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CCNP SWITCH 642-813: How to Prepare for the Planning Topics on the Exam

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Can you create a networking implementation plan for each technology area on a CCNP exam? Can you create a verification plan for those same technologies? According to the CCNP exam blueprint, these skills are now tested on the CCNP exams. Even though the exam might not ask you to literally create a plan, you do need the skills to perform those same tasks. In this article, expert network architect and author of best-selling CCNP SWITCH 642-813 Official Certification Guide Dave Hucaby guides you through a sample scenario to show you how to best interpret these broad objectives and to help you understand how they are implemented on the actual exam.
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Can you create a networking implementation plan for each technology area on a CCNP exam? Can you create a verification plan for those same technologies? According to the CCNP exam blueprint, these skills are now tested on the CCNP exams. These tasks normally involve large amounts of time devoted to project planning and documentation—things that are not practical during a timed Cisco exam.

Even though the exam might not ask you to literally create a plan, you do need the skills to perform those same tasks. The new CCNP SWITCH course doesn’t have much content directly related to planning, other than some common-sense advice. In the past, the CCNP exams were limited to the scope of the corresponding course. With the new exams, such as 642-813, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Goals and Objectives

To come up with an implementation plan, you have to begin with some goals or objectives. These are generally based on the following:

  • Business requirements: What does the business need out of the network? What policies must be met?
  • Business constraints: How much will the planned solution (hardware and labor) cost?
  • Technical requirements: Which switch features should be leveraged? How should the switch configurations be carried out? What limitations are there?

As network professionals, we may or may not have a role in identifying these requirements. But we do have a role in carrying out the work. Usually, our work follows this sequence:

  1. Plan the network architecture and every switch feature that will be used. This can be done as a detailed project plan or as something sketched on a napkin over lunch. The idea is to know what needs to be done beforehand.
  2. Implement the plan with switches, cables, protocols, and features. The CCNP exams have traditionally focused on implementing things.
  3. Verify that the implementation works and meets the objectives of the plan.

Now hold that up against the new 642-813 exam blueprint. There are several broad categories where you can find the words “implement” and “verify”--always with the words “create…a plan,” as in the following examples:

Create a VLAN-based implementation plan

Create a VLAN-based verification plan

Create an implementation plan for the Security solution

Create a verification plan for the Security solution

Create an implementation plan for the Switch-based Layer 3 solution

Create a verification plan for the Switch-based Layer 3 solution

Create a High Availability implementation plan

Create a High Availability verification plan

So how would you “create a plan” on a Cisco exam? You might get multiple choice questions that ask for a best approach to a problem. More likely, you might get one of those complex scenario questions. You know—the ones where you have to read a lengthy explanation in one window, squint at the network diagram in another window, and interact with some switches in some other windows—all on one small screen.

The key here is with the scenario description. It’s nothing more than a huge word problem that lays out things such as business requirements, business constraints, and a list of goals to reach. Even the network diagram becomes a part of the project definition. As you read through the scenario and look over the diagram, you have to create an implementation plan in your mind.

The scenarios don’t give you a sequence of things to do; instead, they present a bunch of things to accomplish. You have to figure out what specific features you’ll need, what steps you’ll need to configure for each feature, which switch you’ll have to visit to type in configuration commands, and so on.

Even as you work through a scenario on the exam, you should spend time creating a verification plan so you can test and make sure each feature you have configured actually works as it should. Otherwise, whatever you typed into the switch emulators might not be correct and might not earn you valuable points.

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