Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad?

The last several months have been quite a blur. My wife and I were expecting the arrival of our second child in April so way back in October 2014 I decided to spend the last few months of relative freedom catching up on some studying, in the hopes that I could knock out a few exams before some deadlines passed.

I had two goals, the first was to complete my CCNP certification as Cisco had announced the end of the current track effective January 30th, 2014. I had started and stopped studying for ROUTE so many times I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to actually finish it. I had already passed SWITCH, and I, like many others, was saving TSHOOT for last.

The second goal was to attempt the VCP5-DCV exam. I had taken the VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage course early in 2014 and had a voucher for 85% off the exam, but it had to be used by the end of 2014. I didn’t think I was prepared for it, but why waste an 85% discount? I decided to at least get a peek at the exam and gauge where I needed to focus in order to pass when I took a “real” shot at it.

 My Nemesis – ROUTE

I’ve never failed a Cisco exam more than once. Each time I’ve failed an exam I’ve taken a little time to regroup, and then focus right back on the areas I was deficient in, scheduled a re-take and passed. With ROUTE, this was not the case. I had failed it previously twice, both as my free exam at Cisco Live. Maybe it was the environment, staying in a hotel, lack of sleep, or the fact that it was “free” and something in my subconscious didn’t take it seriously, but for whatever reason I had not been able to massage a passing score out of this particular exam.

Now, my exposure to a lot of the L3 subjects has been limited, in that my day job had very little routing other than some static routes between sites and our ISP, so I had my work cut out for me starting all over again and learning OSPF, EIGRP, and BGP from scratch.

I dedicated myself beginning in October to studying for this exam. I was going to pass it if it killed me. I had Wendell Odom’s CCNP ROUTE 642-902 Official Certification Guide, I had video training from Pluralsight, INE, and CBT Nuggets, I had the Boson practice exams, I had physical lab gear, I had virtual lab gear. This was it, I was going to pass.

Not So Fast…

December came a lot quicker than I had anticipated. You see I was fighting with two deadlines, the expiration of my VCP exam voucher at the end of December, and the end of the current CCNP track of exams. I had hoped to pass ROUTE by mid-December and then take a run at the VCP exam, knowing it was just a trial run, and then finish off TSHOOT sometime in January.

By mid-December I felt I wasn’t ready for ROUTE yet, and my studying was getting more and more difficult as I read and re-read certain chapters and concepts that I just didn’t seem to grasp very well. It was time to take a break.

So, I scheduled the VCP5-DCV exam for December 29th and spent a couple of weeks re-reading Mastering VMware vSphere 5.5 by Scott Lowe and Nick Marshall, playing around in my VMware home lab, and testing myself with the MeasureUp practice exams.

By the time the 29th rolled around I actually felt pretty good. I mean, I didn’t expect to pass, but I thought maybe if the exam gods were in the spirit of the holidays, I might have a shot…

And I passed!

Back to ROUTE

Passing the VCP gave me a boost and so I re-focused on the ROUTE exam with a scheduled exam on January 16th. When exam day rolled around I felt I had a good shot at passing. The usual light nervousness hit me as I sat down at the PC and began to read through the usual Cisco exam agreement, but I focused and started the exam.

Well, I failed. and not by much. I was devastated. I had felt so prepared, but some of the simulations just caught me off guard for some reason. Back in my car I scrambled to recall areas that I needed to re-focus on and take notes, but I was seriously considering walking away from this exam for a while.

With the encouragement of a number of friends and peers on social media, I decided to at least take a run at TSHOOT before the end of January. This would at least mean I had 2 of the 3 exams under my belt and I could re-focus on the new ROUTE exam in February.

TSHOOT

I scheduled TSHOOT for January 24th, and just in case, re-scheduled ROUTE for January 29th. Knowing I could cancel up to 48 hours in advance, if I didn’t pass TSHOOT I wasn’t going to take another run at ROUTE.

I didn’t study much for TSHOOT to be honest. I’ve heard from many people it’s the type of exam you can either do, or you can’t. If you understand the L2/L3 technologies behind the topology (freely published and available from Cisco) then it all comes down to whether or not you can troubleshoot in an orderly, systematic way that eliminates possible problems, and identifies the root cause of the issue.

I did run through some of the tickets in the Boson TSHOOT practice exams, more or less to get comfortable with the format. I also did a bit of review on the “dry” subjects that would likely be part of the multiple choice questions that focused on methodologies like ITIL, etc.

When I sat the exam on the 24th I didn’t think I could feel any more relaxed. They way the exam is formatted you pretty much know if you got the ticket right or not, so by the end of the exam I was expecting to see a perfect score.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was about as close to perfect as you can get. I think I may have gotten one of the five multiple choice questions wrong, but seeing a score that high was confirmation at least that I did in fact have the skills necessary to continue with this career path. I had been pretty discouraged after failing ROUTE yet again, but this gave me the boost I needed to take another run at it.

 Re-ROUTE

I didn’t see much of my family between the 24th and 29th, I was so focused on reviewing the areas I needed to improve to pass ROUTE. I felt really good going into the exam center on the 29th.

So good in fact that I think I got over-confident. I had some repeat questions and simulations from my previous attempt and when faced with those I had the attitude “Oh yeah, I know this” and didn’t spend enough time really making sure I was answering the question correctly. I got through the exam way too quickly but 100% expected to see a passing score.

Nope.

And it was really close, too.

Looking on the Bright Side

I passed two out of three exams in a 4 month period, ending up 2/3 of the way to completing my CCNP and adding the VCP5-DCV to my list of accomplishments. I think I’m okay with that.

I’ve already purchased the new Official Certification Guide for the new 300-101 ROUTE exam, along with some practice exams, and although there are some new topics on the exam I don’t think it will be all that different from the old exam.

Two goals for this year will be to complete the CCNP and then I would like to focus on VMware’s NSX product and perhaps write the VCP-NV exam. I’ll also have to think about upgrading my VCP certification to version 6 sometime.

Certifications aren’t easy, as anyone who has ever taken one will tell you. You have to be able to take a failure and learn from it, and not get too discouraged. I know I’ll pass ROUTE, I’m stubborn that way.

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