[c-nsp] [SPAM?] Certification Ethics

Geoffrey Pendery geoff at pendery.net
Tue May 12 10:29:30 EDT 2009

A big giant YMMV and "just my two cents", but here goes:

I agree with OP Chris that it still feels like cheating, but Steve
here definitely hits on a major point:
Even if you have the best of intentions and integrity, and have
studied the textbooks and courses as best you can, you will still run
into strange questions that require "the Cisco answer", or at least a
very particular detail that you didn't see covered in the text and
which you don't use in real work.  If I saw another engineer, who I
respected and knew to be capable, using the "test keys" type materials
to prepare him for those questions... well, I might disagree, but I
probably wouldn't fault him for it.

Amongst the reputable guys I've know preparing for the exams, the most
solid "final" stage of preparation, the one that really checks whether
you learned what you were supposed to and also prepares you for these
"Cisco answers" is... the exam itself.  If you're gonna take the CCNP
Routing exam (BSCI), you study until you really feel like "I know
routing now.  I understand those concepts and protocols." then you
take the exam.  You probably fail.  No great shame in that.  But
having taken the exam, you should have seen all the questions, and
gotten a feel for what you're missing.  Now you take another week or
two to focus on the points you were weak on (the score report tries to
break this down for you, but it may miss the point) and you re-take
it.  If you fail it more than twice in a row, you're probably doing
something wrong.

Now, all that said, there's another complication or two.  Everyone has
different learning methods and study habits and levels of retention,
but I find that the closer the material is to your actual daily
production work, the better.  I had much more trouble remembering the
protocols and techniques I never worked with than the ones I worked on
every day.  Only natural.  Even labs can only go so far.  As they say,
necessity is the mother of invention.  Production gear in real-world
environments will often yield unusual requirements, prompting you to
consider strange solutions.

Lastly - the money.  Taking the exams isn't free, so it's tough to go
into the exam expecting to fail it, and write off the cost to
learning.  For me, I just consider it part of my training expenses,
and a more efficient use of that money than boot camps.  But I'll
admit being intimidated by the cost of the CCIE Lab, especially given
the expectation of failing it the first time around...


On Tue, May 12, 2009 at 2:07 AM, Steve McCrory
<SteveMc at netservicesplc.com> wrote:
> >From my experience there are three groups of people when it comes to
> passing Cisco Exams:
> * People who only use TestKeys or equivalents (TestKing, Pass4Sure etc)
> to study for the exams. These people may look good in terms of having a
> wide range of qualifications but they are soon found out, often during
> an interview process. I have met numerous people of this ilk in the
> industry and, to a man, they don't know jack!!!
> * People who don't use TestKeys or equivalents to study for an exam. I
> would say that these people are in the minority and often require more
> than 1 attempt to pass an exam because they are not prepared for
> ambiguity of Cisco's questions
> * People who study the material well and use TestKeys or equivalents to
> ensure that they pass. I, and many others, fall into this category and I
> would say this accounts for the majority of people in my experience. If
> I'm going for an interview, I can bet that the guy before me and the guy
> after will have used these aids so if that helps me get my foot in the
> door by making sure I'm as certified as I can be then I'll do it. What
> will hopefully separate me from the rest is the attention to detail I
> apply when I'm studying and the knowledge that I have acquired from
> on-the-job experience and from brushing up on all areas of networking,
> not just the ones required to study for an exam.
> Unfortunately, at this time it is very easy for someone with no Cisco
> knowledge or experience to pass a Cisco exam. At the end of the day it
> does come down to a moral choice. However, if you know the material and
> have spent 100+ hours studying then I would not consider using one of
> these aids cheating. Your extensive knowledge will shine through in an
> interview or on the job and that is far more important that having a
> piece of paper with pass marks on it.
> The only exception to all of the above is the practical element of the
> CCIE but even that does not guarantee greatness. Our last boss was a
> CCIE and he knew less than the guys in the NOC!!! What is important is
> that YOU know the material and YOU have the knowledge to succeed. If you
> can't beat them, join them.
> Steven
> Steven McCrory
> Senior Network Engineer
> Netservices PLC
> Waters Edge Business Park
> Modwen Road
> Manchester, M5 3EZ
> www.netservicesplc.com
> -----Original Message-----
> From: cisco-nsp-bounces at puck.nether.net
> [mailto:cisco-nsp-bounces at puck.nether.net] On Behalf Of Chris T
> Sent: 11 May 2009 22:17
> To: cisco-nsp at puck.nether.net
> Subject: [SPAM?] [c-nsp] Certification Ethics
> 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
> insight.
> 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.
> -Chris
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