Cisco TSHOOT v2 (300-135)

My CCNP certification (Story here, if interested) was expiring at the end of June. I’d taken a number of professional and expert level exams at Cisco Live over the years, but hadn’t passed anything that would renew my CCNP. It was time for the (almost) sure thing. TSHOOT.

The TSHOOT exam is my favorite Cisco written exam because it is all hands on. You don’t actually configure anything; you are just looking and analyzing. This exam is unique in several ways, including:

  • The network topology is available for download.
  • You really can score 1000 (that’s a perfect score).
  • It’s actually fun.

The exam is set up as a series of trouble tickets in the topology mentioned above. There is a problem description and you have access to the consoles of simulated equipment to try and determine the cause. After you have investigated, you answer three questions to narrow down the cause and the solution, then you move on to the next ticket. If you know your stuff, it’s a pretty easy exam. That said, don’t get too comfortable. I started running out of time because I was taking too relaxed of an approach and ended up using almost the entire time to complete the exam.

If you’ve taken the previous version:

  • The topology is the same (as best I can tell)
  • The question style for the tickets is the same.
  • You are no longer allowed to abort a ticket. You must finish once started and you must answer in the order delivered.
  • The simple multiple choice questions are spread throughout the test instead of all being at the beginning.
  • The interface is different. There are no tabs for the tickets. You just click “next” when you are finished with your answers.

I’m pleased to report that I did pass and even had a perfect score. I’ve never done that before and I doubt I could do it on any of the conventional multiple choice exams, but it was satisfying to achieve on this one. With my CCNP R&S recertification complete, I can concentrate on other studies without worrying about it!

In case you are looking for study materials, you may want to investigate the CCNP Routing and Switching TSHOOT 300-135 Official Cert Guide Premium Edition eBook and Practice Test or the Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (TSHOOT) Foundation Learning Guide.


The Packet Pushers on CCNP (with me!)

The Packet Pushers wanted to record a podcast on the CCNP and as a recently certified CCNP, I was asked to join the show. I enjoyed the recording and I think we made a pretty good episode. If you are interested in the CCNP or want to hear me blow Jeremy Cioara’s paradigm and talk about a Cisco exam that is actually fun, check out Packet Pushers episode 114.

CCNP Journey Complete!


Finally, I am CCNP certified! Short time line:

6/28/10 CCNA Composite – Pass – Certified in CCNA
5/09/11 SWITCH – Pass
7/11/11 TSHOOT – Pass
6/10/12 ROUTE – Fail
6/28/12 ROUTE – Pass – Certified in CCNP


Studying for the CCNA was fun. I used the Cisco Press CCNA Official Exam Certification Library [current version is CCNA Routing and Switching 200-120 Official Cert Guide Library]. Studying for the CCNA filled in a lot of little gaps and I realized certification wasn’t just for your resume, but was also a valid path to develop your skills. I read through the books once before taking my first Cisco exam and passing.


I decided to continue on the CCNP path because everything else in networking builds on the R&S foundation. I began studying for the SWITCH exam because I felt I knew that topic better than ROUTE. I used the Cisco Press Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) Foundation Learning Guide [link to current version, not the older one I used], Boson NetSim, the Boson ExSim-Max practice tests, and using my new knowledge at work to study for this exam. The 642 level [these are now 300 level] exams are markedly harder. You really have to know a lot more depth than with the 640 level [now 100 and 200 level] exams. I figured this out when I took my first practice test. I started to actually study the material instead of just read the material. Then I passed my practice tests, followed by the real exam.


My original plan was to take the ROUTE test at Cisco Live 2 months later, but I really wasn’t prepared for the exam and decided that I was more prepared for the TSHOOT exam. I read a little of the Cisco Press TSHOOT book, which I won from a contest on Twitter and took as a hint, took a couple Boson TSHOOT practice tests and studied the topology diagram for the exam which Cisco provides. This exam is a lot of fun, as it’s really hands-on troubleshooting. I felt good after doing well on this exam.


Then came the one I’d been putting off. The topology of the networks that I’ve worked with the most have been relatively simple. Hub and spoke, lots of L2 links, not much L3. No backup links. No site-to-site VPNs. Lots of very dated design (which I’ve been working to correct). Very flat L2 designs. The IGP is EIGRP and there’s not much going on there. This was my weak area and required the most study. I read most of both the Cisco Press ROUTE exam books, watched the Cisco Press ROUTE video mentor on Safari, and watched (though not as carefully as I should have) the INE ROUTE video series. I also tried to use as much of what I was learning as I could at work (which is also sort of the whole point of the exercise, really).

BGP was not a problem, as I use that often enough that I’m pretty comfortable with it. EIGRP is pretty straight forward for the most part and I’d been running that for quite a while. This exam is heavy on OSPF and I hadn’t really done a lot with it, so I had a lot that I needed to learn. My study for this over about a year was kind of bursty and there was a lot of two steps forward and one step back action as I wasn’t studying consistently.

Cisco Live finally rolled around again and it was time to take an exam. I considered taking something else, but decided I really needed to just go for ROUTE. By the time test day came, I had taken the Boson practice tests, knew where my weak areas were, and had concentrated on them. I felt confident going into the exam. I was answering the questions and knew most of the answers. Then I got tunnel vision on a sim… I was certain it wasn’t working because either the sim was broken (ha!) or I had configured it wrong. I couldn’t figure out what I’d missed because I was focussed on the wrong component. I spent way too much time on it. I knew I was spending way too much time on it. Yet, I didn’t give up until I only had 15 minutes left with half the test to go. I answered questions as quickly as possible, but ran out of time with 10 questions left and failed. I’m fairly certain I would have passed if I had given up on the sim earlier and had been able to complete all the questions.

This was a reminder. Don’t waste your time on a question you aren’t going to get. You can’t come back to it, but it’s better to get the points for the rest of the questions than lose them because you couldn’t let go. This same lesson applies in the office. You have to know when to let go of a problem and bring in help. It’s hard to let go of a problem when you think you’re about to crack it, but sometimes you just have to move on and get other things done.

I regrouped, considered that failure a recon mission, and scheduled an exam for a couple weeks later. This time I knew exactly what I needed to study. I also figured out the sim that deadlocked me. It was an annoyingly simple thing I’d overlooked. There are some things that are permanently etched in your brain. That is one of mine. Despite the annoyance of having the exam system crash 3 times during the exam due to some sort of server problem, I zipped through the exam and passed.


It was good to pass and finally achieve the certification. Taking exams that are components of a certification isn’t quite as rewarding as the final exam that earns it. I was really tired of studying routing. That said, I recently ran into a situation where EIGRP wasn’t doing what I expected and it was satisfying to immediately identify exactly why and how to fix it.

Now What?

Many have asked if I am going to go for CCIE. Not right now. I want to go broad before I go deeper. Right now I am studying for the DESGN exam for CCDA. I will probably follow that with the IUWNE exam for CCNA Wireless. I believe I can pass both of those without much study. I will probably then do the ARCH exam for CCDP and perhaps follow that with the IINS exam for CCNA Security. Once I have those done, I’d like to go for CCNP Wireless.  I don’t have any immediate plans for the Voice or SP tracks, but priorities sometimes change. If I actually get all that done, I’ll have to choose a major and decide between CCIE R&S or CCIE Wireless.


CCNP SWITCH Study Materials

There’s a ton of materials out there to help you study for Cisco exams. I just finished spending several months studying for the SWITCH exam and spending a lot of time with the Cisco Press materials. I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the materials available.

The first book I started studying was the CCNP SWITCH 642-813 OCG [current version is CCNP Routing and Switching SWITCH 300-115 Official Cert Guide Premium Edition eBook and Practice Test] from Cisco Press. The current editions of this book do not include the test material covering planning, syslog, SNMPv3, or ip sla. These are included as downloads on the web site, so make sure you grab the addendum for chapter 1 and appendix B from the book’s web page. These downloads cover those topics. This book is a fairly technical explanation of all the topics. It’s a pretty dry read and while it can be useful, I don’t think it covers the topics in a way that left me understanding them as well as I could have.

I then read through the CCNP SWITCH 642-813 Quick Reference [current version is CCNP Routing and Switching SWITCH 300-115 Quick Reference]. This eBook is laid out to be nicely printable or viewable on a screen (an iPad works well). This is a reference guide to the various topics you need to know. Particularly good for memorizing the details of how the various flavors of STP and FHRP’s differ and other memorization bits like that.

After I had gone through these, I started using the Boson NetSim product to practice a few things for which my lab at work was not equipped and which GNS3 can’t do (at least not well). I also used the Boson ExSim Max practice tests to get a feel for the types of questions I would see on the test and to find areas where I needed work. The first practice test was an eye opener and I decided to hit the books again.

This time I decided to read the Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) FLG [current version is Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) Foundation Learning Guide]. I like this book a lot more than the official cert guide. I found it more interesting because it does a better job of helping you understand when to use the various technologies and their purpose. It’s a bit more scenario focussed, as opposed to just telling you the facts. That said, I’m not sure I would have gotten as much out of this one if I had started with it. It’s entirely possibly (if not probable) that there was benefit in reading the different explanations of the same topics in order to really internalize them.

Check the errata on both of the study guides. Both books have errors in them, most are not a big deal, but definitely worth checking. I did not use the practice tests these books come with, as I had digital copies of them and they do not include the CD content. By the way, I recommend checking out the eBook Deal of the Week at the Cisco Press site. These books regularly show up there.

There are CCNP study forums on the Cisco Learning Network. The forums aren’t really my style and I don’t use them much. That said, it is sometimes worthwhile to do a search on a given topic there if something isn’t making sense. It’s also a good place to have questions about the exam answered.

If I had not had the Boson practice exams, I would have failed the first time I took this exam. I credit Boson with helping me pass this on the first try and I would recommend their products to anyone who wasn’t completely sure of their knowledge.

The best part about passing this is now I can quit reading about STP. I can’t tell you how tired I am of STP. I’m ready to move on to routing!

[Since originally writing this post, I’ve found a good comparison of OCG vs FLG is over at CCNP ROUTE: Official Study Guide or Foundation Learning Guide? His comments regarding the ROUTE books are equally applicable to the SWITCH books.]