[c-nsp] Certification Ethics

Justin Shore justin at justinshore.com
Tue May 12 19:32:49 EDT 2009

My reply looks to be about as long as your initial question!

Chris T wrote:
> 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.

Yes and no.  It depends on your perspective.  In my opinion you need to 
change your perspective and view this in a different light.

> -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?

I agree with William's estimate.  I spend approximately 50 hours 
specifically studying for any given test.  Most of the knowledge simply 
comes from doing the work at work.  Studying is just to fill in the gaps 
between what I'm already doing and what I'm about to be tested over.

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

Books.  Lots of books.  Lab hardware.  Lots of lab hardware.  C-NSP 
archives are very helpful too.  I have a huge library of Cisco Press 
books.  Add in all the other book publishers and I have a mini LoC in my 
house.  Hands on with actual hardware is required quite frankly for any 
higher-end test.  You're not going to get a good understanding for 
something unless you actually do it in person first.

To answer your real question about whether using the study guides is 
"cheating" or not, I'll answer it this way:  it depends on how you use 
the study guides.  If you only use the study guides to bone up on the 
questions and answers in the days leading to your actual exam then yes, 
quite frankly you're cheating yourself, others competing against you in 
the industry and whomever employees you.  That's purely memorization, 
not learning.

However that doesn't mean that the study guides themselves are a bad 
thing.  They're actually quite useful.  Let's use you as an example. 
You own the books.  You own lab hardware.  You've been studying with 
both for a lengthy period of time.  You know the core components of what 
the test is about.  A few weeks before the test you review a study guide 
to check your progress and see how well you're doing in your studies. 
As it turns out the study guide asks you about several things you simply 
didn't study or didn't study hard enough.  Perhaps you didn't delve deep 
enough into the nitty gritty of IPv6 and multicast.  You also didn't do 
so good on the BGP section.  Based on that knowledge you go back and 
focus in on that material in your books and lab.  In this case you've 
used the study guide material as an actual study guide, not as a cheat 
sheet.  I see absolutely nothing wrong with using study material in this 
fashion, to study.  It's only logical.  You're not memorizing the study 
guide as a way to skimp out on your actual studies.  You're using it as 
a reference to tell you what you need to study.  It's like using the 
Cliff Notes of Beowulf as a study guide.  Sure you read Beowulf but 
maybe you missed the subtle meaning of the symbolism used in one of the 
chapters.  Thanks to the Cliff Notes you can see what you missed and 
then re-read the chapter thus learning the material.  And perhaps you 
read the book but didn't take away from it all of the funky tidbits that 
you get tested over.  The Cliff Notes point you back in the right 
direction and help you figure out what you need to learn.  That's not 

Along that same line of thinking, the study guides will also help you 
learn how to answer questions the "Cisco way".  I think we can all agree 
that the actual Cisco tests are less based on what you're run into in 
real life and more based on what Cisco wants you to know and how they 
want you to know it.  I recently took a Cisco QoS class.  One of the 
first things the instructor did was identify who was taking the class 
for future testing purposes and who wasn't.  Then during the class the 
instructor made a point to highlight topics that on the test the 
question should be answered this way but for the rest of us working in 
the real world the actual solution would be this.  If all you studied 
was the book and it didn't have the official Cisco answers then on these 
types of questions you'd get the question wrong even though you're 
technically right.  This is another reason why the study guides are useful.

It all boils down to this:  if your intent is to use the study guides to 
quickly memorize the material for just long enough to pass the test 
cheat then yes, you're cheating.  However if your intent is to use the 
study guides as a supplement to you actual studies then no you are not 
cheating.  So in your case I would say that you're not cheating.  You're 
just using study material for what it's intended to be used for.


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