After a week of reading, taking notes, lab work, I wrote the cisco academy exams and hands-on skills, followed by the CCNP ISCW cert exam. I've been doing these certifications and exams for quite a long time now and thought while sitting here at the Calgary airport I may as well jot down a few observations and thoughts I've been mulling around as a result.
I just took a look at a mock testing exam someone sent my way from Pass4Sure. Having just written the ISCW I was able to note that almost every question on this mock test was identical to what was on the certification. I was amazed! Someone, I think from China judging by the language on parts of the screenshots, had actually screen captured all the exam questions including parts of the testlets. I went through the exam to see how their answers matched to mine, and noticed a couple of the testlets were way off, but for the most part, the answers were fairly accurate. So, what does this mean? Well for starters, it definitely lowers the credibility of the cisco exams at the CCNA & CCNP level. The CCIE still holds its value due to the lab exam, but the written only parts for the rest of the cert exams have now been relegated to nothing more than a formality.
Although the cheat exams are not a new concern, I really haven't spent a any time thinking or caring about it until recently. As an instructor at a cisco academy, I think certificates and diplomas from accredited cisco academies are now almost a must have for students without previous networking experience. I believe this provides an employer with some substantiation as to the credibility of the certification designation for a potential employee. Obviously, if you have 5+ years of experience in the networking field, that will speak for itself, but for younger up and coming network engineers, the lab work and hands-on skill testing at an academy is invaluable. I discussed this point with a colleague who mentioned that in his CCNP classes, it is often painfully obvious the difference between students that obtained their CCNA after going through an academy program and those that followed a quick and easy do-it-yourself approach. Now this by no means means that you can't do it at home if you are a motivated individual with a good study plan and access to the hardware, but at the intro level this doesn't seem to be the norm.
So, lets focus on this for a moment. Most academies that I have talked weight their hands on skills much more heavily than the chapter and final assessments that are part of the cisco academy. As instructors, we are all aware that these assessments are readily available on the Internet if you know where to search, so we have to find ways of assessing the true knowledge of our students. Hence why we turn to hands-on practical scenarios that test concepts as opposed to the silly process of memorizing the default options or menu items in the cisco graphical configuration manager. I found the ISCW exam to be riddled with very questionable pedagogical value. If cisco do not improve this, then their certifications will, and some would argue already have, relegate their intro and intermediate certifications to a laughing stock.
Now please don't confuse what I think about the cert exam questions with the material and skills you are expected to learn and master as part of the requirement for a cert such as the CCNP/CCVP. My issue and opinion is that the cert exams do not fairly assess proficiency. I have studied much of the CCNP curriculum backwards and forwards from having to teach it, but when I come out of the cert exams I almost feel ripped off in how little opportunity I had to demonstrate my grasp of the material.
I'm sure cisco have recognized these issues and are working on solutions, but here is my 2c. DYNAMIPS! Building on the fact that the testlets appeared to be where the Pass4Sure exam was weakest, more simulation certainly appears to be attractive. I must also confess that I enjoyed the testlets. Granted they were fairly simple for the most part, but they were the questions I felt assessed my skills more fairly. The config type questions were probably the next best, but I think simulations could achieve the same assessment objective. So why not shorten the written section to about 20 or 30 GOOD individual questions or ones based on testlets/scenarios, and then tack on a 2/3 hour practical simulation? I realize the marking now becomes an issue, but I'm sure an assessment tool, similar to an improved version of what is available in packet tracer, could be developed. I suppose some would argue that this would increase the cost, but then and again my daughter's Royal Conservatory Grade 1 Music theory exam cost about $125 and that is manually marked! However, more importantly, I believe this would dramatically improve the credibility of the cert exams. Look at the respect the CCIE still garners! Although it is partly due to the shear quantity of knowledge and understanding one has to attain, I believe the prestige still comes from the fact that you have had to demonstrate your skills in a complex and challenging proctored hands-on skills assessment.
Well the plane is about to board so I'll end it there. Certainly some food for thought.