Time pressure strategies

Exam day is the wrong day to start thinking about how to avoid the time pressure associated with the ICND1/ICND2/CCNA exams. The key is to do things when preparing that will make you faster and more confident, to the point where you might even finish comfortably early. I'll get the conversation started, and open it up for any other suggestions ya'll want to offer. Tomorrow, I'll make up another exam-like question and spend a few days discussing it - if you have any topics you'd like to see in particular, let me know.

Preparation is the key to dealing with the time pressure. Understanding all the CCNA topics once isn't enough for most people to show up for any of these three exams and pass with no worries about finishing on time. So, some additional tasks that can help.

Memorize the factual details. Things like Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) interface states, STP messages, definitions of key terms (eg collisoion domain, broadcast domain), the rules for IP addressing, LAN cable pinouts and where to use which types, config commands used for each feature, how to build a back-to-back serial link in a lab, and probably 100 other topics. The point is that if you take the little bit of extra time to memorize various facts that you may have forgotten due to the time taken to study, then it's worth the effort. The exam still includes some simple "choose the right fact" kind of questions, plus you'll need some of these facts to solve the higher-thought questions.

Know subnetting cold. You need to know the math, and you need to know how to apply the rules to sample networks, and you need to do the math quickly - all of which is possible with some practice. For some perspective, check out Jon's post last Thursday (http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/19410#comment-124308) in reply to last week's survey about a sample subnetting problem. Jon spent 40 seconds on subnetting math - not a lot of time with basically 3 subnets to consider. However, these is room to go faster, and sahve a few seconds. More importantly, practicing subnetting until to get faster also improves your confidence that you got the right answer, which prevents some re-work, again improving time.

Practice applying networking knowledge to unique scenarios. What I mean here is that many exam questions are designed to prove that you really know how this stuff works instead of that you memorized some facts. So, a question can supply a figure, and/or show command output, and/or configuration, and/or a sim interface - and then literally ask one of 30-40 different things about that scenario. There's no way to memorize how each little piece fits together, but if you know the components, and then keep looking at new scenarios - be that in your real everyday job when troubleshooting the network, or reading a book, or taking exam questions, forcing yourself to think through all the commands and theory behind the values listed in the commands can help you prepare for these application questions on the exam. These questions tend to be longish, so any practice can help improve your time again. (I added a lot of new focused coverage about applying knowledge to my new CCNA Exam Cert Guides, by the way.)

OK, enough on the prep side. On exam day, keep in mind that you can't skip a question and go back, so you don't have that time management trick. Remember to gauge your question/time ratio in a way that considers the sim/simlet/testlets (as discussed in this blog Friday (http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/19470).

I think that's enough from me - feel free to offer up any suggestions you might have regarding dealing with time pressure on the exams.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.