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Interview with Cisco Certification Expert Wendell Odom About the New CCNP Route 642-902 Exam and the CCNA Exams

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Interested in finding out what's on the new CCNP ROUTE 642-902 exam and how best to prepare for it? Want to hear from an insider the topics that present the most trouble for Cisco exam candidates? Want to find out about some great study resources for all Cisco certifications? This interview with bestselling Cisco certification author and long-time Cisco trainer Wendell Odom provides the answers to these questions and more. Odom takes you on a brief tour of the new CCNP ROUTE exam, talks about preparation resources and the valuable content in his blog, and wraps up with a discussion of CCNA exam preparation tips.
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Tim Warner: For the sake of the readers who missed our CCNP Round Table interview, let me lead off by asking you to summarize the evolution of the "old" Cisco 642-901 Building Scalable Cisco Internetworks (BSCI) exam to the current-generation 642-902 Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE) test.

Wendell Odom: Sure, Tim. First, take the perspective as the body of technology—the topics covered, and the depth. From that perspective, the old and new overlap quite a bit. Both have extensive depth on EIGRP, OSPF, and route redistribution; and intermediate coverage of BGP, mostly from an enterprise perspective. ROUTE increases the depth of IPv6 topics and adds some small topics, like IP SLA, policy-based routing, and some basics about branch-office routing with VPNs. Then, looking at the exams themselves, Cisco promises to focus more on the planning aspects of an engineer's work—planning the implementation and planning the verification. This new slant, in my opinion, means that the exam questions will be a bit more challenging on average.

TW: Related to the first question, how much better is the ROUTE exam at evaluating real-world skills, as opposed to the previous version?

WO: That's an interesting question. I think first you've got to look at the real world—are there jobs that have a heavy concentration on the topics in ROUTE, specifically? Or at least in CCNP? Sure. Engineers in larger shops (say, Fortune 500-ish), have enough division of responsibility to where a single person's job is focused on routing. I've met plenty of folks in larger companies who solely work on routers, with other folks solely working on campus-switching. In the smaller of those companies, maybe routing and switching are combined, particularly because of the product mix—with routers doing switching, and switches doing routing—to where the categories don't really work anymore.

That said, I don't know that ROUTE meets this need any better than BSCI. But if you turn the question to the next broader view, does the new CCNP do that better than the old? Absolutely. It is more specialized, narrower—but deeper, which (in my opinion) fits well into the role of engineers in these larger shops.

TW: Keeping our Cisco non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in mind, what can you tell us with regard to the ROUTE exam's specifics? For instance, how many questions are on the test? What type(s) of questions? What is the passing score? What is the time limit for the test?

WO: What I can offer for this one is the same thing you can see at Cisco's CCNP certification website. It's 52 questions, 120 minutes. The passing score isn't published (and may change over time), but for most of the cert exams the score is on the usual 300-1000 scale that makes it difficult to reverse-engineer to determine what you missed, or exactly how many.

As for question types, it appears to have the usual suspects: multi-choice, multi-answer multi-choice (with a stated number of answers), drag-and-drop, sim, simlet, testlet. I've not seen any published reason to expect new question types in ROUTE.

TW: Please explain how a 642-902 certification candidate can use your Cisco Press book CCNP ROUTE 642-902: Official Certification Guide.

WO: Actually, it's one of the easiest books to read sequentially, for most readers. The first two major parts examine EIGRP and OSPF in depth—topics that most ROUTE candidates already know something about already. Each chapter has tools to help you quickly determine if you should read or scan the chapter. The planning tables at the ends of the chapters help you to wrap your head around the planning topics, more than just worrying about specific settings and concepts with the topics. You can build confidence quickly by seeing familiar topics, and get some of the deeper questions answered about OSPF and EIGRP that you wouldn't have seen in CCNA.

After that, most topics are somewhat new to folks who have their CCNA. Route redistribution is conceptually easy at first glance, but gets really sticky in a hurry. I'd say to use this section as normal, reading the entire chapter in each case, but plan on trying out things in your lab. The next major part, BGP, takes you through the details in the same manner as the EIGRP and OSPF parts do, so you can learn from the familiar IGP topics and see similarities and differences compared to BGP. There's also coverage of IPv6 and a short section about branch-office routing.

The big things are the explanations in the chapters, the "key topics" icons that tell you what you must fully master, the planning tables at the ends of the chapters, and the CD question bank—they all help.

TW: Again, related to the previous question, what specific subjects from the ROUTE material cause your students the most trouble?

WO: Easy: BGP and route redistribution. Why? Most companies that aren't ISPs use BGP with very basic configuration, and that configuration stays relatively static. At the point at which most folks pursue ROUTE, they haven't had a lot of BGP experience. However, most folks come to ROUTE with some experience with either EIGRP or OSPF.

Route redistribution poses a challenge for two reasons. First, the particulars of how each routing protocol pulls in redistributed routes varies between routing protocols, so there are some picky little details to remember. Second, as soon as there are two redistribution points between two routing domains, lots of interesting, challenging, and confusing side-effects can occur. In fact, the CCIE R/S lab exam has always included such tricky scenarios, and this is the first exam in the Cisco exam space to examine the topic in any depth.

TW: How/where would you place the CCNP ROUTE 642-902 Cert Kit, which contains computer-based training (CBT) and online flash-card review, in the ROUTE certification candidate's self-study tool belt?

WO: I'd say that you'd want to start using the videos at the same time you start reading the book, and use the flash cards as part of your final review after you've been through the book once. It's always good to hear a second voice or perspective on a single topic, and the videos would work well for that.

TW: As you know, Cisco certifications require that candidates not only possess the requisite theoretical knowledge, but they also must have practical skills with the Cisco Internetwork Operating System (IOS). How can candidates—especially those with limited field experience—gain the Cisco IOS know-how?

WO: Many options. I walk through [those topics] at my website, and I blog about this topic with some regularity. (See CertSkills.com for the lab info and links to my blog.) The short version is that most people who succeed at the CCNP level practice using real IOS, whether on real gear or with Dynamips. But you've got to plan on getting that experience.

TW: Instructor-led training (ILT) is very expensive and time-consuming. Under which circumstances would you recommend that a Cisco certification candidate pursue an ILT solution?

WO: If you can get your boss to pay for it, take the class! I'm a big fan of Cisco authorized training, even though I don't teach anymore. It is time-consuming to take a class—out of work for a week, plus travel—but compared to reading, it may be just as quick as self-study. The trick is to decide which classes to take if the boss will just pay for one or two. For example, you want CCNP, but the boss will pay for one class only—do you take ROUTE, or SWITCH, or TSHOOT? Do you look for a bootcamp that crams it all into six days, knowing that you can't absorb it all that fast? But if you can take it, take the class, particularly if it's Cisco's authorized curriculum.

That said, get the Official Certification Guides, too. Okay, that sounds blatantly self-serving, I admit. But experience shows that most people who take the class also get the Cert Guide books. Speaking from experience, the instructor simply cannot speak all facts, [cover] all perspectives, and outline all examples that matter in the space of the class. Learn all you can in the class, and read the books—which give you ways to know where you're weak—to fill in the holes.

TW: Tell us how your blog benefits Cisco certification candidates.

WO: We spend time talking about all things related to Cisco certifications—it's called "Cisco Cert Zone." We focus a lot on lab topics. I throw out example problems that point out some of the trickier topics. We ramble about the broader issues, like what certifications to get, which paths are better. But mainly I focus on cert tools. You can get links and index pages for various topics at my CertSkills blog.

TW: Let's conclude this interview by discussing the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam briefly. Undoubtedly, some readers have yet to pass the CCNA, which of course is the prerequisite for pursuing CCNP certification. What are the trouble spots with the CCNA skill set that you have identified in your students?

WO: CCNA has lots of pitfalls. First, as essentially an introductory cert, the background of the CCNA candidate varies greatly. As such, almost anything can be a pitfall to any one person. However, the more popular problems are with IP subnetting, frame relay, routing protocol theory, and spanning tree. Everyone probably knows that you have to be good and fast with subnetting to do well on CCNA. For the other three problems, the biggest issue is that they appear to be straightforward when you read about it, and then you get a question that applies it in a different scenario—it's confusing.

TW: How can a CCNA self-study candidate best prepare himself or herself by using your Cisco Press products in a "holistic" manner?

WO: It's pretty straightforward, actually:

  1. Get/use the CCNA Exam Cert Library, which has two books.
  2. Get/use the CCNA Simulator at the same time. Do the labs as you work through the chapters. CertSkills has a guide to tell you when to do each lab.
  3. Get the CCNA Video Mentor. It shows videos explaining the more challenging CCNA technical topics. You can view those around the time of reading the related chapters, to help you make more sense of those specific topics. It doesn't cover everything—just the toughest stuff.

TW: Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your knowledge with us!

WO: My pleasure, Tim.

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