CCNA Difficult, Part IV – Time Management

When to Panic, and How to Avoid it

Down by two touchdowns, with 8 minutes left. Do you go for it on 4th down? Down 2 goals with 15 left - do you put in 3 more strikers, and pray for a break or two? When do you start playing hack-a-shaq at the end of a game versus the... Cavaliers? (Even as a Cavs fan, it's still a little weird to think about having Shaq at center.) Today, we'll look at the same decision relative to the CCNA exam - and more importantly, how to hopefully avoid having to answer questions faster than you can even read them. I'll offer a few suggestions, and hopefully, those of you that have a good plan for time management can share your thoughts with others as well.

Quick recap: CCNA often surprises people by how much prep it requires, and the relative difficulty in passing the test. The time pressure on the exam seems to be one of the bigger issues, at least according to our survey. This is the 2nd post about time pressure, with the previous post discussing time pressure in general. Feel free to look here for the history of this discussion:

Why is Passing CCNA so Difficult?

Why CCNA is Difficult, Part II

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

Everyone should have a time management strategy going into the exam - whatever it is. In my opinion, that plan ought to give you a reasonable way to look at the # questions answered, time remaining, and decide if it's time to do the CCNA-equivalent of hack-a-Shaq by answering the questions as fast as you can. And more importantly, the plan should warn you before you need to panic, so you can pick up the pace a little as need be, or even  take a little more time. 

I've got a few other time management topics hidden at the end of this post, but first let me outline a time management plan, and ramble a bit about why. I think with some simply addition and multiplication, you can look at your questions answered, time taken so far, and adjust it for those longer questions - Sims, Simlets, and Testlets - and know whether you're doing well on time, a little behind, or way behind.

Background: CCNA, per Cisco's web site, has 45-55 questions, with 90 minutes to take it. Let's say each testlet, simlet, and Sim require... 6 times the amount of time a multichoice question takes. I want to do some math and figure out how much time I get per MC question and for the longer questions, so I'll do some math ahead of time to find a normalized question time (term I made up). For example, if your exam has 52 questions, and 4 end up being time eaters:

  • 52 questions
  • Add 5 for each time eater, to make each look like they take 6 times as much time as an MC question
  • (52 + (4*5) =  72)
  • 90 minutes/72 normalized questions = 1.25 minutes (1:15) normalized question time

The term doesn't matter, but what this means is the following: If you had this test, and took 1.25 minutes per shorter question, and 6 *1.25 minutes (7.5 minutes) per time eating question, you'd finish in exactly 90 minutes. You don't know how many time eaters you will get, but it gives you a point of reference at least.

So, how do you apply this? Well, the screen tells you what question you're on. When you get a time eater, note that on your notepad, so you remember how many you've seen. Then, whenever you finish a question - math is easier if you do this when the question count is a multiple of 5 - do this:

For each time eater you've seen, add 5 to the question count, multiply by 1.25, and that's how much time you should have taken so far. If you've actually taken less time, you're ahead, if you've taken morettime, you're behind, if you've taken a lot more, well, that's unfortunate.

EG: After question 20, 2 time eaters so far, 33:41 used so far:

20 + 10 = 30, *1.25/question, = 37.5 minutes.You're roughly 3 minutes ahead, and in great shape.

Another EG: after question 30, 3 time eaters so far, 60 minutes used so far:

30 + 15 = 45 *1.25/question = 56 mins plus a few seconds, so you're around 4 minutes behind, but not as far behind as you may have guessed.

What this process does is remove some of the ambiguity of the time taken for the questions that take considerably longer. You can adjust this to your own perspective - maybe you want to assume less time per question (maybe 1:10), or more.  But the main idea here is to be able to quickly look at your current stats and know if you're behind or ahead, even when you don't know how many time eaters you'll have.

Couple of other quick tidbits for the time management plan as well:

1)      Do as much as you can on the Sim questions; Cisco gives partial credit

2)      After clicking the button for the next question, remove your hand from the mouse

Cisco does give partial credit on the Sims, so even if you can't make it all work, add the configuration that you know is part of the solution. On the second point, if you click next, and a pop-up appears, it probably means that you forgot something. Maybe you gave 2 answers, and the question needs 3. Maybe it's a testlet, and you forgot to answer all questions. Don't let your desire to go fast let you click quickly, and then realize that you clicked too soon. It's worth the time to click for the next question,  and make sure you didn't get a warning message.

Now it's your turn. What do you do for time management on the test that's worked for you? The above is just one suggestion - one that I've personally used before, and had some success with. Also, just because one more click is cheap, here's another poll to get a sense for how people approach their Cisco exams. Three of the answers are obvious, but the answer "part math, part intuition" option means that you just look at the questions answered versus time taken, but to make adjustments for the time eaters, you make an educated guess, but nothing formal like I've described here.

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