CCNP Route (300-101) – Victory, But At What Cost?

With my recent pass of Cisco’s CCNP Route examination after my initial failure of the exam back in July, I’ve been left with a bizarre mix of accomplishment and disgust.

While it was a substantially steeper hill to climb than any of the recommended Cisco resources could have adequately prepared me for the first time (and I stated back in my original post about the test in July that it did NOT conform to the stated exam objectives or course material), being forced into a position to invest an extra 6 months into study preparation wasn’t what I wanted (9 months of prep total).

For the record, 9 months of total study prep for a single exam is more time than I invested into achieving the entire exam track for my MCSA certification – an inordinately long amount of time for what CCNP should realistically be for a seasoned engineer.

I have a slightly updated command reference guide for this test attached at the end of this post, as well as some thoughts for potential test-takers (as well as Cisco) for my thoughts on this exam, whether or not you should take it with the way it is right now, and advice for preparation.

An Analysis – What Are Certification Exams Used For?

To build in to my core point, let’s first ask ourselves the question of why people take certification exams in the first place, as IT technicians or engineers.

90% of the time, it’s to get a job. The remaining 10% of the time it’s to reinforce a job you already have, either to meet your employer’s vendor partnership level-credit or to conform to a required standard (such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s 8570 requirement for IT technicians).

OK, so you’re likely taking a certification exam to get a better job than you have right now. With that in mind, as a certification exam creator, it would make sense to craft your certification exam around the concept of testing knowledge of information that specifically relates to basic concepts and day-to-day work that the job role the exam relates to would entail, right?

Well, while other vendors in the industry today, such as Red Hat, structure their tests to embody this mode of thinking, Cisco has deliberately chosen not to. Cisco instead seemingly crafts their exams around the idea that you “already have the job the exam relates to, have held it for a long time, and are otherwise just taking the exam to reinforce and slightly build upon skills you already have”.

Since this idea flies in the face of why most people would take certifications exams (and what most employers hire based off of), it prompts some questions about how someone should adequately prepare for a higher-level Cisco exam, where this train of thought becomes more prominent.

Exam Content – Realizing The Industry Standard

It should be stated that for Cisco’s CCNP-level exams, Cisco expects engineers who’ve held their Professional-level job roles for extended periods of time already to not gain the majority of their troubleshooting or setup knowledge from Cisco Press Books or courses, but from keeping up with their online bug patches, product news and release notes, and their technical documentation on their website. Of course, this information far surpasses the scope of what a single exam book or Cisco course can possibly entail.

Would any engineer appreciate being told that to adequately grasp all of the content that their exam would cover, they just need to start shotgun-style reading the lion’s share of tech news, bug patches, release notes, and KB articles from a vendor’s website that have been released since their current exam iteration was published? Of course not –  such a concept is not only futile because of the time it would consume, but futile because it’s a hopelessly tall cause.

​The reality of the situation is that CCNP-level exams are used as a “gauntlet” of sorts by Cisco to throw questions and information at the test taker that not only test you on topics far beyond the scope of the exam you’re taking, but also test skills and daily practices that a single book or course can’t possibly fully cover.

The question I’d like to pose to Cisco is simply – should a certification exam really be treated this way? While the CCIE-level exams have functioned in this capacity for years now (and that “gauntlet”-style approach is famously what makes CCIE the accomplishment it is), it’s becoming apparent that the same mentality is starting to bleed down into lower-level exams such as CCNP and CCNA. People don’t expect exams to be this way, and it’s slowly starting to devalue Cisco’s exams over the exams and credibility of other vendors, such as Juniper.

​To illustrate my point, here’s the list of Cisco books I used for my second round at the exam:

  • CCNP Routing and Switching ROUTE 300-101, by Cisco Press
  • CCNP Routing and Switching SWITCH 300-115, by Cisco Press
  • CCNP Routing and Switching TSHOOT 300-135, by Cisco Press
  • Cisco Frame Relay Solutions Guide, by Cisco Press
  • CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Volume 1, by Cisco Press
  • CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Volume 2, by Cisco Press
  • CCIE Routing and Switching v5.1, by Cisco Press
  • CCNA Collaboration CICD 210-060, by Cisco Press

This list may cause you to scratch your head a little bit. Caleb – are all these books really necessary?! This seems like a great deal of overkill for a single test!

Based on my first take at this exam and subsequent failure, this list of books was purchased and read by me to attempt to grasp at the content of the CCNP Route exam that wasn’t in the exam-specific book or training course, yet was on my test.

Not only do we see that I had to dip into other CCNP resources that shouldn’t be on the CCNP Route exam because they have their own exams (at least, on paper), we’re diving into a 14-year old Frame Relay book as well as Collaboration-specialized concepts and even grasping at CCIE!

This was the reason it took me 6 additional months of study to face CCNP Route again – frankly, I was scared of it and what it can throw at you. I’d stated in my post from July that when I took my test, 75% of the exam content wasn’t in the CCNP Book or Learning Academy course from Cisco. These books were my reaction at trying to grasp the level of understanding the exam seemingly demanded from a test taker. I do have only 5 years of experience as a network engineer, after all – I wasn’t in the industry at the time Frame Relay was around, for example.

While you may have a degree of disbelief or disagreement with me as to if all of these additional resources and time investments are really necessary (and that’s alright – if you already have the tech knowledge to tackle the exam without going this far, cheers!), it’s also sparked another series of problems from a test that’s morphed into the monster that CCNP has become…

When “Too Much” Provokes Insurrection

I’ll be completely frank with you. I can’t bring myself to fault someone for cheating on this test – God knows I was tempted to cheat on it more so than on anything I’ve ever done in my life. While I genuinely feel that for the effort I put in, I grew MASSIVELY both professionally and personally, I practically climbed Mount Everest when I thought I was climbing Mount Fuji!

If you were someone who had a family and kids, maybe owned a home, had other time commitments and responsibilities in their life, etc. – the 9 months of study prep I invested for this test could easily turn into a couple of years for you. Not a pleasant thought at all!

Thus, it’s not overly surprising to see people resorting to “brain dumping” this exam. Even I consulted a year-old brain dump on my first attempt at the test because I had no idea to what degree Frame Relay would be tested on it, since Cisco implies it’s on the test but otherwise teaches you nothing on it in either CCNA R&S or CCNP R&S.

A quick peruse of an online search engine also reveals that there’s a number of forums on the Internet where users who are far more Cisco-savvy than I am actually recommend CCNP test-takers use the dumps because the exams have mutated so far beyond the scope of what they’ve historically been, or should be now.

As I’m sure you can mentally picture, this also has the unwanted side effect of not only discouraging engineers who genuinely want to learn and advance their IT careers, but also causes an influx of “paper CCNPs” – CCNP-certified technicians who purely dumped their way through the exam and don’t have a clue in terms of real-world knowledge about the CCNP job function. I can personally attest that there’s an individual I worked with prior who was a CCNP on paper, but couldn’t understand the affects of a switch loop when questioned, etc.

​I won’t comment as to whether or not I think you should use the dumps to try and cheat your way to victory – and honestly, that statement in itself should be a testament to Cisco that they need to slam on the brakes and ask themselves some hard questions.

With the 5-year exam revision of CCNP Route & Switch coming around in Summer 2019, my sincere advice would be that unless you absolutely have to get certified now, or re-certify before next year, hold off until the new CCNP exams are released and many of the inherent issues with the current ones are hopefully fixed.

​Frankly, Cisco should be ashamed of themselves. I’m more than a little embarrassed to claim an association with them because of several recent things outside of their certification exams (poor quality control, bad hardware production, Software-Defined Networking debacle, etc.), and this is only adding to my unrest.

Only time will tell if this longstanding industry giant can maintain its name, in spite of the tarnish that recent years have added to it.

If You Have To Certify Now, My Thoughts

Should you be placed in the precarious position where you have to achieve CCNP right now without waiting, and you’re going to go down the “honorable” road and stoically refuse to cheat, allow me to first mention that for the mire you’re going to slog through, coming out on the other side with your certification is something I genuinely believe will cause you to grow immensely as a tech.

The list of books I mentioned prior, while long, is likely your best bet of adequately covering the exam content that might be thrown at you. If you absolutely have to “shave it down” to fewer resources due to time constraints, although I can’t reasonably condone such a course of action, there’s a chance you could reduce it to the below list and possibly encompass the lion’s share of information:

  • CCNP Routing and Switching ROUTE 300-101, by Cisco Press
  • CCNP Routing and Switching TSHOOT 300-101, by Cisco Press
  • Cisco Frame Relay Solutions Guide, by Cisco Press
  • CCIE Routing and Switching v5.1, by Cisco Press
  • CCNA Collaboration CICD 210-060, by Cisco Press

The command reference guide attached to this article is a nifty reference point, but will do you little good on the actual exam since it’s built around the content in the CCNP Route Cisco Press book, whereas the content on my tests was only 25% pulled from that book. The only area I can really recommend sticking to is the Frame Relay section towards the end, but you’d still need to understand the defaults as well as reasoning behind why those commands are necessary.

The CCIE books I referenced hit on several topics that the exam mentioned to the degree that was tested, and they’re also a nice desk reference for what networking best practices are on the CCIE level, so they’re useful to you outside the scope of the CCNP Route exam. The CCNA Collaboration book is a smaller subset of things I saw on my exam, but is also useful desk information for you for those unfortunate times when you have to actually talk  to your telecom staff. (that’s a joke, for the record)

You’ll absolutely want to read the T-Shoot book for CCNP before taking the Route exam. You won’t need to take rigid notes on it, but understanding why Cisco makes the judgment calls they do in it for troubleshooting will go a long way towards understanding the way you need to answer questions on the CCNP Route exam.

In the same vein, understand that the exam itself will often pose multiple answers to you that technically solve the problem the core question poses. In cases such as these, one of the potential answers will likely be the “best practice” answer that the Learning Academy course and Cisco Press book tell you is what you need to do in the real world. The correct answer, I found in most cases, is the one that most pointedly answers the core issue posed by the question, and NOT the best-practice answer. While this poses yet another question to Cisco as to why they’re seemingly testing engineers on how to do the wrong thing,​ that’s the mentality you’ll need to adopt on the exam.

Even with adequate preparation, expect to see some major “shite” on the actual exam. Prepare yourself for the very real possibility that you’ll have to reschedule it a week or so after your first attempt because you didn’t pass – taking it again quickly as long as you didn’t fail by much is your best bet of tackling it without becoming discouraged.

And, as they say in the eSports community:

Good luck. Have fun.

Summary

I’m sitting for the CCNP Switch exam in a couple of weeks, and since I’ve gone through such a mountain of additional review for the Route exam, I’m not expecting as much of a crap show since it’s a much smaller-scale test.

Taking T-Shoot six weeks from now, assuming that I pass Switch.

Unless my employer urges me to recertify, this will likely be the final exam track I take from Cisco. Factoring in the possibility that they drastically change their exam content and style in the near future, I simply don’t have the time or patience to continue going down their development path in lieu of other vendors’ certifications that are nowhere near as grueling or angering.

I truly hope this has been a good read for you. If you’re reading this and are a Cisco employee, I hope this can perhaps express some of the concern an honest engineer has for your organization.

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, owner of the non-profit animation streaming service 'Otaku Central', and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

Leave A Comment (please keep things clean & civil)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *