Decoding Ambiguity

Cisco exams have a reputation for including questions that can be difficult to interpret, confusing, or ambiguous. In my experience with numerous exams, consider this reputation to be completely justified. The Cisco exams are deliberately tough.

The only way to beat Cisco at its own game is to be prepared. You'll discover that many exam questions test your knowledge of things that are not directly related to the issue that a question raises. This means that the answers you must choose from—even incorrect ones—are just as much a part of the skill assessment as the question itself. If you don't know something about most aspects of the CCIE Security written exam topics, you might not be able to eliminate obvious wrong answers. In other words, the more you know about Cisco IOS Software and securing Cisco internetworks, the easier it will be for you to tell a right answer from a wrong one.

Questions often give away their answers, but you have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the clues. Often, subtle hints appear in the question text in such a way that they seem almost irrelevant to the situation. You must realize that each question is a test unto itself, and you must inspect and successfully navigate each question to pass the exam. Look for small clues, such as access list modifications, problem isolation specifics (such as which layers of the OSI model are not functioning correctly), and invalid Cisco IOS commands. Little things like these can point to the right answer if properly understood; if missed, they can leave you facing a blind guess.

Another trick is to watch out for keywords, such as not or choose the best; these words will define the required answer. If you miss keywords, your answer will be correct in your mind but might not be the correct answer. Read questions out loud or write them down to ensure that you identify keywords and fully understand what the question is asking.

For questions requiring more than one answer, be sure to view how many answers are required and remove the obvious choices before making your selection. These questions are frequently ambiguous, and you need to be on your guard.

Another common difficulty with certification exams is vocabulary. Be sure to brush up on the key internetworking terms presented in this guide. You may also want to read through the Terms and Acronyms on the following Cisco.com web page:

http://www.cisco.com/univercd/cc/td/doc/cisintwk/ita/index.htm

The test questions appear in random order, and many elements or issues that receive mention in one question might also crop up in other questions. It is not uncommon to find that an incorrect answer to one question is the correct answer to another, or vice versa. Take the time to read every answer to each question, even if you recognize the correct answer to a question immediately.

Because you are taking a fixed-length test, you can revisit any question as many times as you like. If you are uncertain of the answer to a question, check the box that is provided to mark it for easy return later on. You should also mark questions you think might offer information that you can use to answer other questions. Candidates usually mark between 25 and 50 percent of the questions on exams. The testing software is designed to let you mark every question if you choose; use this framework to your advantage. Everything you want to see again should be marked; the testing software can help you return to marked questions quickly and easily. Be sure to check out the latest updates from Cisco, because policies like these can change; see the following URL for more details:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/learning/le3/ccie/announcements/index.html

The best method to pass any Cisco written exam is to take a three-phase approach. In your first pass, go through each question and answer the questions that you are confident you know and mark the remaining questions. After you complete the 100 questions, review all of your marked questions.

On your second pass, survey more thoroughly the questions that you marked and begin to answer them systematically and consistently. Try to eliminate the choices that are way off base and make an educated guess for the remaining choices. Continue to mark and ignore the questions for which you have no clue. On your third pass, attack the remaining questions; by then, you might be able to make a more educated guess based on clues in the context of other questions you already answered.

If you have time, you can go back and check all your answers. Experience has shown me that my first reaction to a question is typically the best choice unless I see a glaring mistake upon reexamination.

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