CCSP Exam Insights

CCSP Exam Insights

Once you have prepared for your exam, you need to register with a testing center. Each computer-based CCSP exam costs $125 (North America), and if you don’t pass, you may retest for an additional $125 for each try. In the United States and Canada, tests are administered by Prometric Testing Centers.

You can sign up for a test through Prometric’s web site at, or you can register by phone at 800-204-EXAM (within the United States or Canada). The web site will not allow you to schedule exams within 48 hours, so use the phone registration for shorter scheduling intervals. It is possible in some markets to take tests on the same day. Be prepared to wait through voice messages.

To sign up for a test, you will need a valid credit card.

To schedule an exam, call the toll-free number or visit the web page at least one day in advance. Before booking the exam make sure that you understand the cancellation process and deadlines, currently before 7 P.M. Central Standard Time the day before the scheduled test time (or you will be charged, even if you don’t appear to take the test).

When you want to schedule a test, have the following information ready:

  • Exam number and title

  • Your name–Exactly the way that you want it to appear on your certificate.

  • Your social security, social insurance, or Prometric number (SP)

  • A method of payment–Credit card

  • Contact telephone numbers–In case of a problem so they can reach you.

  • Mailing address–Where you want your certificate mailed.

  • Email address–For contact purposes. You will get a confirmation via e-mail.

Once you sign up for a test, you will be informed as to when and where the test is scheduled. Try to arrive at least 15 minutes early–personally, due to traffic congestion, I tell students to show up an hour early. You can always relax and review your notes. I’ve sat in exams next to students who have showed up late for whatever reason. They seem miserable and I suspect the stress and tension will be reflected in their score.

Photo ID

You will need to bring two forms of identification to the testing site. One form must be a photo ID such as a driver’s license or a valid passport. The other must have a signature. The test cannot be taken without the proper identification.

Gum, Candy, and Cough Drops

Do yourself a favor and bring something with you. It can always just sit there ignored. But the last thing you want is a dry throat or coughing to disrupt your testing and the silence for your peers.

The Exam Process

When you show up at the testing center, you will need to sign in with an exam coordinator. He or she will ask you to show the two forms of signature identification. After you have signed in and your time slot arrives, you will be asked to deposit any items with you such as books, bags, pagers, or calculators. Make sure that you know where the restrooms and drinking fountain are located. You don’t want to plan to need them, but even worse is to have to search for them. You will be escorted into a closed room.

All exams are closed book. You will be furnished with one or two blank sheets of paper and a pen or, in some cases, an erasable plastic sheet and an erasable pen. Before the exam–take a few minutes and write out any important material on the blank sheet. This is particularly important for any formulas or detailed data that you might forget under the stress of the exam. You can refer to this piece of paper any time you like during the test, but you will have to turn it in when you leave.

You will have some time to compose yourself, to record this information, and to take a sample orientation exam before you begin the real test. You will also be required to complete a computer-based survey to track demographics of the test candidates. Typically, if an exam has a 75-minute time limit, you will have 90 minutes to take the sample exam, complete the survey, and take the actual exam. Once you start the actual exam you now have only the exam time limit.

Typically, the room will have up to a dozen computers. Each workstation will be separated from the others by dividers designed to keep you from seeing your neighbor’s computer. Keep in mind that the people next to you could be taking a certification exam from an industry totally unrelated to yours, so don’t be concerned if someone starts after you or finishes before you. Most test rooms use closed circuit cameras. This permits the exam coordinator to monitor the room.

The exam coordinator will have preloaded the appropriate Cisco certification exam. If there is a problem with the exam, such as version number, screen doesn’t display all data, the screen or desk area is dirty, etc., let the coordinator know right away. Do not put yourself at a disadvantage. You can start as soon as you are seated in front of the computer. I suggest that you sit back for a minute and relax. Take a deep breath. If the chair is adjustable, adjust it. Move your arms and legs to release any tension. You are going to be sitting there almost 90 minutes.

All Cisco certification exams allow a certain maximum amount of time in which to complete the work (this time is indicated on the exam by an on-screen counter/clock, so you can check the time remaining whenever you like). All Cisco certification exams are computer generated and most use a multiple-choice format, often with six to eight choices. It is possible, if not likely, that several questions will refer to an exhibit containing dozens of commands from which you will be expected to select one as the answer to a specific question.

Most Cisco exams use some form of simulator in a few questions to test your configuration skills. Typically these are fundamental activities not obscure activities, so make sure that you know how to configure the basics.

While this may sound quite simple, the questions not only are constructed to check your mastery of basic facts and skills about the subject material, but they also require you to evaluate one or more sets of circumstances or requirements. Often, you are asked to give more than one answer to a question, although you will always be told how many to choose. You get only one pass through the questions—you cannot mark a question and return to it later.

When you complete a Cisco certification exam, the exam will tell you whether you have passed or failed. All test objectives are broken into several topic areas and each area is scored on a basis of 100 percent. Particularly if you do not pass the exam, select the option on the screen that asks if you want to print the report. The test administrator will print it for you. You can use this report to help you prepare for a second effort, if needed. Once you see your score, you have the option of printing additional copies of the score report. It is a good idea to print it twice.

Remember, if you need to retake an exam, you will have to schedule a new test with Prometric and pay another $125.

Exam Design

All Cisco tests use one of following basic question types:

  • Multiple-choice with a single answer

  • Multiple-choice with two or more answers (the question will indicate how many answers)

  • Multipart with one or more answers (the question will indicate how many answers)

  • CLI-based questions (many times, an exhibit will present a sample IOS configuration in which you are asked to choose the correct command or interpret the configuration’s output, per the question’s directions)

  • Drag and drop where steps need to be arranged in order, technologies need to be labeled, or you need to fill in the blanks. Expect a couple of these.

  • Simulations to test configuration skills. This will typically be a step in an overall device configuration, such as configuring an interface. Expect no more than a couple of these.

Take the time to read a question at least twice before selecting an answer, and pay special attention to words such as “not” that can radically change the question. If a question seems very simple, great—but read it over once more to make sure that you aren’t missing something.

Always look for an Exhibit button as you examine each question. The Exhibit button brings up graphics used to help explain a question, provide additional data, or illustrate network design or program behavior. My perception is that there are fewer exhibits than in the past, with drawings and images included on the screen with the question.

Cisco exams do not allow you to return to questions, so you must make sure to answer the question as best you can before proceeding to the next one. The exam will clearly state before you start whether you can mark answers and return.

Cisco’s Testing Format

All Cisco exams are fixed-length with a fixed number of questions. Each candidate will get the same number of questions; the order of the questions can vary, as can the specific questions. If you retake an exam assume there will be different questions. From time to time, questions are replaced and others may not be scored.

Cisco provides a counter in the upper-right corner (near the remaining time) showing the number of questions completed and the number outstanding. Monitor your time to make sure that you have completed at least one-quarter of the questions one-quarter of the way through the exam period and three-quarters of the questions three-quarters of the way through. Have the calculations done in advance, such as 16 questions by 18 minutes.

If you are not finished with 10 minutes remaining, try to pick up the pace. At five minutes remaining, use the remaining time to guess your way through any remaining questions. Guessing is better than not answering because blank answers are always wrong, but a guess may turn out to be right. The important thing is to answer every question.

Some Basic Question-Handling Strategies

For those questions that take only a single answer, usually two or three of the answers will be obviously incorrect, and a couple of the answers will be plausible. Of course, only one can be correct. Unless the answer leaps out at you, begin the process of eliminating those answers that are most obviously wrong.

Many questions assume that the default behavior of a particular command or option is in effect. If you know the defaults and understand what they mean, this will help you with your choice.

Cisco exams are generally pretty straightforward and not intended to beat you out of your certification, but then again they are not designed to be easy. Pay attention, particularly with syntax. Knowing the difference between access-list 1 deny any and access list 1 deny any should be assumed (note the hyphen).

If the answer seems immediately obvious, reread the question to look for a trap; sometimes those are the ones you are most likely to get wrong.

Typically, at least one answer out of the possible choices for a question can be eliminated immediately because the answer does not apply to the situation or the answer describes a nonexistent issue or option.

If faced with guessing among two or more potentially correct answers, reread the question. Try to picture how each of the possible remaining answers would alter the situation. Be especially sensitive to terminology; sometimes the choice of words (e.g., “remove” instead of “disable”) can make the difference between a right answer and a wrong one.

Part III: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)