Exam pass: 640-911 DCICN

Introduction

Over the last few months, in between a busy work schedule, I have been covering off the CCIE Written blueprint topics, the aim being to pass the written exam to renew my Professional level exams but more importantly, to refresh my routing and switching knowledge.

Progress has been slower than I would have liked, having only really covered off the layer 2 topics, but I’m not discouraged as I’ve been spending more time on other topics, including Python and Nexus.

Learning curve

It has only been in the last few months that I’ve had more exposure to the Cisco Nexus line of switches. My company’s new data centre that will be opening in Aberdeen, UK later this year will have a healthy Nexus footprint and we are bringing more customers on-line who utilise Nexus switching. With that in mind, I arranged for all members of my team to attend a suitable course and we all agreed that getting certified on that track makes sense.

Guinea pig

The CCNA Data Centre certification is made up of two exams:

The links above take you to the relevant Cisco page. I’m a little disappointed with the exam topics, which look like they’ve been typed up by somebody who has never sat an exam in their life.

The 640-911 exam is portrayed as a subset of the CCNA R&S and so I volunteered to be the team guinea pig and sit it first, without any studying to see if my current knowledge was sufficient.

The exam

This is the first time I’ve done an IT exam with no studying whatsoever, having only decided to do it the day before I sat it. It was more of a challenge just to see exactly where this exam sat. I was pleasantly surprised, but not with Cisco’s exam topic list, which is inaccurate and misleading.

Firstly, the number of questions and the time limit was quite challenging. I swear they add more questions and knock minutes off with each iteration. Another thing that quickly became apparent in the first few questions was that my Nexus knowledge needed to be better than the exam topic list suggested. Thankfully, Cisco were asking some silly Nexus based questions in this exam that I had asked the trainer in my Nexus course only a couple of weeks ago and so I’m happy to say I got a good pass mark. Looking at the Cisco website, you might be forgiven for thinking that a CCNA R&S will allow you to fly through this exam and that Nexus knowledge is only required for the 640-916 exam. My advice would be to be more prudent and ensure your basic Nexus knowledge is in place for 640-911 too.

I have already pre-ordered the Cisco Press book for the 640-916 exam and will be going through the INE Nexus video course before booking myself in for that one to ensure my knowledge is sound. At that point, I will also have had more hands on experience, my preferred method for increasing knowledge.

Summary

I had decided quite some time ago that certification for the sake of it was not something I was interested in but with me having more and more exposure to Cisco’s data centre product line, including Nexus, MDS and UCS, I think using the CCNA DC and maybe eventually the CCNP DC certification tracks to help me focus my learning makes perfect sense.

Till the next time.

CCIE Routing and Switching v5 Preparation

Introduction

I recently made a full commitment to study towards the CCIE Routing and Switching v5 written exam. The primary reasons for this are to refresh my certifications but far more importantly, to update and build upon my current skill set. It is key to me that I don’t just pass the exam but deep dive in to each and every subject on the blueprint. If I am successful in both these goals, I will then have a decision to make on whether to go for the lab, but that isn’t on the road map at this stage.

CCIE Routing and Switching v5 Preparation

This post isn’t about the exam itself or even the material in the blueprint. Rather it breaks down what came prior to starting the very first ‘official’ study session as I feel that this will have an important impact on my success and general enjoyment of the learning ahead.

Timing

This is critical. Studying for the CCIE requires such a large commitment in terms of time, effort and in many cases money, you need to be ready to take this challenge on. Diving in without giving serious consideration to the things listed below will likely make your journey a difficult one. Some key areas to think about:

  • Certification level. There are no prerequisites to pass your CCIE. To sit the lab, you need to have passed the written exam and that is it. My advice would be to not take that path however. I would recommend that you do both the CCNA and CCNP level certifications for the particular CCIE path you are hoping to achieve. This will serve several functions. Firstly, the studying required to pass each level will build your foundational knowledge up, making the CCIE content less of a shock to the system. Secondly, sitting those exams will get you used to the way Cisco ask questions and the exam process in general. Thirdly, whether deserved or not, many people will be weary of CCIEs that took the direct route, bypassing NA and NP exams
  • Career. There are two key factors here for me. One is experience and is naturally related to my previous bullet point. A CCIE with only two years networking experience will raise a red flag with some people. Not to say that every engineer with 10+ years under their belt is the best thing since sliced bread, but, in addition to lower level certs, a minimum of five years or so experience says to me that you’re more likely to have seen a good range of tech and worked on more networks. Regardless, this isn’t about job interviews, so on a person by person basis, more experience should mean you are better prepared to do the CCIE than when you were less experienced.The second factor is based on whether your current role will allow you to commit to your CCIE studies. If you’ve stepped in to a completely non-technical management role, or it involves a lot of travelling, or you are doing a six month contract pulling 60+ hour weeks, it might not be the best time to start this journey. That’s just me, you might relish the extra challenge, but I think success will be much more likely if you have the time in your week to put the extra studying time in, without burning out. Working in a relevant technical hands on role will help supplement your training. A role that you also enjoy will be far more likely to motivate you to study than a role that does not inspire you in any way
  • Personal life. This is the one I hear takes a lot of people by surprise. You might be lucky in that you can do all the studying you want at work or you might have so much spare time that fitting in 10-20 hours of study a week only impacts your TV watching schedule but most people will have to make some serious compromises. You will certainly need to consider cutting right back on your social life, even giving up going out at all for a period of time. There will also be a toll on those close to you so make sure you have the full support of your family and friends. Especially with family, make sure you explain to them just what lies ahead so that they can adjust too.
    From a health point of view, you probably don’t want to start a CCIE track if you are recovering from a serious illness, or if you have a medical operation due in what would be your study period. You most likely don’t need that kind of extra stress in your life.
  • The same goes for your finances. Make sure you are at a reasonable level of financial stability before you begin the commitment. This will be a relative decision for each of you, but I personally wouldn’t want to have working overtime to pay off debts in the back of my mind, or thinking about where I was going to get all the money to pay for the exams and training materials. Which brings me to my next point

Materials

You need to ensure that you have all the relevant training materials to hand, maybe not at the outset but certainly as you get to the section of your training that requires them! What those materials are will depend on a number of factors including your preferred learning style, budget and current knowledge.  Some people love text books, workbooks, videos, labs, online resources, classroom training or any combination of these.

Whilst it is important to have the right materials, I would be cautious of having too many. You need to review the blueprint for both the written and the lab and work out what materials will give you the best chance of understanding the topics on each and passing the relevant part as comfortably as possible. Reading five multicast books may give you an unprecedented understanding of the subject or it may waste valuable time when you largely read the same topics written in different styles, where one really good book on the topic might suffice.

Read what other people are saying about their materials and if you can, actually speak to people who have gone through this before you.

Plan

Some people like to set a date in their head from the outset e.g. “I will pass the written in three months and sit the lab 12 months later”. For me, I am happy to be a little more relaxed. Remember from my opening comments that I am initially only studying for the written at this time and the primary reason is to renew my knowledge, so I have no specific deadlines. Having said that, I still have a rough plan outlined for getting through each of the six modules, have all the official materials which I will be supplementing with online resources as I tackle them and have set expectations with my family. I am aiming to do between 10 and 15 hours a week.

Summary

I’ve spent a long time thinking about the CCIE. When I first passed my CCNA, it was at the forefront of my mind and remained so for quite some time afterwards. Having moved about in my career since then and gained a wealth of experience in different technologies, I think I’ve done the right thing waiting until now. All the things listed above have come together at the right time. I will review whether I will take a shot at the lab at a later date.

I would love to hear from readers who are either thinking about doing their CCIE, are currently on the path or have already achieved their digits. Leave your comments below, hit me up on Twitter, or send me an email.

Till the next time.

Overview of IPv6 event with Cisco

Introduction

I was fortunate enough to have recently been invited to a  Cisco event in Glasgow. It ran over 1.5 days and was broken down in to several sessions ranging from 15 minutes to three hours. This was a free event for attendees but I’m assuming with venue costs, materials and staffing, it wasn’t cheap for Cisco to host. Not that I’ll feel sorry for them, but with a number of these type of events being lined up over the coming months, I guess it will add up.

Day 1

The morning contained no less than five sessions:

  • IPv4 exhaustion and implications
  • IPv6 notation and address types
  • Address planning
  • IPv6 routing
  • Transition mechanisms

So far, so good. Some of this was revision for me, however the address planning section was a key reason for my attendance as I wanted to make sure the plan we had back at the office wasn’t heading off down the wrong track. Lunch was provided but as we were over running a little, we risked indigestion by wolfing it down and getting back down to the good stuff.

The afternoon was supposed to be:

  • Presentation from a new start-up, PresenceOrb, on how they have embraced IPv6
  • Cisco IT giving us insight in to how they deployed IPv6
  • Three hours of hand-on labs

Or at least that was the plan. About 15 minutes before the end of Khalid Jawaid’s excellent discussion re. Cisco IT, the fire alarm went off and, due to it being genuine, we lost 90 minutes stood outside on the pavement. Well, perhaps 60 minutes and the remainder in a local coffee shop. Upon returning to the training room we got the tail end of Khalid’s presentation but then only had an hour of the hand’s on labs. Thankfully, we were given the lab instructions so I am able to continue the lab at home.

Day 2

This was just a half day and covered five sessions:

  • Presentation from a consultancy firm, Farrpoint
  • A more in depth look at the current state of the IPv6 landscape
  • Discussion of IPv6 security and comparison to IPv4
  • Application demo of IPv6 connectivity in mobile devices
  • Final Q&A session

The IPv6 landscape presentation was given by Steve Simlo, Product Manager for IPv6 in Cisco Systems. I found it to be of great value, especially the online resources that were shared. Steve is also a Manchester City fan so he really knows his stuff 😉

The security discussion was, as you would expect, a little dry, but covered a wide range of topics and had a good IPv4 comparison thrown in. The demonstration was finally left out, which didn’t really bother anybody as it left more time for the Q&A session.

Summary

Overall, I was really impressed with this event. It ticked several boxes for me:

  • Free. OK, I don’t usually stump up cash for these but being free meant my work were more obliging in letting me attend
  • Higher number of shorter sessions. I get easily bored on most five day training courses, unless the trainer is at the top of their game. 15-60 minute sessions can be much more productive
  • High quality presenters. The Cisco guys were excellent, presenting well and knew the material. Very impressive. The two guest speakers were also good and there was very little in the way of a sales pitch from them
  • High quality advice. Outside of the sessions themselves, I was able to grab the Cisco experts and get some nitty gritty details out of them. You can’t beat face to face interaction for getting that kind of useful information

I think Cisco hit the nail on the head with this event. The topic itself is getting more pertinent with each IPv4 address that gets used up and its good to see an industry giant getting a wide range of people (approximately 50 attendees) all thinking about moving forward with IPv6 adoption.

Till the next time.

Exam pass: CCNA Security 640-554

Introduction

In my previous life as a sysadmin, I always found the topic of security a fascinating one. All those different layers to protect whilst maintaining usability was certainly a challenge. Back then, I earned myself an MCSE 2003 and opted to specialise on the security track. This meant doing an extra exam and I decided to go for the external CompTIA Security+ to give myself a different perspective.

When I began the migration to becoming a network engineer, I was already working on PIX and ASA platforms for basic tasks such as ACLs. I quickly realised that continuing my security based knowledge quest made perfect sense and so always had the CCNP Security certification on my roadmap once I had the routing and switching covered. The fact that about 90% of my day-to-day work involves working on ASAs makes this a no brainer.

Method

The CCNA Security is a prerequisite for the CCNP Security and it made sense to get that one done first. I used the same three methods for learning that I have used for almost all of my IT career exams:

  1. Book
  2. Videos
  3. Labs

The book I opted for was the Cisco Press Official Cert Guide for the 640-554 exam. This book has been co-authored by Keith Barker and Scott Morris. I found almost every one of the 22 chapters a breeze to read through thanks to the easy writing style and well laid out topics. At about 600 pages divided over 22 chapters, it was finished much quicker than I had initially anticipated. In addition to the book, I would also visit Cisco’s site to review their documentation on the various topics being covered and download various PDFs for review.

For the videos, I used the CBTNuggets video series by Jeremy Cioara. Unfortunately, the latest exam videos are not available yet and so I had to watch the 640-553 series but this is an otherwise very good series. For those not familiar with Jeremy’s training, I heartily recommend you try him out. He is a proper geek that ‘totally’ digs what he does.

The most important part of learning for me, whether it is for an exam or just learning a new feature or technology, has always been the hands on labbing. This is where the rubber meets the road and I quite often learn things outside the scope of the both the books and the videos, which lends itself to a far more rounded understanding.

Turn up early for exam

The exam itself was an interesting experience. I initially turned up very early without realising it. I gave the woman in the test centre my name and she advised me that she didn’t have me listed for an exam. I got my phone out to check the confirmation email and immediately spotted that I was exactly one week early for my exam. Plonker! I pleaded with her to find me another spot but she said that all workstations were booked for the day. Funny looking back at it now, not amusing at all on the day. I could not be bothered waiting another seven days. I have a rough schedule for achieving my CCNP Security and I didn’t want to lose a week so I rescheduled for the Friday, the earliest spot I could get. I had done the test questions that came with the book. Each exam was 60 questions. I’ll just say I was a little surprised when I loaded up the real exam. In the four days between the Monday and Friday, I had started on the Cisco Press exam guide for the SECURE exam and was thankful but a little surprised when a topic covered in that book appeared in this exam.

My overall experience of the CCNA Security has been very positive. It covers a fair amount of material, although perhaps not in too much depth (this is where the CCNP Security comes in). Some of it will be revision for those of you who are CCNA certified but there is also a lot of new topics being covered e.g. zone based firewall, IPS. Let’s not also forget that with the latest version of the exam, the SDM has been banished in favour of Cisco Configuration Professional (CCP). This is an improvement for sure, but I still think it’s way behind where it should be, albeit as a free management GUI.

I now have four professional level exams to now begin studying for to attain the CCNP Security. My next goal is the SECURE exam (642-637) and I’ll be applying the same three-step process as above except I’ll be using INE video training in addition to CBTNuggets and doing far more hands on labbing.

Summary

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I’ve always been interested in the topic of security. It’s so much more than just the glorified image of a hacker sat in a darkened room trying to break in to a top-secret system, or the endless tales of social engineers using their unique skills to get the information they want. The day-to-day tasks of creating site to site VPNs, amending ACLs, creating class maps and tying them in with policy maps, configuring remote access VPN policies; all of these feel like pieces of a big puzzle and its my job to solve them. I find it both challenging and rewarding beyond the satisfaction of working on networking kit in general.

I’m already looking down the road of my career to decide if I want to specialise in security or keep my skill set a little broader. Time will tell. I am just going to enjoy the CCNP Security journey as it happens for now and soak up as much knowledge as I can.

Till the next time.

Exam pass: TSHOOT 642-832

Introduction

When I passed the ROUTE exam in April, I only had the TSHOOT exam left to get the CCNP I had set my sights on by the end of October of 2012. This date had been set in my 2011 appraisal but I was planning on taking TSHOOT the first week in June, just before a well-earned two-week holiday. However, when I realised that the 2012 appraisal had to be done by the end of May and my line manager was returning from his honeymoon in the middle of May, an ego switch in my head flicked on and I thought it would be a good idea to walk in to the appraisal with the CCNP objective ticked off the list.

Failed

With that in mind, I did something which, whilst I don’t regret it now, at the time caused a bruising of my pride. I booked the exam four weeks earlier than I had originally scheduled for and failed it. The first IT exam I have failed and there have been a few over the years. Looking up and seeing the score, 780 where the pass mark was 790, was a real kick in the stomach. It took a couple of days to start being objective about it but it helped that I got a lot of support from peers who had gone through the same pain and knew that it was just a matter of time to bounce back.

Time management

After all, the problem had been that I had run out of time rather than not understanding the subject matter. The last trouble ticket was completely unanswered and the two before were rushed through in the last minutes. I had fallen foul of appalling exam time management. This was down to two factors. Firstly, I had stupidly miscalculated how much time I had for each question, a simple maths failure. Getting this wrong by just five minutes per ticket was enough to misjudge by over an hour! The most important factor was that I hadn’t learned the topology nearly enough and this was unforgiveable considering Cisco make this freely available on their website. I also made the mistake of drawing the diagram out on the wipe board, not from memory, but from the on-screen topology, as the clock was ticking which wasted valuable minutes.

I had planned on booking it for the following week but when I got struck down by a bug that any psychotic maniac hell-bent on taking over the world would have killed his grandmother to get a sample of, I was unable to stay more than 20 seconds from the nearest bathroom. The exam would have to wait. At the back of my mind, I questioned whether I should wait until the original June date to resit but I was 100% confident that my first time fail was down to nothing more than poor time keeping and so I booked it for 13 days after the first attempt.

Regroup

I studied the topology diagram in more detail this time and as a hint to those thinking of taking the exam, you would do well to notice the following things on the diagram (just to be clear, this is highlighting what Cisco make publically available and is not giving anything away about the exam that may breach NDA):

  • IP addressing scheme
  • EIGRP coverage
  • OSPF coverage
  • BGP AS numbers and peer addresses
  • GRE tunnel on IPv6 diagram between R3 and R4
  • NAT on R1
  • DHCP on R4
  • DSW switches are layer 3 inferring use of DHCP helper address for client requests
  • Etherchannel between ASWs and DSWs
  • VLANs for clients and FTP servers

Make sure you brush up on the topics above in particular and remember the topology by heart. Each night in the week before the exam, I would draw the topology from memory and compare it to the original. On the day of the exam, I was able to complete 95% of the diagram before I had even started the exam and filled in the last missing details in seconds. Overall, I think I saved myself at least 10 minutes doing this but whereas I used the full 2h15m on the first attempt (which was still not enough), I was able to complete the second exam in less than one hour with 1h15m remaining. Of course, the value of the first exam was that I was ‘hands on’ familiar with the infrastructure now and was already prepared for a number of its quirks. You should also try out the demo TSHOOT trouble tickets on the Cisco website. Although it’s not exactly the same topology, perhaps the biggest difference being the IP addressing scheme, it will give you an idea of how the trouble ticket questions are presented and help you test out your troubleshooting techniques.

Summary

This time I looked up to see a much more respectable pass mark of 945/1000. More importantly than that was the fact that I was now CCNP certified and it felt great. This is but one step on a journey that probably only ends when I retire but it feels like a great achievement and will no doubt drive me on further.

Till the next time.

How to prepare for a Cisco exam

Introduction

Having just passed my 642-902 ROUTE exam, I thought I would write a post to explain how I set out to walk out with a smile on my face and not egg. I’m not going to discuss the details of the exam itself for obvious reasons but thought I would blog about the training path I took and some general points of exam taking. As I often get asked how to prepare for a Cisco exam, this post will hopefully be useful for a wide audience.

For those that haven’t read my first couple of posts (and why is that??), I passed my CCNA via the ICND1 and ICND2 route back in early 2009. At that time I was a Microsoft systems engineer but saw the light and when I had the chance to become a networking engineer last year, I sat the CCNA exam to renew the certification. I moved in to the new role officially in November 2011 but had already begun to study towards the 642-813 Switch exam, which I passed on November 25th. It’s worth noting that I effectively scraped through this exam as far as I was concerned and I put that down to my preparation, which was not as complete as it should have been.

Videos

I used the CBTNuggets video series but, after the CCNA series by Jeremy Cioara which was simply excellent, I found the Switch series to be a disappointment and it included many references to the old BCMSN exam, which told me that the content wasn’t bang up to date. OK, fair enough, the topics might not have changed a whole lot but if you are going to resell something an as upgrade, please don’t just stick a different badge on it! I ended up losing interest and watched the INE video series instead.

Reading

I also used the official certification guide from Cisco Press but here lay another issue, this time with myself. As part of the move to networking, I felt a certain pressure to get up to speed as quickly as possible. This wasn’t a real pressure, it was something that I imagined but it meant instead of reading the book from cover to cover as I should have done, I skimmed some chapters and skipped a couple of topics. This is exactly why my score was not up to my usual self-imposed standards. It was also what made me determind to put time pressures to one side and make sure that I understood all the material before going in to the next exam.

For the 642-902 exam, I basically used the materials\methods below and I’ll briefly go in to a little more detail on how I blended all these together to give myself the best chance of passing the exam:

  1. Cisco Press exam guide book
  2. CBTNuggets video series
  3. Cisco Live
  4. Labs
  5. INE R&S workbooks
  6. INE video series
  7. Work experience
  8. Boson exams

Firstly I broke the book down in to 6 sections; EIGRP, OSPF, BGP, Redistribution, IPv6, WAN\Branch offices. Straight away, it ceased to be a 700 page book and became 6 individual topics that weren’t so daunting anymore. I gave myself deadlines to read each topic and made sure I hit them by increasing the page count per day if I skipped any days, which I made sure was a rare event. I read them pretty much in the order above, except for BGP which I left until last.

As I was covering each topic in the book, I would watch the corresponding CBTNuggets videos. The Route series is a vast improvement over the Switch videos. Jeremy uses GNS3 labs to cover the topics and the topology files he uses are available to subscribers on their website so you can ‘play along’ with Jezzer.

Filling in the gaps

I was lucky enough to get along to Cisco Live in London this year and found it to be very inspirational. The technical sessions were top notch and gave me a head start on a number of ROUTE related topics, such as IPv6 which I had previously not really ‘got’, but a 4 hour hands on lab gave me a massive boost, as did some of the related breakout sessions. The fact that, up until then I had pencilled in a date of June for sitting the exam but brought it back two months speaks volumes about the effect it had on my motivation.

With the book finished and the CBTNuggets videos wrapped up three weeks before the exam date, I knuckled down to some labbing. Again, I broke it down to the six topics and focused on these, even more so on the routing protocols and redistribution and used the INE CCIE Routing and Switching materials to give me a real sense that I was going beyond the requirements for the Route exam. I should point out that I am lucky in regard to the training materials I have access to. My company have a dedicated training budget and were happy to pay for all the books, subscriptions and the Cisco Live ticket, in addition to the exam cost.

As a form of ‘detail revision’, I also decided to go through the 19 hours or so of INE videos in the Route series and was watching a couple of videos each day whilst labbing. I found that this really helped it all sink in and gel. Whilst I could have rewatched the CBTNuggets videos, I think another trainer’s perspective is quite often useful and so it proved.

On the job training

The day to day tasks that I do as a network engineer really helped. For example, I work for an ISP that runs BGP and OSPF in our core and using this live environment to see how the various topics knit together is priceless. It’s also given me a few tasks to keep me busy over the next few weeks and months as I’ve noticed where improvements and tweaks could be made and let’s not forget the IPv6 implementation plan!

Practice exams

Finally, the Boson exams gave me great insight in to which areas I was still weak in. After completing an exam, I would go back to the book and read up on the weak points. The day before the exam, I did 108 questions and got 907 which made me feel more confident.

The methods used between the Switch and Route exams were worlds apart and I know which one I preferred. Putting the effort in really makes the difference and every hour you use for studying now will save you countless hours of head scratching at a later date. With one more exam to go for the CCNP, I am getting a feeling of anticipation but fully intend to apply the same regime to studying, despite the fact I hear from many sources that if you have been working in IT for any number of years, you should be able to pass the TSHOOT exam with minimal study. That doesn’t tempt me in the slightest. I want to make sure my CCNP is as solid as it can be. After all, this is the foundation for my entire networking career from now on. I have the desire to go on to the CCIE at some point, perhaps with some design certs along the way, maybe the CCIP\CCNP SP and some specialisations such as Wireless and Security.

One thing I have realised is that there is no rush for these career making skills and that is why I’ll be going back to the Switch topics and applying the same process again to them that got me here with the Route. In fact, INE have a deep dive series specifically on Layer 2 that sounds like just the ticket. On a final note, this was my 5th Cisco exam and, despite me loving the CCNA exams the first time around, was my favourite so far. Things are really starting to gel now and I have to say I have a strange attraction to BGP that I will be pursuing further…

The real exams

This last section (which I originally missed out due to being giddy about going on holiday the day after my exam!) is about the exam itself. Oh yeah…that bit!! As you progress through your studies, you should start getting a better idea of when you will be ready to sit the exam. My suggestion is to book the exam about 4-6 weeks before the date itself. This will hopefully give you a last burst of energy in the final stage – there is nothing like a target to aim for. I always try to book the exam for about one week (and usually no more than two) after finishing the books, videos and labs, giving me that 1-2 weeks for exams and final reading up.

What are my thoughts on postponing an exam? It all depends on whether you mind about having to sit some exams more than once before you nail it. If you do care (and I’ll admit I have this obsession about NOT failing an IT exam based on a failed university chapter earlier in my life), then feel free to push it back a week or more, but don’t do this more than once. If you are not bothered about a failure here and there, then stick to the original date. Either way, I think you should try to be as ready as possible, although I can see the benefits of sitting an exam when you might not be 100% ready (examples include your 1st exam when you don’t know what to expect, a renewal that has crept up on you and you must take it before a certain date).

For the exam day itself, I can offer some basic tips. Make sure you have your ID with you, book the exam for a time that suits you (e.g. if you usually feel sleepy mid afternoon, book a morning exam), make sure you know where the test centre is, where parking is etc. Leave plenty of time to get there – most centres I’ve been to have let me start early anyway. If yours doesn’t, you will at least have time to settle your nerves and maybe have a cup of tea\water\etc., (or nip to the loo…).

The exam itself should be an exercise in self-control. Make sure you read the pre-exam blurb carefully, especially if you are fairly new to exam taking. Ask for the paper and pen that you are usually allowed to take in so you can make notes. Before the exam starts proper, you should be told how long you have and how many questions are waiting for you. This is important information. Use it to determine roughly how long you have on each question. I say roughly as some questions will take seconds to answer but a simulation could take 20 minutes or more. The point is, if you have two hours to do 50 questions and you find yourself on question 10 with 30 minutes left, you’ve managed your time poorly. Rather than doing the maths on a question by question basis, I would check my time every 30 mins (in the example above) and try to ensure I was 25% further in. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to drop a question if you’ve hit a road block. In my last exam (ROUTE), I got stuck on a simulation at question 40 ish with 30 minutes left. 8 minutes later, I had done about half of the required work but was going around in circles. What did I do? I set myself a target of dumping the question with no less than 15 minutes left. At that time, I had progressed further but still not nailed it but continued to the next question regardless. As I clicked ‘END’ on my last question, I had exactly 28 seconds left on the clock. My hard decision had allowed me a chance to answer all the remaining questions.

And finally

My last bit of exam advice would be to make yourself as comfortable as you can. For me, that usually means being in the room alone as I like to talk to myself out loud, stand up and stretch my legs from time to time and even sing\hum to myself to chill out! Find what works for you, that doesn’t upset other exam takers.

Till the next time.