Reader writes: Help! I know the material but I freeze in the Cisco test!

February 4, 2009 at 11:26 am | Posted in Cisco, Study hints | 2 Comments
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Recently an email crossed my desk that was not unlike many I receive. It was from a customer who had bought our 640-822 practice test, but failed the live exam. The gist went like this (name removed to protect the innocent):

I took the [640-822] exam on the 14th and not only did I fail the test but I also ran out of time, which is an automatic failure… The questions in one or two cases were worded strangely. I was thrown a curve-ball. It felt more like a Microsoft test. Just thought I would let ya know. Please understand I am NOT blaming Transcender for my failure. I just failed.

And there were scenario questions, with one diagram and 4 questions to answer based on that diagram (the reason I ran out of time). One question concerned a router running EIGRP. I made it work (pretty much) but I took way too long trying to make this run. Testing is not my forte and I was a nervous tangle of nerves when [the new configuration] would not work the first time. I bet that issue was something more that was not mentioned in the actual test question.  If I get that one again I will be ready; I will check out the entire config and not just follow the instructions Cisco provided. They have to know people perform differently in a stressful test enviornment than they do in a relaxed work environment, or at least I do.

This customer was suffering from what we call test anxiety. Sometimes just a little knowledge of what to expect is incredibly helpful. Here were my answers to the customer, which I would like to share because I believe it will help anyone in this kind of situation.

First, keep moving. If you don’t know an answer, set a time limit for looking at the question. If you don’t know it after that time is up, make your best guess and move on. Unanswered questions are always wrong. Getting bogged down keeps you from answering the questions you do know that are further on in the test.

Second, know the item types you’ll encounter. These are the types of questions you’ll find on a Cisco exam, and the best strategies for each type.

Multiple choice – With these items, if you get a question you don’t know, just accept it and don’t waste a lot of time. Try to increase your chances by eliminating the distractors. Frequently, there will be one obviously wrong answer. There might also be what I call a “shiny object,” or an answer that looks great at first glance, but on closer examination shows a tiny detail incorrect. For example, let’s say it asked for the command to put an IP address on an interface, and you see this option:

router1# ip address

Looks good — until you realize that it is executed at the wrong prompt. This command should be executed at interface configuration mode, like this:

router1(config-if)# ip address

Also, when you see options that look identical, examine them carefully. There will be some small detail that is different. You will see options that include multiple lines of commands, like this:

router1(config)# int fa0/0
router1(config-if)# ip address
router1(config-if)# no shutdown

Your first step should be to make sure each part is executed at the proper prompt. Your second step is to make sure they are executed in an order that makes sense. For example, in the output above, line two could not be ahead of line one because you must type line one to get to the prompt displayed in line two.

Drag and drop — These items will require you to match one list of items to another list of items, such as matching protocols to the layers of the OSI model. There is typically only one correct order, so use that knowledge to make sure they all “fit.” Otherwise the whole thing will be wrong. Again, if you are clueless on the topic, don’t waste a lot of time on it. The chances of guessing these correctly is not high, but if you are good at putting puzzles together, you may be able to get it by process of elimination. Place the ones you are sure of first, and then work with what’s left.

Testlets — These items will show you a network diagram and ask about five questions about the diagram. There is also a command window that will be connected to one of the devices in the diagram. It may be a router or a switch. You can run show commands on this device to learn the answers to the questions. For example, they may ask you about Router2’s IP address, but the command prompt is connected to Router1. In that case you would use CDP commands to learn about the other devices.

Sometimes testlets are combined with a drag and drop. For example, you may have to gather information at the command prompt that will enable you to drag IP addresses and device names to the matching devices. If you are clueless about the commands that are required to answer the questions, KEEP IN MIND that sometimes the questions are general theory questions which don’t require running any commands or even looking at the diagram to be answered. So don’t dismiss all of the questions because one of them stumps you. If you get five questions in a testlet, you can still get a couple correct this way.

Simulations — Okay, this is the tough part. Here you must actually configure or fix a router or switch. When something is NOT working, ask yourself, “What should be in place for this to work?” Some people immediately start looking at a bunch of show commands. Another approach, the one that works for me, is to simply pretend that the router or switch has NO configuration at all, and do what you know needs to be done from the ground up. For example, if there is a problem pinging, just reset all the addresses the way you know they should be, rather than waste a lot of time with show commands to figure out what’s currently configured. Just a thought. REMEMBER, if you don’t get a simulation correct, ALL IS NOT LOST. You can still pass without it. Don’t let it so unnerve you that you blow everything. And do not spend more than 15 or 20 minutes on a simulation. Set a time limit and move on.

Make sure you have an answer to every question. Remember, unanswered questions are ALWAYS wrong. That’s probably what killed you the first time. I’ll bet a lot of your answers that you actually gave were correct, but you left too many unanswered to pass. As far as I know, running out of time on the test (leaving some questions unanswered) is not “an automatic failure.” It’s when you don’t have enough correct answers that you fail. You can read Cisco’s Certification Exam Policies here.

I hope this helps, and be sure to let me know if I can answer any other Cisco test questions for you.

–Troy McMillan, CCNA, CCNP


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  1. Gute Arbeit hier! Gute Inhalte.

    • Danke sehr viel!

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