Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CCENT and CCNA Self Assessment Wonderings (Plus an Exercise)

It took a bit of a mental journey just to converge on today’s topic. The end result is a blog post about how to help answer the question, “Am I ready to take my first Cisco exam – either the ICND1 (640-822) or CCNA (640-802) exam?” But ya’ll collectively got me started down this trail when I looked back at a 15-month-old blog post that keeps showing up in the top 10 of my blog stats. Today I’ll start by reliving that journey briefly, and then moving on to something a bit more substantive when prepping for CCENT and CCNA.

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As you would guess, I see some stats on the number of times people read each blog post. I look at those occasionally in part to see trends about what’ types of posts are popular for a few weeks right after posting, and for other posts that aren’t as popular when first posted, but have a steady stream of page views over the long term. For instance, the posts about how to build a CCNA or CCNP lab may not be huge the day I post them, but they have a good number of hits every month.

So, I recently looked hard at the stats for the first time in a while, and this one post kept showing up in the top 10 – but it’s from the middle of last year?!?!? It’s titled, “Why is Passing CCNA so Difficult?”. What was strange isn’t that people would be interested, but it keeps showing up in the top entries. It’s part of a series, with an index page with a similar name – but that page doesn’t have near as many hits. The other pages in the series don’t have near as many hits. So it got me thinking: what’s got people looking at this post so much, but not the other ones?

That post is relevant to those taking their first Cisco exam, be it the ICND1 exam or the CCNA exam. The collective reader comments were good as well; especially one post from a Networking Academy instructor who’s obviously thought a lot about what makes these exams such a challenge. But for today, you just need to know that this particular post focused on just three reasons people sometimes struggle with CCNA (with other topics left to other posts in that series):

* Money to purchase study tools
* Time to study
* Ways to know that you’re ready

I did list a survey in that older post, and the “time to study” and “knowing you’re ready” topics tied as the biggest factors of the three I mention above. (The “$ to buy tools” reason was pretty far behind in 3rd place.) So I’ve latched on to the self-assessment topic for today (and maybe a few weeks) to talk about some ways you might be able to do some self-assessment exercises.

Assessing your readiness to take any exam is a challenge, but especially so with anyone’s first Cisco exam. First, you just haven’t experienced the exam environment directly yet. Most people haven’t had a job that requires you to use the Cisco CLI a lot, so the Sim and Simlet questions can psych out some folks. Also, Cisco lists exam topics on their web site, but frankly the descriptions are so sparse the whole idea of determining what’s on the exam is very difficult – which means you have only a general idea of what’s on the exam. Most people simply rely on their study tools to determine the scope of the exam, but that lack of detail directly from Cisco can cause people to question whether they’ve studied everything or not.

But whatever you study, you need to determine if you know the topic, and know it well enough. For Cisco exams, you typically need to know topics very well, and very deeply, with solid hands-on skills. For today, I’ll suggest a couple of kinds of exercises you can do to help you review and assess whether you know the topics well enough. Your job:

1. Give your opinion about ways to self-assess your readiness for Cisco exams, these or others

2. Try out the exercise, which I’ll comment about more next week.

Assessment Tool 1: Review Concepts and Protocols Based on a Topology Figure

Your tasks:

1) Choose any figure that seems appropriate to a major topic. For today’s exercise, I’ll supply the topic (RIP-2) and a figure. In real life, for this task, you can open your study books, videos, or look at a question from an exam bank, etc, and pick a figure. You should know enough to pick a meaningful figure to use to examine a particular topic – eg, for RIP-2, a figure with a single router, or only layer 2 switches, won’t give you much to think about.

2) Write down all the concept and protocol terms you can recall about the topic. If you’re using my books, I list those terms in the end section of each chapter, if you want to look there.

3) Explain, out loud if you can, those terms in context of the figure. Draw protocol flows, with specifics.

4) When finished, review those terms and protocols with your study book. In particular, when you read a definition of a term, look for concepts, protocol functions and messages, or anything else that you didn’t think to mention when you thought about these concepts looking at the sample figure.

5) If you can’t figure out how those protocols and concepts apply to the figure you chose, the Cisco Learning Network ( is a great community in which you could post your figure, and ask others – with wonderful and typically very fast input from a large community.

Assessment Tool 2: Build a Configuration Checklist

Your tasks:

1) Ideally, start this task while reading your book or watching your videos, long before you get to the self-assessment stage. Make a list of major topics in the book. As you come to the configuration commands related to each topic, create a list of ALL the related configuration commands, all parameters noted in the book, and take notes about the meaning and usage.

2) To self assess, pick one of the major topics. Then, from memory, without referring to your notes or the books, re-create your configuration checklist, including notes on the parameters you remember.

3) Check what you just wrote versus the (hopefully comprehensive) list you made while studying. You should strive to remember all commands, and many of the parameters for each command.

I have other ideas as well, but we’ll go with these two for today. Poke holes in the ideas, suggest others, and tell us what worked for you to self-assess your readiness!
Exercise for Today

1) Use the following figure as a backdrop to do define and describe the meaning behind the following terms:

routing protocol, distance vector, classless routing protocol, classful routing protocol, RIP Update, Split Horizon, Poison Route, periodic update, routing table, metric, passive interface, auto summary, infinite metric

2) Build your RIP-2 configuration checklist. When doing so, include any configuration command that impacts RIP-2 behavior, with exceptions. You do not have to list all commands that impact whether an interface is up/up or not, which would in turn impact RIP-2′s ability to advertise routes. You may include topics appropriate to only the ICND1 exam, or to the full CCNA exam, at your choice. Also, create the RIP-2 config for all three routers as an extra exercise. For any missing info, like subnet masks, feel free to make up any value that would allow the internetwork to function properly.

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