CCNA Difficulties, Part VI (and last): Simlets

How to go from kinda ok to confident on Simlets

Many people come to the CCNA game never having had an IT job. That's perfectly reasonable - many people work towards CCNA as a way to help get that first IT job, or even their first networking-focused IT job. Unfortunately, that lack of prior experience makes the Sim and Simlet questions that much harder for CCNA candidates. The trick is to know how to overcome the lack of experience, and the depth/breadth learned with that experience, to be confident with Simlets on the exam.

Today I'll take a look at a few ideas of how to be better prepared for Simlets, and wrap this series on CCNA difficulties. I'll also include a poll to get a sense for how much/how little IT experience folks have when they take the CCNA exam.

Simlets have several multiple choice questions, typically 3 or 4, tied to a single scenario and to a Simulator. To answer the questions, you need to do commands on the simulator. This style question lets Cisco assess most any skills that's listed iRn the exam topics, but it gives Cisco a particularly powerful tool with which to assess troubleshooting skills. These can easily test your mastery of what show commands exist, which ones to use to verify particular facts, interpreting the output of show commands, all without using everyone's favorite, the show running-config command.

Today, let me net it out, and you can tell me where you agree and disagree: Simlets are difficult because:

  • Recall: knowing what command tells you what fact

  • Availability of your favorite: some facts can be seen in >1 command, but you may not have your favorite available in the exam's simulated environment

  • Reverse engineering the config: most people never think about how to interpret the show commands to reverse engineer the config - a sometimes helpful skill on these questions

  • Distinguishing current state from configured setting: some commands list the config setting and the current state; knowing which is which, without being able to see "show run", is difficult. Most of us when studying keep referring to the config, which prevents us from learning to distinguish these particulars, but that may prevent us from remembering which is which.

  • lack of "show run": most people start troubleshooting with "show run" - and it may not be available

I think that some simple changes to how you study, particularly when you are doing your reviews after reading an entire CCNA book, can make a big difference. So, here's my suggestions:

  1. remembering all commands/options: Before reviewing a chapter or major section, start your own list of show commands for that topic. Write down all meaningful variations you can remember. Then, write down notes on what config settings you see in each, and what status info you see in each. You don't have to be detailed - if you know you'll never forget a particular fact for years, you may decide not to bother writing it down - the goal of the process is to increase the xref's in your brain. The more connectors between facts in your brain, the better chance you can recall the facts. Brain people say that at least, and it works for my getting older brain. Then, as you review a chapter, add to the list.

  2. Any time you lab, take an extra 10-20% of your lab time to look at show command output, and identify config info and current status info. Using the CCNA Network Simulator from Pearson (plug alert - I get paid for this one, I'm sure you can do this with other Sims as well), start a lab.

    Almost all the labs start with some pre-configuration. From user mode, try to reverse engineer the current config, and try to discover current status information. Determining current status with a partially-configured network is a great prep exercise for Simlets. EG, if it looks like a RIP lab, try to find out how much RIP is already configured (eg,sh ip protocols; show ip int brief). You can do the same with any la environment, but any time you lab, stop, do all show command options, using the command list you created for yourself.

  3. Cover the book, and guess the command. Got 10 minutes to study? Take the book, with a piece of page. Flip pages until you see command output, and quickly cover the page. Then reveal command output from the bottom up, so that you can't see what command gave the output, but you can see part of the command output. Then see how much output you need to reveal before you can definitively determine the command that created the output. The Simlets often make you start the fact you need to find, and you need to find the command that will supply the fact - and this drill can help.

By the end of these extra steps, you should know more commands/options, be able to remember more commands/options, more quickly know what factiods are available in each command, better determine the output that lists config versus current status, and be way better prepared for Simlets.

So... what do you do to prepare for Simlets? Any of you tried the above tasks, with any success? What do you think would work best to be ready to nail these difficult Simlet questions?

Finally, as promised, here's the survey. Just to confirm my assumptions, join in. If you've already passed CCNA, tell us what your experience was at the time. If not, predict where you'll be once you pass CCNA. Thanks!!

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