[c-nsp] Certification Ethics

Chris T ciscochris28 at gmail.com
Mon May 11 17:16:56 EDT 2009

I've got a bit of a dilemma.  I apologize in advance for how wordy this will
be.  Bear with me.  I have high hopes that someone here can provide some

I've been studying Cisco material for about a year and a half now.  I've
passed the CCNA, BSCI, and BCMSN.  Based on these two facts, I feel I have a
decent level of familiarity with the Cisco learning and testing process.

Recently, I've been changing the way I study.  I spent roughly 250
dedicated, focused study hours on the ISCW.  In that time, used the
following sources:

CBT Nuggets Videos (watched all)

Cisco Press Official Exam Certification Guide (read front to back, while
taking notes)

Cisco Press Student Guides (initially used as a supplement, then started
reading thoroughly)

Based on those resources, I typed 70 pages of notes and created over a
thousand flash cards.  I made sure I understood things before moving
on.  Additionally,
I purchased a half rack and populated it with 2 switches, 2 multilayer
switches, and 9 routers, all current enough.  I did labs and reviewed my
notes and flash cards a decent bit.  Feeling like I was over prepared, I
went into the test and promptly failed by 10 or 20 points.  I went back home
and reviewed all of my notes and flash cards until I felt I knew all of it
(about three hours a night for a week, and an eight hour day).  I went back
in and tested.  I failed again by 10 or 20 points.

This left me somewhat confused as to how to move forward.  Despite
significant review time over exactly what material Cisco provides to prepare
for the test, I still did not do any better.  I got to the point where I
felt reviewing the same material again simply would not provide me with any
more information.  I knew what was in the book.

While this was going on, work needed me to come up with a new security
strategy and put in some ASAs.  I had maintained their ASAs for a while, but
I had not configured any from scratch so I did not feel my knowledge level
was sufficient to come up with a corporate wide network security plan.  I
decided to speed up the process of learning security by putting money into
it.  I ended up going to a CCSP boot camp with a Cisco Learning Partner.

I thought going to the boot camp would be a great opportunity for me, not
only to gain a lot of direct knowledge about security, but also to learn
better ways to study.  By two days into the boot camp, I really felt like it
was way too easy to get me where I needed to be to pass.  I already knew 80%
of the material that was being taught based on previous experience
maintaining the ASAs.  I communicated this concern to the teacher on several
occasions.  He felt that everything would be fine though.  During the boot
camp they passed out practice test material from TestKeys
(testkeys.com).  Based
on what I was hearing from my peers, this material *very* closely mimicked
the real test.  Since just getting a piece of paper was not my goal and I
felt I had come into the class with more knowledge than most of my class
mates, I decided not use the material.  I took the SNAF and failed.  While
taking the test, I found that the labs in the test were inappropriately
close to the labs we had done in class.  Even most of the arbitrary names
(ACL names, etc.) were exactly the same.  My peers agreed that TestKeys
*very* closely mimicked the real test.  I went home and looked at about five
or six of the TestKeys questions and found that many of the questions were
almost word for word what I had seen on my real test.  At that point, I left
the boot camp.  I felt that it was simply cheating.  If I had wanted to do
that, I wouldn't have spent thousands of dollars on training.

This was indeed a Cisco Learning Partner though and they assured me that
Cisco explicitly approved the practice test material.  Seeking
clarification, I called Cisco's certification support.  After 30 minutes on
the phone asking them simply, "what practice test material is approved for
use" I got no answer.  I was eventually transferred to the Cisco Learning
Partner support channel.  I really didn't want to get the boot camp involved
since I was already in a financial dispute with them.  After a great deal of
time (read: two weeks), I finally made it 100% clear what my question was to
the CLP support group.  Again, simply "what practice test material is
approved for use".  Or if they can't provide that, can they at least confirm
TestKeys is approved?

Despite constant badgering, I have not received a reply to my question in
over 5 weeks.  During that time it has become painfully clear that the
majority (if not vast majority) of people who pass Cisco certifications use
these types of "advanced study aids".  Next, I tried to escalate through
Cisco.  As it turned out, I was already speaking to the boss of the boss of
the first line Cisco Learning Partner support rep.  The person I was
speaking with basically wasn't generating any progress.  I went to our Cisco
sales rep next, who said despite him selling lots of Cisco training, he has
never had a conversation like this and he feels it just doesn't matter.  I
spoke to some of the people I know that have been in networking for much
longer than me and the consensus seems to be that everyone does it and it
doesn't matter.

My problem now is that it appears to pass a test I must spend hundreds or
thousands of dollars on materials (learning materials and hardware) and
something like 400 or 500 hours to pass a single test.  The vast majority of
other people who are getting certified seem to be passing the test in 150
hours or significantly less.  Professional training doesn't help.  The
consensus around me is that I should not be such a stickler.  On top of all
this, even the manufacturer of the tests won't tell me what is and is not
fair after a total of seven weeks of badgering.

I'm starting to feel like I'm playing hockey without a hockey stick, and not
even the referee is willing to tell me if I'm allowed to have a hockey stick
or not.

I'm stuck.  I don't want to cheat.  I also don't want to have to work three
or four times harder to achieve the same results as someone else.  Moreover,
if even the moderator won't tell me what is fair and what is not, why am I
spending all of this extra effort?

My questions to the group are:

-Am I completely out of line here?  If so, please tell me how.

-What is an appropriate time to study for a single Cisco test (not expert
level)?  I understand there is a great amount of variance, but ballpark
figures are what?  100 hours? 500 hours?  1000 hours?

-What practice test material do YOU think is or is not fair for preparation
for a Cisco certification test?

Again, sorry for being so wordy.  Thanks in advance for any insight you may
be able to share.


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