Hurry, hurry — don’t miss the deadline to take your 642 series CCNP exams!

January 22, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Cisco | Comments Off on Hurry, hurry — don’t miss the deadline to take your 642 series CCNP exams!
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If you’ve been working to earn your CCNP Routing and Switching certification and you began the process by taking a required exam that began with the prefix 642-, you are about to run out of time to take the old versions of the exams.

The last day to test via the first-generation CCNP exams ROUTE (642-902), SWITCH (642-813), and TSHOOT (642-832) will be January 29, 2015. After that date, you will have to face the new series of CCNP Routing and Switching exams (the v2.0 refresh): ROUTE (300-101), SWITCH (300-115), and TSHOOT (300-135).

According to this chart on the Cisco Certification website, you should be able to mix the 642- version exams with the 300- version exams and still earn the CCNP. In other words, if you started your exam series with 642-813, you should be able to take 300-101 and 300-135 and earn the same credential if you pass:

ccnp v2

However, you may want to rush to beat that January 29 deadline if you invested in study materials that are targeted to the old exams. Although there are no major changes, the subjects being tested are slightly different on the new exams.

If you still need study materials for the old exams, they will still be available on our site until the last day.

Good luck with your testing!

–Troy McMillan

Implementing & verifying for the CCNP ROUTE exam

September 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Cisco, Study hints | 2 Comments
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As most of you know already, Cisco has retired the exams in the old CCNP track and released three new exams that comprise the new CCNP. As covered in an earlier post here and elsewhere, the new exams are called ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT. Today I would like to discuss the ROUTE exam; specifically, I would like to discuss a topic that has generated many questions among test candidates.

A quick examination of the exam objectives (found here)  will reveal that almost every objective has the following structure:

  1. Create an (insert main objective topic) implementation plan.
  2. Create an (insert the main objective topic) verification plan.

So the question that I keep hearing about the exam is, “What kinds of information will be tested in this sub-objective, and how will it come at me”? In today’s post, I would like to try to fill in the blanks for you.

First, Cisco design practices call for creating an implementation plan and a verification plan for all types of implementations.  Exam questions about implementation and verification will probably take one of two approaches: a conceptual approach, and a command-specific approach.

Conceptual questions

The steps that are included can seem somewhat subjective. You should drink the Cisco Kool-Aid and study the “Cisco steps.” The best references I can offer for that are the following links to information about PPDIOO and best practices:

Cisco Press: PPDIOO Lifecycle Approach to Network Design and Implementation

PPDIOO stands for Prepare, Plan, Design, Implement, Operate, and Optimize. If you are familiar with the CCDP, this will not be a foreign concept to you. It is a design framework that Cisco uses and is the best source for getting a handle on these conceptual questions. When reviewing this document, pay close attention to and learn the bulleted lists such as the following from the section on Implementation steps (taken from the article verbatim)

Each phase consists of several steps, and each step should contain, but be not limited to, the following documentation:

  • Description of the step
  • Reference to design documents
  • Detailed implementation guidelines
  • Detailed roll-back guidelines in case of failure
  • Estimated time needed for implementation

An example item of this type might be:

Which of the following is NOT a step to include in an implementation plan?

  • Description of the step
  • Reference to design documents
  • Detailed implementation guidelines
  • Cost of the step

So obviously (although it won’t be so obvious on the real exam) the answer is Cost of the step.

A higher-level resource is here:

New Solution Deployment: Best Practices White Paper

Step-specific implementation questions

Obviously, these types of questions will ask about the commands or actions that should be performed at a given step in the implementation or verification plans. Here is a sample question from our new Cert 642-902 exam showing this type of implementation question.

A new portion of your OSPF network is in the design phase. You have been presented with a network diagram, a list of implementation steps, and a requirement that transmissions across all routers must be authenticated. The complete implementation plan is as follows:

  1. Enable OSPF process 1 on all routers.
  2. Enable area 0 on routers R2 and R3.
  3. Enable area 1 on routers R1 and R2.
  4. Enable area 10 on routers R4 and R5.
  5. Verify that all routers contain a complete routing table.
  6. Verify that you can ping from one end of the network to the other.
  7. Enable OSPF authentication on all routers.

Which of the following statements is TRUE about this plan?

A. It is complete as written.

B. Router R5 should have area 1 enabled.

C. Router R4 should have area 0 enabled.

D. Router R2 should not have area 0 enabled.

Above you see that the question is less conceptual and has more of its focus on OSPF. Steps are given in the item scenario, and you decide whether the steps are complete or if a vital step is missing. Don’t be afraid to answer that the given implementation steps are complete if, in fact, they are. It’s not a trick!

The same document located at the link I gave you covers verification steps as well as implementation steps. The same approach works for those types of questions.

In closing,

  1. Learn the Cisco verification steps conceptually.
  2. Know how to verify a specific implementation.

Good luck on the exam, and see you next time!

–Troy McMillan

Troy’s TSHOOT study plan: Topic 1

July 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Cisco, Study hints | Leave a comment
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Topic 1 in our TSHOOT series: Get a Game Plan!

As was reported earlier, both here and in many other places on the Internet (though I don’t know why you would ever look anywhere else on the Internet, because everything you need to know is here on our blog, by the way), the new Cisco TSHOOT exam is not the same test from years past. Yes, there will be a token number of multiple-choice questions to answer, but the bulk of the exam will be presented to you as “trouble tickets”. This post is the first in a series where I will cover some of the topics that you may see on this exam, and — the important part — how you need to approach these topics in your study plan.

On the exam, you will be presented with a set of diagrams representing the network for which the problem tickets are based. Just like in the real world, your job is to find where the problem lies within this thicket of devices, and then to decide how to fix it. As we explained in our previous post on TSHOOT, you will have to answer three questions on each ticket:

  • Which device is causing the problem?
  • What is the nature of the problem?
  • What command would fix the problem?

In every scenario, there is a user at one end of the network trying to communicate with a device at the other end. That means that the problem could be located at 5 or 6 different links along the way.  Some of the devices are routers, some are switches, and some are Layer 3 switches.

(If you’re not getting a good picture of what I mean, then this would be a good time to go and look at Cisco’s online demo for the TSHOOT,, and then return to this post.)

Before you even start working the first ticket, you should adopt a plan of attack. Don’t take a scattershot approach. Be organized. Let’s look at the tried and true approaches to this type of troubleshooting. You have two issues to consider as you work:

1. Where is the problem (on which device)?

2. At what  layer of the OSI model is the problem located?

Where is the problem?

Let’s start with the possible approaches for the first issue.

Tactic 1: Start at the source

With this approach, you would start with the user device and attempt to ping the IP address of the next device on the path to the destination device. If that works, then ping from the second device to the third, and so on. At some point in the process, a ping will fail, and now you know which connection has a problem. So make sure you know how to determine the IP address of an interface and how to ping an interface.

Tactic 2: Start at the destination

With this approach, you ping from the source device to the destination. Of course, it will fail (otherwise there would not be a trouble ticket, right?). Then you work back toward the source, pinging next from the source to the next closest device in the path. When your ping is successful, the problem will then be identified as residing on the last connection that failed before the one that worked.

Tactic 3: Start in the middle

Are you a gambler? Then you would understand that the odds of finding the problem the quickest are best with this approach. Here, you ping to the middle of the path, and if that works, continue to ping toward the destination. If pinging to the middle of the path doesn’t work, start to ping back toward the source. Mathematically speaking (please do not ask me to explain it, ask George, he went to Georgia Tech with the rest of the smart kids), this will find the problem the quickest.

PING tips

Realize that when a device is connected to a Layer 2 switch there is no need to ping the IP address of the switch. It does not come into play in the switching or routing process. If it’s a Layer 3 switch, then that’s different, but even then you will be concerned with the router part of the Layer 3 switch and not the switch side. So that means you should ping from the device to the next router interface in the path, and skip the switch.

What type of problem is it?

Now that you have determined where the problem is, you must determine the type of problem it is. There are three approaches to this.

Tactic 1: Top down

This approach starts by troubleshooting application issues (Layer 7), and then working down the OSI model to the transport and network layers, and from there to the physical layer (Layer 1). I would not recommend this approach since the problem is connectivity, which is most likely to be a lower layer.  Application issues usually result in performance issues, not connectivity issues.

Tactic 2: Bottom up

With this approach, you start with the physical layer (cabling), then proceed to Layer 2, which would encompass VLAN issues and DLCIs. If the problem is not discovered, you would move to Layer 3 to investigate routing protocol issues, DHCP problems, and NAT. This is a better approach than top down for this scenario, and one I recommend.

Tactic 3: Divide and Conquer

This approach plays the odds and starts in the middle of the OSI model, at the network layer, and then proceeds up or down based on the results of your investigation. For example, if you see no routing protocol issues, NAT issues, or DHCP issues, then move down to Layer 2.

Whatever approach you adopt, you should stick with it for the duration of the ticket. Be methodical and keep working until you find the problem. You have plenty of time to finish if you know your commands, although you should do some quick math from time to time and ensure you don’t spend too much time on one ticket. If there are 16 tickets and you spent 20 minutes on the multiple-choice questions (let’s say there are about 10), then you have 115 minutes left for 16 tickets. That’s 7 minutes per ticket. Keep that in mind and if you find yourself crunched for time, don’t skip any answers, but make a guess and move on.

I’ll go into more depth on specific issues, such as issues with BGP, DHCP, IPV6, EIGRP, and HSRP in my next post.

Stay tuned!

–Troy McMillan

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

More updates on Cisco’s revised CCNP exams, plus some link love

February 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Cisco | Leave a comment


Cisco will be offering a free webinar on February 23, 2010, aimed at anyone interested in taking the newly revised CCNP exams.  The webinar will be offered in two time slots, 8:00 AM PST and 7:00 PM PST. For complete information and a link to register for the webinar, visit (Note: I couldn’t get the registration link to work in Firefox 3.5.7, but was successful with IE 8.)

Meanwhile, NetworkWorld’s Cisco Cert guru, Wendell Odom, has provided some candid assessments of the ROUTE, SWITCH, and TSHOOT exams, with input from the guys who literally “wrote the book” (Cisco Press study guide authors Kevin Wallace and Dave Hucaby):

Finally, I’ve found an excellent free resource for Cisco tutorials: Global Knowledge’s Class In Session: Cisco blog. I set up an RSS feed to my email, and it painlessly dumps a targeted and easily digestible update into my inbox every week or so.

If you know of another quality source of CCNA or CCNP tutorials, drop me a line!

-bm Ann

Major changes announced for the Cisco CCNP track

January 29, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Cisco | 1 Comment
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This week Cisco announced sweeping changes to the CCNP certification track. Those of you who are already most of the way through satisfying the requirements for the existing CCNP track might be panicking…

Hurry, hurry, and finish your CCNP before it’s too late!

Okay, not really. First of all, the old exams will be available to take through July 31, 2010. If you pass all four before that date (or three, including 642-892 COMP), they count toward your CCNP. The required exams may be taken in any order:

  • 642-901 BSCI, Building Scalable Cisco Internetworks (through 7/31/10)
  • 642-812 BCMSN, Building Cisco Multilayer Switched Networks (through 7/31/10)
  • 642-825 ISCW, Implementing Secure Converged WANs (through 7/31/10)
  • 642-845 ONT, Optimizing Converged Cisco Networks (through 7/31/10)
  • 642-892 COMP, Composite BSCI and BCMSN (through 7/31/10)

What if I have completed a previous CCNP exam? Can I still count it towards my certification after that date?

To help out those that get caught in the transition between the old and new tracks, Cisco has published a table indicating ways you can mix and match the old and new exams. Anyone seeking certification after July 31 will be required to take the TSHOOT (642-832) exam, but not the replacement exams for the BSCI and BCMSN. Get the details here:

and here:

So what’s the skinny on the all-new track?

After July 31, Cisco is changing the CCNP to a three-exam track. The new exams are Route, Switch, and Troubleshoot. (Yes, that’s what they’re called. Simple, huh. I like it.)  The 642-902 is an update of the 642-901. The 642-813 is an update of the 642-812.

  • 642-902 – ROUTE, Implementing Cisco IP Routing (Available 3/10/10)   **Replaces 642-901 BSCI
  • 642-813 – SWITCH, Implementing Cisco Switched Networks (Available 3/10/10)  **Replaces 642-812 BSMSN
  • 642-832 – TSHOOT, Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (Available 4/30/10)

(The release date information from Cisco has changed a couple of times since we first caught wind of the new track, so this information is accurate as of today.)

Both the ROUTE and the SWITCH exams include a new emphasis on creating implementation plans. I’m also hearing from some of my contacts that the level of difficulty may increase noticeably for all three tests. The TSHOOT exam is all new and will go through a beta period before it is released. This is a common practice to make sure all the kinks are out of the exam before its starts counting.  Cisco used to include a Troubleshooting exam some years ago. My educated guess, based on what I remember of the old exam, is that it will focus on using show and debug commands to locate and correct problems.

Cisco has also increased the time limit to 120 minutes for each exam. (To me this is another clue that it may be harder, which would be extra incentive to finish up the old track in time!)

Rest assured we already are feverishly creating new practice tests for the new exams. Ann and I will keep you updated as we progress on this.

What about other Cisco certifications and exams?

Any certifications that take expiring exams (such as 642-892 COMP and 642-901 for the CCIP, or 642-901 and 642-812 for the CCDP) will be affected. You can find more details here:

Where can I get more information?

Directly from the Cisco website:

From Wendell Odom’s excellent overview:

Until next time,

–Troy McMillan

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