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 PacketLife.net: CCNP ROUTE: Official Study Guide or Foundation Learning Guide? His comments regarding the ROUTE books are equally applicable to the SWITCH books.]