Oh Yeah – the New Books are Out, Too!
I’ve been blogging about the Cisco’s exam announcements for a month now, since Cisco released the information March 26th. I’m wrapping up the posts specific to the announcements before moving back to focus on the content in the exams. You can find links to all those posts at the bottom of this main post.
Those posts mention the new books, but only in passing. Today’s post finally discusses the books as an end to themselves. No surprise, I created new editions of the best-selling authorized cert guides for the CCENT and CCNA certs. This post breaks down what’s new about the books, beyond just the obvious addition of new material on new topics that Cisco added to the exams.
Fun Things First: ICND1 Really Does Exist on Paper
I got my first copy of the new ICND1 Official Cert Guide this past Tuesday. Hooray! A small bit of excitement at the Odom household, and proof that the in-stock date for the publisher, of April 26th, was in good shape.
The inside is of course what matters, so on with the inside… Here are the links to the book pages at my web site, so you can find them easily!
Stronger Review Features
With the sheer volume of topics and terms, I’ve added some features to help people review. No one can read these books once through and go pass, unless they have a fantastic memory and they are pretty darn smart. Us mere mortals will need to review, practice, uncover weak spots, dig deeper, and so on. The new books help in a couple of ways.
First, the books organize the topics into book parts, with related chapters in each part. Technically, that’s not new. The new feature: each part ends with a “Part Review”. That part review lists some exercises to remind you to stop and review the topics you have read so far. For perspective, Figure 1 shows a list of the seven parts from the ICND1 book.
Figure 1: Parts in the ICND1 Book, with Part Review
Each of the books begins with a “Getting Started” introductory section that spells out how to best use all the review features in the book. Just as with the previous edition, each Chapter ends with review tasks. These new editions add the Part Review topics with review tasks.
Mind Maps for Review
Have you ever taken a test, and you know that deep down you really know what you need to know to answer a question – but you just can’t remember it? It’s on the “tip of your tongue”? What causes that? Simply put, your brain needs better and more connectors between the facts. To be ready for exams, you need to study in ways that build those connectors, and reading does not always build the connectors. The process of thinking about what you already read does build those connectors.
Mind maps help people build connectors between information in the brain.
The part reviews include some mind map activities. A mind map helps you visually organize data, which in turn causes your brain to create more connectors. You can do a mind map exercise with pencil and paper, or use apps on your phone, tablet, or PC. However, whether you go low-tech or high-tech with the tool, the point is to think. Mind map exercises help you stop, think, and organize information, instead of pushing ahead with more reading right away.
I hope you find those exercises in the book useful! For perspective, here’s an excerpt from the solution to a mind map exercise from the ICND2 book:
Figure 2: Excerpt from ICND2, Part 5 Review Mind Map
The Best and Most Challenging Questions – Again – and More of Them
The questions that come with the ICND1 and ICND2 Official Cert Guides have long had a reputation for being great study questions. If you took all the online comments over the years, particularly those at the Cisco Learning Network, the comments are generally very positive. The negative comments usually refer to the questions actually being harder than the actual exam (a fact that helps you prepare). Also, people refer to these questions as “the Boson questions with the book”, because in many older editions, the testing software came from Boson Software (www.boson.com). (The questions weren’t actually from Boson, by the way.)
The exam banks for the new editions are based on those excellent exam banks from the old editions. The new editions, like the most recent editions from the year 2011, use exam software created by the publisher, called PCPT. We of course removed questions that covered topics removed from the new exams, and added questions on the new topics added to the exams.
Beyond those more obvious changes, we also increased the literal number of questions you get when you buy the print book is more than before.
We also set aside a new exam bank for Part Review questions as part of the effort to improve the review features in the book. Now, the print book includes: two ICND1 exams, two CCNA exams, all the DIKTA questions, plus a Part Review exam bank. Figure 3 shows the breakdown.
Figure 3: Exam Banks Included with the Print ICND1 Official Cert Guide
If you follow the instructions inside the book, you will use the two gray exams during review, and save the blue exams for late-term study as timed practice exams. The Part Review questions, on average, are some of the hardest questions of all. We tried to remove some of the longer questions from the existing question banks to the Part Review, because those give you a good chance to think through the topics deeply. Then, for the timed exam events, the question mix should better match the typical questions you would see on the exam.
While on the subject of the questions: be careful if you want to use eBooks, and eBooks only. As I mentioned in two other blog posts, if you buy your eBook from the publisher, you get the “Premium Edition” eBook, which has the above exam banks, plus more exam banks. However, as detailed in this post, when you purchase these books as eBooks from other sellers, you simply do not get any of the practice tests today. (I hope that will change.) I mention it so that if you go eBook only, consider where you buy if the practice exams matter to you.
IPv6 Gets a Whole New Life
For these new books, I had a couple of motivations to completely re-write the IPv6 coverage. First, IPv6 used to only be in the ICND2 side of the equation. Now it’s in ICND1, so I wanted to change the style a bit. Second, I had revised all the IPv4 addressing coverage for a new edition of these books back in 2011, and those chapters were well received. So, I wanted to revise IPv6 in a similar way. And oh, by the way – the new exams cover many more IPv6 topics now.
Fast forward to today: the ICND1 book has five chapters on various IPv6 topics, while the ICND2 book has three chapters.
If you’re tempted to take a nap just based on the section heading, just indulge me a moment – you made it this far already! 😉
I improved the books for visual learners by adding and improving figures. There are more figures per page than before. The new figures often go to the core of the concept, to help make those key ideas come out. For instance, when a figure supports a discussion of the hosts in one subnet, the figure draws your attention to that one subnet visually.
Color for the eBooks! If you get the eBook, and use it on a color device, the figures are in color. And it’s not just grayscale vs. black! (By the way, the Academic edition of the books, meant for use in classrooms, will be a 4-color printed version.) As an example, here’s an image from the color PDF of the ICND1 book:
Figure 4: A Sample Page from ICND2 Chapter 6
Hopefully, the additional number of figures will help improve the flow and clarity.
All Examples Updated for Latest IOS
Cisco announced the previous exams (ICND1 640-822, ICND2 640-816, and CCNA 640-802) back in July 2007. With this latest announcement in March 2013, five and a half years had passed between changes to these exams – easily the longest stretch between a rev of these exams.
To be clear: Cisco does not tie these exams to a particular model of router or switch, or a particular version of software. Cisco avoids asking questions that would require knowledge of version or model differences. That said, when you write a course, a book, or record a video, you have to pick a software version. One advantage of writing the authorized study guides is a little better insight into good software versions to use.
Focusing on routers for a moment, the books jumped three IOS version levels from the 2007 edition to these new books in 2013. The old books’ examples used a mainline version of IOS 12.4. That is, it was 12.4, not 12.4T. The new books use 15.2M. If you’re just starting out, that’s probably meaningless, but the most straightforward sequence for comparison for major versions during this time is: 12.4 to 15.0 to 15.1 to 15.2.
The majority of show command output changed in some way during those three major versions. Most changes were minor enough so that the difference truly does not matter, for learning or for real life. Most notably, the show ip route command now lists a local route associated with every router interface’s specific IPv4 address. Regardless, because so many show commands have minor differences, I updated all the examples in the books so that the output uses these more recent software versions. (It wasn’t quite as laborious as it sounds.)