CCNP test prep tips: Or, don’t TSHOOT yourself in the foot

April 12, 2010 at 9:53 am | Posted in Cisco | 2 Comments
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Troy McMillan, our CCNA / CCNP trainer-in-residence, and Robin Abernathy, our Network+ / Server+ / ITIL / PMI / CCNA SME (sometimes I think my desk will collapse from the combined weight of acronyms), both had a lot to say about the 642-832 TSHOOT exam beta. The live exam is scheduled to release April 30, 2010.

The first comment was that they saw radically different exam formats. Robin, who tested in a different city than Troy, took the traditional multiple-choice test, with case studies and  some simulations thrown in – in other words, an updated 642-level exam of the kind we’ve seen for the past several years. Troy, on the other hand, experienced the new “trouble ticket” exam format. It’s been widely reported in the blogsphere by now, but Troy went into it cold.

This exam was entirely virtualized, and consisted of 16 interactive simulated networks with fully operational virtual routers, switches, and hubs.  Each “trouble ticket” scenario had a set of three multiple-choice questions that had to be answered before moving on to the next ticket.

The questions for each ticket had a consistent format:

  1. What device is the problem?
  2. What is the nature of the problem?
  3. What command(s) will solve the problem?

The kicker is, the option you select in the first question for the ticket affects the answer options you’ll see presented for the second and third questions. In other words, this exam is adaptive to the nth degree.

So, for example, if you said Router 5 was the problem in the first of the three questions, the options presented in the second question would be router problems. However, if you said that Switch 2 was the problem in the first ticket, the options presented in the second question would be switch problems. Furthermore, if in the second question you said the problem was a routing protocol, the options presented in the third question would be commands to solve a routing protocol issue. But if you said the nature of the problem was IP addressing, the third question would present commands for solving an IP address issue. So if you pick the wrong option in #1 or #2, there is no way that you can correctly answer #3 – you’ll have to start from the beginning of the sequence.

This is both exciting and challenging. Cisco may have come up with a braindump-proof CCNP exam. At the same time, candidates are going to need new techniques to tackle this exam, because time spent figuring out how it works is time wasted in the exam room. Troy reports he spent so much time looking at configurations and figuring out how the darn thing worked that he didn’t even finish all the tickets. And he was three questions in before he realized that while the topology stays the same for every question, the configuration may change on the individual devices for each ticket scenario. So it’s important to note that configurations do not carry over. The router that was causing the issue in Ticket 4 may have a completely different (and correct) configuration in Ticket 6.

Network World blogger Wendell Odom scooped the exam format in his post on 2/1/10. As he points out, we haven’t seen the exam release yet, so we can’t speak for sure on the format. We can confidently predict that the released version of the exam will contain the virtual trouble ticket item type. However, we can’t predict if the format will roll out in every region, or even to every testing center within a region, as Robin’s experience shows.

In Wendell’s latest post on the TSHOOT beta format, he went on to specify the pitfalls he encountered with the trouble ticket concept, and throws out several excellent ideas for troubleshooting in the test environment. To those ideas, we’ll add a few more:

  1. Thoroughly memorize all ping, show, and trace commands. Not every Cisco IOS command is supported on the test simulator. (We’re not sure if you can get a master list of supported commands beforehand.)
  2. Know your methodologies backwards and forwards. This is a test that has to be grasped at the concept level, not by memorization.
  3. Practice, practice, practice.
  4. Download and thoroughly review the TSHOOT study materials provided by Cisco:

(Robin and Troy didn’t have any of these resources going into the beta – but they sure would have helped!)

We’ll keep you posted on the live version release and any helpful study material as it becomes available. Until then, happy CCNP’ing!

–Troy and Robin


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  1. I took the test yesterday and saw the Trouble Ticket version. I have 4 questions total and the last question was 12 Trouble Tickets described just as you said.

    • Did you download any of the resources from Cisco (like the network map) before you took the exam?

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