Decision Point: Try to Pass Old or New CCNA Exams?
You were cruising along studying for CCNA R&S, and now Cisco pulled the rug out from under you. Or did they? Navigating a change in a Cisco exam mid-study does take some thought, but it can be managed, and many people do. This post spells out the main choices and some of the reasons why you personally might lean one direction or the other with your choice of how to proceed.
What this Post is about: The Decision
You need to pick a plan. First, if you had already planned to take the two-exam path to CCNA R&S, here are your primary options:
- Plan now to pass new exams only
- Plan now to pass old ICND1, new ICND2
- Plan now to pass old ICND1, old ICND2
- Plan now to pass old ICND1 and re-evaluate ICND2 plan later
If you had planned to take the one-exam path by taking the CCNA 200-120 exam, you have basically two obvious options: take the old, or take the new.
The Basics: Exam Expirations
The timing has a lot to do with your decision. Here are the dates per Cisco’s web site:
- August 20th, 2016: Last day to take old ICND1 100-101
- August 20th, 2016: Last day to take old CCNA 200-120
- September 24th, 2016: Last day to take old ICND2 200-101
You probably noticed that taking the two exam path gets you 5 more weeks to pass with the old exams, so that may impact your choice about the one-exam versus two-exam path as well.
The Main Decision Point: Can You Pass in Time?
The single biggest criteria to consider is whether you think you can pass by the dates just listed. You get the same certification whether you pass with the old or new exams (or a combination). So how long will it take?
So, take 10 minutes and look at what’s left in front of you. What are your realistic chances of passing in time?
Then think of some major milestones in your study. For instance, in my books, I collect chapters into groups called Parts, with review activities at the end of each Part. If you are using my books, when would you need to complete reading each Part, and then begin your final review, in order to make the date on which you’d like to take your first ICND1 100-101 exam attempt? Now think about the study effort for each book Part. Is that reasonable given your current pace?
This one answer to the question of whether you even could pass the old exams is the real starting point, and tells you what is possible. The rest of this post now gives you some ideas to think about to round out your decision.
And because the choice is impacted in part based on how far along you are in your study, think about where you are in you progress, and weigh in on on or the other of the polls below. One is for people at least 50% done with study, the other for those at less than 50%.
How to Move Faster and Not Trip on Exam Day
There are ways to move faster so you can pass more quickly, but there are dangers as well. Here are some thoughts that may help:
- If you can afford it, buy some speed by planning to take the exam as soon as you think you have some chance of passing, rather than waiting until you are 100% confident that you would pass. It’s your money, not mine, so I understand if spending more $ is not in the cards. But as soon as you have learned enough so you think you might be able to pass, take the exam. You may pass. If not, the experience will increase your chances of passing next time.
- If you take the exam and fail, fail forward. Take notes IMMEDIATELY after the exam, notes about what you were confused about on the exam. Before you take it next time, be ready to answer questions about those things that confused you last time. That may be your most productive time spent in exam preparation.
- Do NOT speed up by skipping your chapter ending and part ending review and study sessions. The books have strong study sections at the ends of the chapters and parts on purpose. (The new books have put a lot of those online, with some apps as well.) Your study time should not be about just completing reading a chapter, but about digesting the material, and those reviews are important.
- If you expect to take the exam a little before you are ready, you may feel some tension about what to study the last days before taking that exam. I’d suggest spending more time mastering the more important topics, particularly hands-on topics, over reading about every nook and cranny of the wide range of topics. For example, in my books, any configuration topic that was large enough to warrant a configuration checklist (a list of config steps) is worth mastering rather than having a lower level of confidence.
- Spend your idle time reviewing rather than doing non-productive activities. For instance, the Config Labs in my blogs are built as 5-10 minute exercises that you can do in your spare time. Use those spare moments to do some labs.
- Studying more hours per week obviously helps, but doing so can increase your efficiency. Ever sit down to study and realize you forgot a lot of what you learned just the last few study sessions? Compressing your study into less days in the calendar, for most people, will increase the efficiency of the time spent. You end up spending less time getting back into the topic, and you generally remember the info from the last few sessions better as well.
- Doing something daily can make you more efficient as well. For instance, if before you spent time studying 2 or 3 days a week, but nothing on the other days, do 15 minutes on the off days. Do nothing but the chapter and part review work from the earlier chapters on those days, to drill those concepts. For example, crank up the PCPT exam software and answer Part Review questions from the previous part.
No Matter Which Exams, you Get the Same Certification, but…
No matter whether you take the old, or the new, it’s the same certification. So from what’s on the paperwork, and what you can claim in words on your resume’, there is no difference in passing the old or new exams.
However, the new exam content is significant, both in volume and in impact in the world. Networking is changing. Some of the new exam content relates to these changes, like cloud computing and SDN. Some of the content changes are more mainstream, like LAN design, more IPv6, switch aggregation tools, and QoS, but they still bring CCNA much more in line with that many enterprises do today.
So, another factor to consider in your decision is this: there’s always the chance that the interviewing manager wants to ask you about these newer and more relevant technologies that Cisco happened to add to the new exams. As one of your criteria, ask yourself if it’s worth it to you to add the extra study time to learn the new topics so you can pass the new exams.
A Reasonable Short-Term (May/June/July 2016) Plan
If you are studying for the two exam path, and you are still working on ICND1, you can take a pragmatic approach and just keep studying. Here’s why: As noted in the two posts about the new ICND1 exam content (here and here), basically the new ICND1 is a superset of the old ICND1, other than a few small exceptions. Translated:
Almost anything you study about the old ICND1 will be good to know for the new ICND1.
So, here’s a plan that could work without wasting study time:
- Keep studying for the old ICND1.
- When you are getting close to being ready for the old ICND1 exam, re-evaluate your plan, and decide whether to take the old ICND1 or switch to the new ICND1.
On the flip side, if you’re working on the old ICND2, you may waste time studying old topics if you keep studying for the old exam. So, you may want to choose earlier whether you want to pursue the old or new ICND2. The waste happens from three main topics: Frame Relay, VRRP, and GLBP. That is, if you learn those for the old ICND2, and then do not pass in time, you will have wasted that particular study time. Not a huge deal, but just another thing to consider.
Long-range Plan Filters Your Decision
Do you have a long-term career development plan? That’s a great filter to think about when making your tactical plan about the new vs old exam choice.
Your career development plan should tell you what is important to you. It should help you get a sense for how important CCNA R&S is in your long-term plan, and whether you need to clear the decks and wrap up CCENT/CCNA, or whether you need to get into the new material in ICND2 and understand those topics as well.
For instance, your plan probably tells you what you had planned for other certifications. Well, based on three different flavors of long-term plans, here are some thoughts:
- If you plan to go deep in Route/Switch (that is, your next step is CCNP R&S), I’d be more inclined to say to complete the new exams, or at use the new ICND2. For the first time in a while, the new CCNA R&S content is partly about new and exciting emerging technologies. Those will serve you well as you get deeper and deeper into R&S topics.
- If you plan to go wide in Cisco certifications (for instance, to CCNA security or wireless), I’d say your plan does not really push you towards the old exams or new exams. I’d leave your choice to other considerations.
- If you plan to wide wide as more of a full-stack engineer, learning programming (maybe for automation), virtualization, Linux, as well as networking, I’d recommend at least using the new ICND2 exam along the way. Those related new ICND2 exam topics will help give you a perspective on some of Cisco’s work in that area.
As long as you are thinking about it: how far do you plan to go in routing and switching before cutting over to another topic?
Old ICND1 + New ICND2 is a Reasonable Plan this Time
Looking back at old blogs, when Cisco announced CCNA exam changes in 2013, the plan to pass the old ICND1 and then the new ICND2 wasn’t really all that great a plan. (That is, at least in my own opinion.) This time around, that’s a reasonably good plan – not perfect, but reasonable.
Clearly from Cisco’s web site, you can pass the old ICND1 exam and the new ICND2 exam to receive a CCNA R&S certification. The issue is not whether you can use the old ICND1 and new ICND2, but whether that makes sense. The few issues arguing against this plan (and pushing towards either an all-old or all-new strategy) are:
If you take the old ICND1 plus new ICND2 path, you miss out on the device management topics. These topics were in the old ICND2 exam, and we moved to the new ICND1 exam, with some new related topics added. If you take this path, make yourself learn about device management, like how to backup and restore configurations and IOS images You really do not want to go on a job interview without knowing those fundamentals, so learn them regardless.
ICND2 has always been dependent on some prior knowledge from ICND1. It’s possible that by taking the new ICND2 after the old ICND1 you may have missed something in your learning that you needed to answer a new ICND2 question. In short, it’s just a neater path to study for either both the old exams or for both the new exams.
As is often the case, it’s that center choice that creates a challenge.
If you know you want to pursue the new exams, start now. Most of the material in your current study guides are good for the new exam; just ignore Frame Relay, VRRP, and GLBP as the big items. The new CCENT/CCNA CND1 100-105 Cert Guide was sitting the warehouse waiting for announcement day, and is shipping now. (ICND2 is due early July and on track for that date.)
If you know you want to pursue the old, stop reading this post and get busy! Simple enough. Seriously, though, if that is your plan but you already feel the time crunch, take a few moments to think about how to make your study time more effective so as to move up the actual pass date, as mentioned earlier in this post.
Finally, if you are in between the two, and if you’re studying ICND1 topics, I’d say keep studying for several more weeks and re-evaluate when you get to the end of your ICND1 study. I’d say around July 1st. That’s probably a reasonably good date by which to reconsider and make the harder decisions about how to proceed.