Last updated on 03/14/2020
Last week, I spent an hour and thirty minutes at a Pearson VUE testing center freezing to death in the crazy cold proctoring room while sitting for the qualifying exam for a certification that is considered by many in the industry to be a great starting ground for Cisco-based network administration, anxious for the fact that any one misstep I took and any one question I got wrong could result in the forbidden word on my score report: “Fail”.
I took the Composite Routing and Switching exam (200-125) and passed it to earn my Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) in Routing and Switching.
Now, there are actually two different ways you can get this certification – the less stressful but longer two exam route: ICND1 and ICND2, which splits the content effectively in half or the more arduous and risky, but shorter one exam route with the 200-125 CCNA Composite Exam for R&S. You can guess what I took, but you’d have a 50% chance of being wrong and frankly, you don’t have to since I’m about to tell you – the composite exam.
Understandably, for security reasons, Cisco makes me and any candidate who wishes to receive Cisco certification sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that forbids me from disclosing too much detail about the exam before taking it, so to protect my certified status, I will not be revealing anything about the content of the exam, but rather my experience and thoughts while taking it and whether I think you (yes, you – Joe) should take it or not.
Now, a score of 889/1000 isn’t a particularly impressive score – many people get 900+ on their CCNA exams (though, in fairness to me – a majority of those people go on the easier ICND route rather than the composite route).
For any of you who want to take any Cisco exams, know that the process isn’t easy…at all. I’ll share my thoughts and experiences up until that fantastic paper printed out of the testing center printer that was my preliminary ticket to CCNA success!
1. Preparation for the CCNA
I’m relatively lucky compared to some other CCNA/CCENT + CCNA testers. Having been exposed to both the content on the CompTIA Network+ certification, time to mess around with devices in Packet Tracer (my personal favorite devices in PT being 3560-24PS Catalyst switches and 2911 routers), and actual equipment, I knew enough to have passed CCENT. But I was too adventurous to just take my CCENT and get it to get started on ICND2. I wanted CCNAX so badly that I ignored an overwhelming community opinion that the CCNA Composite was a bad choice, that I was taking too big a risk. I wanted CCNA composite.
So with the help of Sybex books, Cisco books, and a TestOut Routing and Switching license provided graciously by my primary educational institution, I set out to work on one of the most densely packed certification exams I had taken yet (MCSA covered more but it was split across 3 exams).
I admit that life got in the way. Then I got a bit of time to study. Then some more of life got in the way. Before I knew it, it was the week before the exam. At this point, I was completely losing my f***ing s***. I wasn’t about to push the exam back anymore! I wanted to get this boss battle over with, and over with quick. That would mean a lot of work. And a lot of work it is. The CCNAX isn’t a joke.
So to the overall dismay of one of my best friends, I treacherously adventured through the thick combs of bushes that lied before my certification, at the cost of precious hours of sleep, for which the threat to “hunt me down and put me to sleep” was jokingly issued. I wanted that certification and like the procrastinator I was and am, I was going to do it at any cost.
I used every breathing moment to study, put aside the things that I had taken up to relax, and dedicated myself to learning fundamental Cisco content. I even taught myself STP while I showered! RPVST+, EIGRP, eBGP, single-homed/dual-homed/single and dual multi-homed connections, leased line WAN connections, PPPoE connections, PPP vs. HDLC encapsulation, switching methods, Cisco Express Forwarding, SNMP, SPAN, IOS commands, more IOS commands, and even more IOS commands. You name something on the 200-125, I heard/read/did something about it on those few days.
2. Penultimate Day to the CCNA Exam
At this point, I had practically been holed up in a room with my computer with TestOut open and two books cracked open to various pages beside me. I was on Chapter 14 of TestOut – Routing Protocols. I was at similar sections in my book. I was so close, I could taste the finish line!
I actually slept for a good 10 hours on this day (compared to my average 3 – 4 for the past few days). Cisco information overload! I needed a break.
3. The Day of the Exam
FINALLY. It’s 7 AM, my exam is at 10:30 AM, and I’ve finally finished all…16…chapters…of…this…content…*snores*
*slaps myself awake* What was I doing?! There were only 3 hours and 300 practice questions to zoom through!
So I quickly signed onto my practice question provider of choice, MeasureUp, fired up a CCNA license, and immediately started going, going, going! I answered more practice questions in those 2 hours before I headed out the door than ever before! I got a majority of the questions right, thankfully. And no, I didn’t just speed through the ones that I got wrong – like a good student, I looked at the explanations…for a good 30 seconds and zoomed past it, hoping that I had comprehended what it said.
I’m kidding, I made sure I knew what the explanation meant…most of the time. I’m only partially kidding, unfortunately.
9:30 rolls around, I have to make a quick pit stop at a school to drop off a 63 lb. server! I know, I live my life on the bleeding edge! After the drop-off, I make my way to the testing center as hurriedly as possible. Well, to be more accurate, my parents driving the car made their way to the testing center as hurriedly as possible as it was just a mere 30 minutes before the exam at that point.
15 minutes before the exam and I think we’re there. But oh wait, I look up and realize I changed testing centers and they thought they knew which one! But they went to the wrong one. So back on the freeway we go to the correct testing center…with 10 minutes to spare, I thought to myself as I looked at my watch.
Inside the testing center I walked (or more accurately – ran) and went through all registration procedures.
I started at my official start time, since I had taken the 5 minutes of extra time I did have to sit there and study to myself. Again, I can’t exactly reveal the content of the exam, since that’ll provide an unfair advantage to the folks here who are going for their 200-125…but the density of information was just as insane as the community had forewarned me it would be. It was so much to recall, so much to remember, and so much to think through.
Some of the questions were easy, some of the questions were hard. Testlets? Ha! 4 questions with 1 theme that all count for 1 out of however many questions you get. And you get 90 minutes for that all!
I somehow make it through the test with less than 10 minutes left on my time. Clicked End Exam, went through and answered the survey questions truthfully (does anyone else do this or does everyone else just click the first option they mouse over). These survey questions were going to be the only thing between me and the page telling me that Cisco was sorry I failed-
“Congratulations! You passed this exam with a score of 889. You needed a score of 810 to pass.”
“What? Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, WHAT?!” I did the biggest double take you’ve ever not seen anyone taking an exam do.
I had done it. Against all odds, against my own fears and intuition, I passed. By all counts, I had assumed taking that entire thing that I had failed it. I had assumed during the entire exam administration session that I had answered too many questions wrong, that even if I could change it, I’d still be wrong or I might even change something right to something wrong.
But maybe I doubt myself too much. Apparently, the automated scoring system seemed to have thought that.
Conclusion: HOLY S***!
Wow. That was an experience of no other. It was fun – I genuinely love networking and system admin-y stuff, so an opportunity to study for and take an exam specifically oriented around that type of content was amazing. I felt like I was in heaven.
Well, heaven excluding the amount of sleep I had lost and the amount of stress I was under. This exam was over $300! But I learn well under stress. My brain recalls stuff well under stress. It was an exhilarating experience, but one that I never want to make myself go through again.
It’s also an experience I recommend NONE of you go through. Ever. This is an example of the classic “do what I say, not what I do”. If you can at all avoid it, take your time. Study a month or however much time you need beforehand. Just don’t do what I did if you can at all avoid it.
I couldn’t because life became a massive obstacle and I needed to get my CCNA and if not my whole CCNP, at least 2 exams of it to get me credit for one of the CCNP Enterprise exams before Certpocalypse came (February 24th, 2020 – mark your calendars, ladies and gents!).
If you want to take a Cisco exam, take the advice of NetworkChuck (a YouTuber covering Cisco content that I watch and LOVE and that gave me the motivation I needed for this exam) – get your exams passed NOW! Before/on 2/23/2020! Do it! And don’t wait until the week before like I did to study for such a dense exam like the 200-125.
My next plans? CCNP Routing and Switching. Because after the CCNP, I’m going neck and neck with the big boy in town – the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) in Enterprise Infrastructure (you know – that exam that covers SD-WAN, Design, Automation, Routing and Switching, and more in one lab exam!). I’ll try my best to sweep them both under the rug and make sure they stay there in my certification portfolio – and I’ll definitely make sure to blog everything! Until next time…