CCNA Difficult? Part III - CCNA Time Pressure and Exam Options

Tipping the Scale Towards the 2-Exam Option?

The verdict is in from the last few week's blogs (Part I and Part II) and the associated surveys: the underlying reasons for the challenge of passing CCNA are many. The survey about the exam preparation shows that the time required to study, and the uncertainty of when you're really ready, were the biggest issues. The survey about exam-day issues lists a wide variety of challenges. Today, and maybe next post as well, I will get a discussion started about how to deal with one of these big issues - the issue of time pressure, and more specifically, how the choice of the 1-exam path or 2-exam path impacts the time pressure on the exam.

First, for those who know about both options of how to get your CCNA, skip this paragraph. For the rest, you can take/pass either the CCNA exam (640-802), or take/pass the ICND1 (640-822) and (640-816) exams, to become a CCNA. Oddly, the 2-exam path also results in your getting a CCENT cert (by virtue of passing the 640-822 exam), but you don't get the CCENT when using the 1-exam path.

I've not seen any numbers quoted by Cisco regading how many people take each path, but I can infer from book sales that it appears that most people still take the 1-exam path, but more are taking the 2-exam path than ever before. I suggest that one such motivation for the 2-exam path is the time pressure on the exam, but I'm also interested to hear your comments as well. Let me ramble for a few words about why I think the 2-exam path can help with the exam-day time pressure.

The factors that make the exam have time pressure, in my opinion, are as follows:

  1. Cisco asks too much in the time allowed on the CCNA exam

  2. Time management is more difficult due to the can't-go-back feature on the exam

  3. You must master the ability to apply concepts to new designs in order to answer "application" questions quickly enough

  4. Exam-day time pressure is affected by how much time is available to prepare, which our survey said was the biggest before-the-exam issue

  5. Being prepared for Sims requires lots of reps

  6. Simlets - it's hard to find practice good practice tools, and its harrd to develop comfortability with the show commands and their output

  7. Sims/Simlets pysch people out, in part because of the prep time vs mastery equation

  8. Volume of material

  9. Lack of a time management plan going into the exam

I'm not going to dwell on each of these, and there are probably more than these. Briefly though, we can't do much about the first two - that's just the way it is. Numbers 3-6 all relate to the equation of how much time you spend preparing, versus mastering the topics before the exam. Sure, it'd be great to get a perfect score in half the alloted time, but if getting a perfect score required an extra 50 hours of prep time, maybe it would have been worth saving a few hours and taking a shot at the exam earlier. And it's hard to know.

Number 7 is not a knock on folks at all - I think this one is just an outgrowth of it being an entry-level cert, with no prior Cisco exam experience, most without any practice on the Cisco CLI at work, and the fact that it's hard to know if spending 2-3 more minutes on a Sim question will help or not. #9 - I'll hit it another day, but you need a way to know whether you have time to extend, or if you need to hurry up.

Of the ones you can control (3-9 in my list), 3-8 re all helped by taking the 2-exam path. The breadth of conceptual material is about 50/50 for the two exams, with the hands-on topics having maybe a 35/65 split between ICND1 and ICND2. (ICND1 may well have more subnetting focus.) You can make the same observations just looking at the official Cisco Exam Topics for these exams. So, you can split up the topics, get one Cisco exam/cert under your belt, gain some confidence, and maybe have a better chance of gauging your readiness for the ICND2 exam.

There are some negatives about the 2-exam path, of course. I think if you add up all the hours spent preparing, the 2-exam path will take a little more prep time, just because you'll go through multiple final-week crams to get ready for each exam day. Of course, time to prepare is also a challenge. And the ICND1 and ICND2 tests also have time pressure - it's not like the time pressure goes away. Finally, the ICND2 topics do build on the ICND1 topics, so it's not like you can forget ICND1 once you pass that exam.

I've focused on time pressure today as something that affects the choice of the 1-exam or 2-exam path. What are your thoughts?

And because it just takes one more click... here's a survey to ask, given all this time pressure talk and other reasons, which path would you choose today to get your CCNA - all things considered, not just the time pressure?

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