Things to Do to Prepare

Things to Do to Prepare

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get some hands-on experience with Cisco devices whenever possible. The exams ask many questions involving the command syntax or web interface page feature options. Experience configuring devices is the best way to become comfortable with any Cisco technology. I have tried to include enough screen captures to assist you if hands-on experience is not possible. The last section covered using Cisco documentation to checkout new features, but it is equally as valuable for building familiarity with devices you do not have access to. In this section we will look at some other options.

Unlike some other certification, memorizing a long list of facts is not necessarily the best approach for Cisco exams. You must be able to apply the information and see it from other perspectives. The following list of resources that can help you study and prepare:

This Book and Related Materials

Preparing for any Cisco certification exam (including the CCSP) requires you to obtain and study materials designed to provide comprehensive information about the subject matter that will appear on your specific exam. This book contains the framework to prepare to pass the exam. The task now is to apply and absorb that information and become comfortable with it. This will present different levels of challenge based on your experience with networking. Obviously, someone who has been working in the field for a period of time will and possibly has another advanced certification, such as CCNP, will have a solid base of knowledge and skills that they can build on. I think this book can be a good tool for that person.

The other type of CCSP student I find is the recent CCNA who is interested in getting into the IT field but has little or no real networking experience. I have tried to write this book for that person, as well. The latter student may need some background material, and may need to look at things from two or more perspectives; the Cisco web site and online articles can help with this.

Labs and Exercises

On the CD-ROM you will find labs and exercises for most of the technologies covered. Even if you do not have access to the required equipment, look over the labs. They have a methodology that will be useful as well as many screen captures or sample output to augment the materials in the related chapter.

SAFE and AVVID Documents

The fifth and final exam for CCSP is the Cisco SAFE Implementation Exam (CSI 642-541 CSI). While based on the series of SAFE documents, such as the SAFE Blueprint for Small, Midsize, and Remote-User Networks, every technology, topic, or configuration process covered on the other four exams is fair game. Do yourself a favor and start by downloading the SAFE documents in PDF form. Read them at least the SAFE Blueprint for Small, Midsize, and Remote-User Networks before getting too far into the book. Then as you learn about each technology review how it fits into the SAFE strategy. Make sure that you can configure the main connections, such as router VPN to PIX VPN. The SAFE documents have additional configuration examples that should help broaden your knowledge.

Classroom Training

Whether you use this book or not, classroom training for many people is the preferred way to learn complex technologies. In this field that classroom training should be combined with hands-on experience with real routers and switches. There are several possible courses to follow:

Cisco Networking Academies

I believe in this program for the average person. Since 1987, Cisco Systems has set up Networking Academies in more than 10,500 locations around the world. Many are in high schools and the rest are in community colleges, technical colleges, trade schools, universities, and at some service organizations. This highly developed multimedia curriculum, combined with abundant hands-on experience offered part-time, can create a solid foundation. The academies offer CCNA, CCNP, and Fundamentals of Security (SECUR and CSPFA) training and are now branching out to include non-Cisco technologies like UNIX and web design. To learn more about the Academy Program or to locate one in your area, check the following web site: 779/edu/academy/.

Cisco Training Partners

In larger cities, for the working administrator with solid foundation skills who truly meets the course prerequisites, these short, often five-day courses can be a quick way to fill in the gaps, gain limited hands-on experience, and move on to certification. I really like these programs for working professionals with a lot of experience. For them, this type of training can be an excellent value. On the other hand, if a person really doesn’t fit the target audience and can’t keep up with the class, this can be a very expensive reality check. For more information, go to and click on the Learning link.

Buying Equipment

Many students do purchase equipment, particularly if their long-term goal is CCNP, CCSP, or CCIE. Cisco vendors like Blackbox and offer catalogs and knowledgeable support people. I have always had very good luck with eBay ( Do a search on “Cisco” at the eBay site and there will be thousands of items. The key is that you can’t be in a hurry. Watch for the deal that you want, and be ready to walk away. If you are worried about fraud, deal only with sellers who have made many transactions (a number after their ID) and have an easily viewable performance record.

There are two ways to use eBay. First, look at the people offering items. Many have web sites linked to their auctions. See what kind of businesses they are and what other “deals” they have going. Second, if I’m buying a bigger item, I only buy from an auction that will take a credit card. I then use a card that guarantees my purchases. I’ve bought hundreds of items and I don’t feel that I’ve ever been hurt. I’ve never had an item fail to be delivered pretty much as advertised.

Virtual Labs and Simulators

While I think simulators do not replace hands-on experience, they are significantly better than nothing at all. It is my understanding that is working on a simulator for these exams.

Practice Exams

I really hate the thought of a person taking a test repeatedly until they know enough of the questions to pass. This leads to what the industry refers to as “paper certifications” or worse “vapor certifications.” It’s bad for the industry and can’t be all that great for the individual. What value is the certification if you get fired from the job because you can’t do the work?

Having said that; I do believe in taking practice tests once you have trained and prepared yourself. This serves two purposes. First, it may point out gaps or weaknesses in your training plan. Second, and more importantly, it helps to prepare you for the exam itself. If you have taken the CCNA or CCNP exams, you already know that Cisco exams are like none you’ve taken before. While they are fair and valid, they are not designed to pass a lot of students. They are designed to see if you know the exam material forwards and backwards. My students have found that the exams at are both challenging and helpful.

Cram Sessions and Brain Dumps

There are web sites called brain dumps, where test-takers try to list as many test questions as they can remember. First, my personal opinion is that these are a waste of time and energy. Second, they violate the non-disclosure agreement that every test-taker agrees to when they take the exam. In the end, you compromise your integrity for a bit of short-term-memory fodder.

What time I’ve spent at the sites that I’m aware of, I’ve found a mix of good and bad questions, questions from old exams, questions from the wrong exams, and a small amount of mischief. There are better ways.

One site I like is They have a series of study guides, usually 12-20 pages, for many exams that I recommend to all of my students. While they do not give you questions, they give you lists of things to know. I really do not believe they replace studying. The practice that I follow, and recommend to my students, is that each night for the week before a scheduled exam, read the Cramsession just before bed. Typically, it will lead me to question some points, and after researching I put the results on the margins of the study guide. Their study guide is the only thing that I ever take to a test site. I try to review it once before going into the test site.

Do you need all of the things covered in this section? Probably not. But I’ve tried to offer a mix to helpful tools and suggestions.

Part III: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)