F5 201 – TMOS Administration Exam Guide & Thoughts

Recently, I continued with my F5 network training in working towards the F5 201 exam. We use the F5 platform quite a bit at my current workplace, and understanding the value it can add to your IT department can make it a pretty lucrative addition to a resume or skillset.

That being said, this test wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’d have to say that my overall experience with it was pretty negative. It ended up being only the second exam in my life (the first being CCNP Route) that I felt compelled to submit a formal complaint about – in the spirit of letting you arrive at your own conclusion on the matter, I’ve included that complaint, as well as Dr. K.J. Salchow Jr’s response to it as an attachment to this article.

Here’s a brief overview of this test, what angle you can approach it from, and what my final thoughts on it are.

The Basics – How To Prepare

F5 has released a couple of documents to offer guidance for this exam: a study guide, and an exam blueprint. Both are attached to this article. They’re pretty blatant about how the study guide is unofficially created, isn’t endorsed by F5, and is a rough guideline at best. The exam blueprint is intended to be an exact outline of what is on the test.

​Something I found from my run at the exam was that the study guide, while pretty good as a standalone administration reference, doesn’t come remotely close to covering the test content. Interestingly, Mr Salchow’s response admitted this as well as he stated that there currently isn’t a good documented approach for getting the knowledge needed to pass this exam. I’d be forced to agree.

That being said, you’ll absolutely want access to a dev environment F5, or a virtual F5 to familiarize yourself with the features and resources the test may cover. F5 sells a virtual lab appliance for around $125 that fits the bill for this pretty nicely, although it doesn’t include the F5 BIG-IQ suite.

Hands-on labs are really going to be the “order of the day” in terms of grasping the content the exam is going to cover, while using the study guide as a mile marker. Reading a section, and then drawing out ten to fifteen examples of realistic use case scenarios for the information, followed by creating your own lab examples, is a good starting point.

Sadly, that’s likely going to be the extent of what advice I can give in terms of preparation due to simply how starved F5 is for documentation in this area. Ever since Cisco effectively did this with CCNA Security and CCNP Security two years ago (because their official books on these certs are generally regarded as paperweights due to how bad they are), I honestly can’t offer a great approach towards exams that are built this way simply because I’m such a “by the book” person when it comes to my tests.

Oh well. My $0.02.

Exam Scope

You’ll note from my communication with Mr Salchow that we had pretty different perspectives on whether or not the exam stayed within the scope of its stated objectives.

Based on some of the other information he provided, I’d be getting too far into semantics to argue this point any further as any of the examples I’d put forward of questions that weren’t within exam scope could simply be dismissed as being one of the ten ungraded questions each exam contains – and therefore not being part of the “actual” test.

Like I said, it’s all semantics.

In the spirit of being practical, you can take this one of two ways. Firstly, you could assume that if you run across a question on your test that simply outright doesn’t make sense or feels like it really doesn’t belong in your exam, you could assume that it’s ungraded and skip it entirely.

Secondly, you could get paranoid about this to the point that you mentally break down and start questioning each question on the exam, and then devolve into a fragment of your former self who’s only purpose in life is to slave away at your career in IT, and occasionally write blog-style posts about certification exams you’ve taken.  đŸ™‚

Personally, I dislike exams where you’re even brought to the point to ask these kinds of questions. This reminds me of the way Microsoft used to do some of their exams back in 2010/2011, and they weren’t great.

Take it as you will.

Post-Exam Thoughts (including feedback from my complaint)

I failed this test.

Quite honestly, I doubt I can bring myself to take it again as the exam strikes me as having numerous issues and isn’t very well-made – I’d just be feeding away money. While I’ll admit that I’m perhaps being too harsh and my opinion is purely subjective, I’m drawing a heavy blank as to what I’d change if I had to try and take this test again short of just throwing man hours mindlessly at my F5 virtual lab.

Per Mr Salchow’s comment about how I’d receive a detailed score report, their report shows nothing at all in terms of exam breakdown and which areas I was weak in. It merely shows an overall score. This further adds to the dilemma of not knowing where to begin in terms of filling in weaker areas in my knowledge.

I love F5. If F5 was a woman, I’d even be tempted to pay for the meal on our first/only date. This exam, though, is a pretty mixed bag of emotions for me.

Hats off to Mr Salchow for offering the response and insight that he did – I honestly wasn’t expecting my complaint to get any feedback. The information he offered about how their exams are made was also pretty useful, as I didn’t know a lot of that from the outside looking in. That being said, my impression was that he was talking down to me throughout the entirety of his response and his answers were predetermined.

His perspective on how to address the length of the questions was perhaps what confused me the most, as he effectively advised to spend less time reading questions and more time answering them. While I understand the point he was trying to make, “speed reading” exam questions flies in the face of his previous statement where he categorized questions with no logical answer as being ungraded. How can I “speed read” questions when I have to at least pay enough attention to them to ensure that they logically make sense, since we’re in agreement that multiple questions on the exam don’t logically make sense?

While it may sound like an arrogant thing to say to some, a statement that I’ve made a number of times in my career is:

“I don’t really fail exams; exams fail me.”

It means that I’ve refined my study habits, lab work, reading, and cramming skills down to the point that I can only really fail a test if the test is designed explicitly to make someone fail. With 25 active certifications under my belt at the time of this writing, I’d certainly hope that I’ve learned a thing or two about them along the way.

I guess if you can’t really win a game, there’s no reason to play in the first place.

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, 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.

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