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January 09, 2016

CCIE Security Written Attempt

Yes, I know it's been a long time between blog posts here. When I do get a chance to blog, it's normally on the CCIE Study Notes blog. If you look in the Cert Battle Status - the certs I am currently aiming towards are the CCIE (R/S and Security). The battle has not been going well, but is still ongoing and has recently renewed vigor.

The toughest part of any of this is doing it while employed. Sometimes projects at work take over your "extra" time or wear you down and you're too drained to study after work. Not that I'm looking to be unemployed - but I've heard from multiple people that the only way they got the CCIE was to take time off work (months) and immerse themselves in it. I hope to not use that technique because then you have a tighter limit on your financial resources - which can also hamper your studies. [Rack rentals are expensive and so are tests.] The contract I am on will end at some time in the near future (we still don't know when) - so I have planned for that possibility. I am interviewing, but since I still have a job at this time - I'm a bit more picky than if I were unemployed. And if the music stops at some point before I find my next position, I will immersion study while looking.

For those who don't see me on a regular basis - my emphasis has moved from the R/S track to the Security track. I will be pursuing both, but if I get the R/S CCIE first - I am concerned that I will be pressured back into a Networking position and I would rather be in Security. R/S is a means to strengthen my Security skills rather than an end to itself - for me. So the recent focus has been on studying for the CCIE Security Written.

And yesterday I sat for the exam. Notice it doesn't say "passed" and have multiple exclamation marks. I did not pass. There goes $400... Yes, the exam is $400 now (up from $350) and unless you pass, no workplace I know will reimburse you for the attempt.

The test has changed - drastically- and it appears I studied for the prior test. I've been through the first half of IP Expert's Video on Demand class. I went through the INE Advanced Technologies videos. I went through the All-in-One Study Guide. And I know the material. However I know it in the incorrect format. All the previous CCIE Written Exams I have taken (and I have taken and passed 3 times) have all been the same. This is different. It's like they went from multiple choice to answering in Jeopardy style (form of a question).

Previous format of the exam was mostly multiple choice. There were multiple choice with "best" answer and multiple choice where you have to select "all that apply" (which are harder). Then you had your 5 or so questions that used exhibits. They would have snippets of code and you would have to answer questions based on the code or configuration displayed. Or you would be given a diagram of an environment (with or without a small part of a configuration) and you had to select from the various potential configurations to complete some task. And then there were always the drag and drop questions to match terms and their definitions or order the steps of some process. But there were only a few of those and you could take your time on them because the single answer multiple choice can be answered so quickly. Granted, the "weight" of each question is a mystery and you always knew that you _had to_ get those exhibits correct or you would not pass. Maybe you could screw up one but if you nailed the others, you had it. That was the old exam.

Granted, I know that Cisco is striving for tough tests. They want you to know that passing the test MEANS SOMETHING because it's not easy. Back in the 90s they tried "toughening" the test with a lot of "trick" questions. Then later they "toughened" the test by not giving you enough time to thoroughly read and analyze the question. Then they turned to "configlets" and chopped the question into multiple parts with a scrolling screen and multiple areas to view scenarios and answer questions. It turned the "100" questions into really 120 or so with the little sub-areas of question X, but it was an attempt to raise the bar. Now their newest little trick is : more exhibits.

As I sat for the exam yesterday, one phrase kept creeping into my head: Death by Drag-and-Drop. This is the newest iteration I've seen for strengthening the exam. And I really think it stinks. That's not how we do our jobs. We don't put things in tables or order the steps of a technology. Most of those steps are involved WITHIN the technology itself and are transparent. Now I can see ordering the steps of the Security Agreement (SA) establishment. THAT has value. If you can figure out which step of the process is failing, you can more quickly troubleshoot the issue. But to memorize the steps of the things I saw on that exam - well...let's just say that some of them are arbitrary and just the way someone organized it in their head. Or the matching questions - it seemed like it was just a way to ask multiple questions within the same question number. It seemed like the drag and drop was put in there for the sake of dragging and dropping so it would be "harder" in some way.

And the content ticked me off too. There was a HEAVY emphasis on IPv6. Now, we knew this was coming... eventually. And there was a certain level of IPv6 familiarity that I already had down pat. After all, this content is also in the R/S exam that I passed three times - and the IPv6 questions were never a problem. One of the things about IPv6 is that it's only something that you use for the test. It will be a very long time before I work in an IPv6 environment. But I know that this is a _global_ test and those that work globally must deal with IPv6 in their jobs. So that realization became a point in their favor that I begrudgingly gave them and accepted. But I didn't see anywhere (blogs, trade articles) that this emphasis had arrived. I will be ready for it on the next shot.

IPv6 was not the only content that surprised/irked me. There are multiple tables of content that apparently they require you to know/memorize. And with the test I saw, it gave me the "flavor" of what could possibly be on the next test they put in front of me. Granted, some of the questions will be the same but there will be some different ones (or could be depending on the questions drawn from the pool).

Like I said, I studied for this exam. I believed I was prepared. Had I taken a prior version of the exam - I certainly would have passed. But this is different. None of the materials I used (IP Expert VoD, INE Advanced Technologies and All-In-One Guide) will prepare you for this current iteration of the exam. They are great prep for the prior exams - this is new. And there is nothing out there that will prepare you. I've been here before. For some reason the Security track often goes through periods where the source materials are either dated or non-existent. I dealt with this on my way to CCSP. I had to read the Raw Cuts version of the ASA book online before it was published to sit for my exam. And likewise - I will now have to create my own study guide from the source materials and the Exam Blueprint. Hopefully my next post will discuss how I passed.

Posted by BlueWolf on January 9, 2016 08:28 AM