The New ROUTE exam: More Difficult than the Old BSCI?

A Comparison of the Old and New Exams

If you've watched this blog in the last few days, you will have already seen that the CCNP cert appears to have fewer topics than the old CCNP. In fact, the ROUTE exam itself even looks a little narrower at first glance - quite a trick if you consider that it's moved from a 5 day BSCI course to a 5 day ROUTE course plus 7.5 hours of e-learning. Today I'll look specifically at the new ROUTE exam, to consider how the topic breadth and depth have changed, and whether that translates into a more difficult exam.

First off, there's no real way to measure whether it's more difficult unless you're working at Cisco and can run metrics on the actual exams. But I'm 100% sure those who care about passing CCNP will form an opinion over time, so as part of today's exercise we'll look at ROUTE, and try to predict whether the exam will turn out to be more difficult than the old BSCI, or not. For now, I've got a survey at the bottom of today's post to ask your prediction - and I'll revisit somewhere down the road to see how it plays out over time.

So let's begin by a look at what we can determine about the new versus old exams. One of the best ways to gauge what's in the associated authorized courses, the associated official exam cert guides from Cisco Press, changes to the exam topics, and other outward changes. So let me dive in for a bit about those details - following that, I'll offer some conclusions, and give a survey as to what you think.

First off, compare the exam topics. Granted, the exam topics posted by Cisco are always sparser than we would want. For example, the only info about OSPF technology details are "configure OSPF" and "verify OSPF". However, the obvious large topics removed from ROUTE (compared to BSCI) are:

  • IS-IS
  • IP multicast
  • DHCP server
  • Specific mentions of troubleshooting

Again from the exam topics, the biggest new topics are:

  • IPv6 routing (RIP, OSPF, and EIGRP; formerly just OSPF)
  • IPv6/IPv4 interoperation
  • IPv6 router redistribution
  • Basic Layer 3 VPN (includes GRE)
  • Layer 3 path control

At face value, there's as much added to the exam topics as is removed.

Next, if you take a look at the Exam Cert Guides in this case, there are some big differences in both depth and topic. First off, I re-wrote the new ROUTE Cert Guide from scratch, so there should be differences just between what I wrote and what the authors of the previous book wrote, so don't read too much into these differences.  However, a couple of notables from a comparison from the perspectives of the new book:

  • Roughly 20% longer.
  • Noticeably more detail on IPv6 (understandably, given the exam topics)
  • More detail on BGP
  • Includes IP SLA, Policy-Based Routing
  • More detail on "path control" (interpreted: anything that impacts the choice of best route, eg, filtering, redistribution, admin distance, etc)
  • Focus on implementation planning and verification planning with review options at the end of each chapter
  • Coverage of the newly added exam topics, of course

Conclusion: I'd say that from the exam topics and the books, as far as topic breadth goes, it's a wash, and maybe a little broader for the new exam. Just looking at the exam topics, it's close to a wash - they're different, but the same breadth. Adding the perspectives from the old and new books, maybe ROUTE has a few more topics. But for the sake of the blog, let's assume that the breadth is roughly the same.

Now let me tell you why I think the new exam could end up being more difficult than the old. First, the old exam is listed as 90 minutes, 50-60 questions. The new exam is listed as 52 questions - interestingly, no range for the question count, just "52 questions" - and 120 minutes. So, with 1/3 more minutes (90 bumped to 120), with the same number of questions, well, something's got to give. The new exam could be 52 questions with the same relative difficulty mix compared to BSCI, but that would make it a lot easier exam, and remove most if not all the time pressure - which I cannot believe would be Cisco's intent. To keep its good reputation, I believe Cisco will try to make the exam be at least as difficult. So

So, how can Cisco make this exam, with the same number of questions, but with 1/3 more time, be as challenging as the old? Some predictable predictions:

  • More Sims
  • More Simlets (multichoice questions with a Sim used to verify information)
  • More Testlets (1 scenario, >1 multichoice question)
  • Generally higher difficulty or lengthier read for the median difficulty question on a given exam

Quick review, Simlets have a Simulator, but you don't solve it by changing the config - instead, you answer multichoice questions about the state of the network. 1 Simlet with 3-4 MC questions counts as 1 in the question count. Testlets: 1 scenario, with several MC questions, which again counts as 1 in the overall question count.

So, let me end this ramble with the survey. Given all these meandering thoughts, what do you think about the new ROUTE exam? More or less difficult, or the same? Make your prediction, and then I'll look at revisiting this down the road, and see how it really turned out.

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