA in 60 days‘ programme was not available when I was studying but I wish it was.
I read on the train to work and if it was quiet at work I did a quick practise exam. I studied during my lunch break (cram guide and subnetting) and then read on the train home again. It seemed at the time that all I was doing was studying but was very keen to pass the CCNA. I had also promised my two children a day out at the local theme park if I passed and so they kept on nagging me to study.
I think from start to finish I studied for six weeks. Being an expired CCNP I thought would have helped but by the time I came to study again I had literally forgotten everything I had learned the first time around. It was like being a novice again.
I woke up with a knot in my stomach. I forced a light breakfast down and then left for the exam testing centre. It is only five miles from my house and I have taken exams there a few times over the last few years.
When I got into town I had left a good 45 minutes free to park up and find a local coffee shop to sit in. It was then that the problems started. The car park I usually use was completely full and as I drove round it looking for a space I could feel my tension building. I eventually found another car park a short walk away but then realised to my horror that I had forgotten to bring any change with me for the parking meter. Luckily I managed to get some change of a stranger in the car park. I was feeling very tense now as I walked over the road to the testing centre which is located in a large office building on the top floor.
I sat in a coffee shop outside the testing centre and had a coffee because I had another 20 minutes before it was time to go in. After I finished the coffee I immediately regretted drinking it because I felt the need to pee. I knew that with a combination of exam nerves and caffeine I would be desperate to pee every thirty minutes. Stupid mistake.
I casually strolled to the entrance to the testing centre but there was a sign on the door saying that the entrance had moved to the other side of the building. I felt more twisting in my stomach as I walked round the perimeter of the building trying to find where the new entrance was.
Inside the Centre
I finally found the new improved entrance and walked nervously up three flights of stairs until I found the correct floor for the testing centre. I was greeted by the receptionist who told me to sit in the corner until she was ready. There was no offer of water or smiles from her.
When she was ready for me I had to show my ID (driving license and credit card) and fill in a disclaimer form about not telling people which questions I was asked or taking anything into the exam room with me. I then had to lock everything I had in a small locker. Bag, wallet, mobile phone and so on.
In the Exam Room
She led me to a cramped room with six PCs in. Each one separated by a screen to the left and right. I asked where the water cooler was and got myself two glasses of water.
I sat down and click on a few buttons on the PC to confirm who I was. I gave my e-mail address so they could e-mail me off my certificates and result. I then did a short practise exam which shows you the question styles you may get such as multiple choice, drag and drop, fill in the blank etc. I always do that short test just to get me in the swing of things.
The real exam then started. It told me that I had 45 questions to answer in 90 minutes and that I needed 833 out of 1000 to pass.
The first question had me stuck already. It was on VLSM which I thought I knew pretty well but the way it was phrased made no sense to me. I looked at the answers and they all looked wrong to me. I read the question over and over but it still didn’t make sense at all. My anxiety was rising fast and as I looked at the clock I knew I was wasting valuable time. I clicked on the answer that looked least wrong to me and continued.
There were a few other questions which seemed to make sense. Multiple choice, drag and drop and so on. They asked me about which algorithm is used to compute a certain routing protocols routes which really annoyed me. What on earth has that got do do with configuring the protocol? Then I was asked who it was who invented it! That is a history question as far as I am concerned but it appeared that Cisco thought it was important.
I was then hit with my first configuration issue. A new router had been added to a network and was not routing correctly. I had done a few troubleshooting problems on howtonetwork so I used the OSI to resolve the problem and moved on feeling confident that I had fixed everything.
I was asked to look at a network diagram for a TCP/IP service and answer what the default behaviour was for the router. They didn’t explain if the router had been configured or not. Was it the default behaviour they wanted if it had not been set up or if it had been set up? I was really annoyed at this question and left a comment about it. Clearly they presumed something about that question which was not obvious or at least not to me.
Next there was a pretty straight forward configuration on a router. At least it would have been straight forward if I could have seen what I was typing! The router config box opened but you couldn’t see the bottom half of it. You could only see what you had typed about ten commands ago as you hit enter and the old commands scrolled up the screen. I tried closing the box down, reloading the router but nothing worked.
I went out of the room and called the modulator in but she said there was nothing she could do about it. I had to just leave a comment and keep going. I knew at that point I was going to fail. I did my best to configure the router without being able to see what I was typing. It was very difficult but I gave it my best shot and moved on.
I had lost valuable time by this point and had 15 questions left to answer in seven minutes. It was all a blur after that. I read and clicked, read and clicked. I have to be honest that some of it was actually guess work. I had prepared very well but it was either the way they were phrasing the question or the ambiguity around the choices which sometimes all appeared wrong to me.
I got to question 45 which was an easy one about a port number and was presented with the ‘Finish Exam’ button.
I hate that part of the test. I just wanted to sit there not knowing. It is an old cliché but with the broken simulator, the strange default behaviours and me simply guessing I didn’t rate my chances of passing. I clicked on the ‘Finish Exam’ button and saw my result. It said ‘Congratulations. You have passed.’ I had attained 845 out of 1000 which was enough to pass.
It wasn’t a great result but a pass is a pass and my employers would never need to know the result.
I hope my experience has been of some help. If I could go back in time I don’t know what I could have done any differently. I studied hard. Maybe I should have skipped the coffee or had decaf. I should have done a test drive to the testing centre to check they hadn’t moved. Taken some change with me.
Best of luck in your exam.