Are You Ready? Config Speed
Our recent survey asks for your #1 way to know you’re ready for the #CCENT or #CCNA exams. Surprising to me at least was that 1/6th of the responders (so far) list configuration speed as their #1 reason. Some of you may have mentally listed it as your #2 or #3 reason as well. Regardless of whether you think configuration speed is #1 or not, your speed with configuration does impact your readiness for the exam. Today’s post explores the configuration speed angle on the big question: Are you ready for the exam?
Challenges with Sim Questions
Sim questions can scare people a little. Although many different types of questions require you to think about configuration, the most obvious type that requires config skills are Simulation (Sim) questions. We’ll start by thinking about these questions.
Sim questions can be intimidating, and for several reasons. First, they simply take more time; in my estimation, a well-prepared CCNA candidate will take 7-8 minutes on average for a Sim question. On a timed exam, where multiple-choice questions probably require just over a minute, a 7.5 minute question can be a bit discouraging.
Additionally, people often do not want to move on from a Sim question. Cisco exams do not allow you to go back to earlier questions. People guess that Cisco gives more points for Sim questions, so they do not want to leave a Sim question until they know it is correct. So, not only do these questions take time, any lack of confidence can cause a tough choice on exam day: move on from a Sim question to avoid running out of time, or spend more time on the current Sim question to avoid losing those extra points.
What Happens When You Think about a Sim Question?
Sim questions, by their very nature, require you to change the configuration. The question begins with either an incomplete or incorrect configuration, and you have to complete or fix the configuration.
Mentally, Sim questions require you to remember how to configure some router or switch features, compare those to the existing configuration, and decide what needs to change. You can also look at various show commands to get clues as well.
Some people spend time doing other show commands to try and figure out the problem. For instance, you might use the show ip route command, notice some missing routes, and try and decide what might cause the routes that should be there to not be there. Eventually, that logic moves back around to missing or incorrect config. So even if you gather some clues with other show commands, you will eventually do show running-config commands, and compare that to what you mentally develop as the “right” config for the scenario.
Breaking Down the Config Skills You Need to Be Ready
So what do you need to be ready to do on the exam to do well at these Sim questions? I think it breaks down into three areas that let you focus your practice and better answer the question: Are Your Ready?
- Doing: using the CLI processes (not just reading about it)
- Remembering: recalling all the generic commands and parameters in the configuration checklists
- Applying: choosing the correct command parameter values based on the scenario
1) Practice the Process
First, you need muscle memory with the skills. If you’ve started using the CLI, you know that you were slow to start, which is normal. At some point, you get faster. Assuming you have access to a Simulator, or real gear, or something with which you can practice all you want to practice, you really need to practice the process.
Your goal? To go as fast as you can type. In other words, your speed is not slowed down at all by your thinking about the next process step, but instead your speed is just based on how quickly you type and click.
For instance, sitting outside the CLI of a given router, with a 3 router pod, how long does it take you to do the following: login to each and list the routing protocol configuration in the running config file? It’s simple to do, and one of the first things you learn. But you ought to be moving fast doing these simple tasks.
2) Remembering All the Config Commands for a Topic
Next, you ought to be able to remember all the commands, and the key parameters of those commands, for each configuration topic. Even if you cannot recite the exact syntax, you should be able to remember what facts are configured with a command. For instance, with OSPF, you should remember:
Router ospf process-id Network z.z.z.z m.m.m.m area area_no Router-id z.z.z.z ip ospf hello-interval x ip ospf dead-interval y ip ospf cost z bandwidth x auto-cost reference-bandwidth value
Seems simple enough, but as a matter of practice before the exam, make a list of every configuration topic, and then write down all the commands you can recall, per topic. Note the ones you had to go look up in the book. Then rinse/repeat until you can recite them all. When you can sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and write down all the commands, and the key parameters, I’d say you’re ready, at least for this aspect of the questions.
3) Applying: Choosing the Specific Parameters for a Given Scenario
The first two steps get you to the right command, and quickly. You can mentally review the list of related commands, compare that to the configured commands, and start looking for problems. If the problem is caused by an entirely missing command, great, the information in your command checklists at step 2 may do the trick. However, the problem may be caused by a specific parameter in a command – so you need to know those as well.
To prepare here, you need to be ready to choose the right parameters on a given generic command, but in the context of a scenario. So, how do you get those skills?
- Read the books. The books are full of such examples, so you learn while you read.
- Do the labs in the Simulator, or whatever you use for lab work.
- Do the labs here in the blog, particularly the Config Museum labs.
How do you know you’re ready with these details? When you start to get a little bored with the lab exercises. Look at the Config Museum labs, for instance (for ICND1/CCENT, and for ICND2/CCNA). I keep adding these to the blog as more practice to give you repetition with exactly this last point: choosing the parameters on config commands. If you read these labs, and keep saying to yourself “yeah, know that, know that, yeah, too easy, know that too”, then I think you have it with this part of the breakdown – just make sure you know the command lists mentioned back in #2.