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.
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.
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.
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.
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.