Cisco enhances CCNA with hands-on simulations

Cisco has always offered challenging certification exams that test real-world knowledge. Now, the company has taken this a step further by updating its CCNA exam to include hands-on simulations. Here's a detailed look at the new exam format.

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification is the challenging first step on the Cisco certification track. In the hopes of improving its certification program, Cisco has revamped the CCNA exam to include a simulation-based format. On March 12, 2002, Cisco released exam 640-607, a new exam that CCNA candidates must pass to earn their certification. In this article, we will provide an overview of this exam and take a closer look at the new simulation-based testing format.

Breaking down exam 640-607
You will be given 75 minutes to answer the 45 to 55 questions that appear on exam 640-607. If you have been studying for the old exam, 640-507, you don’t have to worry about studying new material for this exam. While the format of exam 640-607 has changed drastically, the content has stayed basically the same.

Like other Cisco exams, both past and present, the new CCNA exam is quite challenging. Topics that you can expect to see on exam 640-607 include bridging and switching, the OSI and DOD reference models, LAN protocols such as TCP/IP, routing protocols such as RIP and IGRP, WAN technology such as Frame Relay and ISDN, network management, LAN design, and, of course, switch, router, and Cisco IOS basics. You should be well versed in all of these topics and make sure that you know the Cisco way of doing things.

If you are familiar with this material, you can simply use a study guide to ensure that you know the Cisco recommendations for performing certain tasks. If you want to take a class to learn these topics, most training centers offer the Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices (ICND) class to provide the necessary preparation. Regardless of how you prepare for the exam, be sure that you understand the material thoroughly, because this exam will definitely test the depths of your knowledge.

Simulation-based questions
If you're like most IT professionals, you'd much rather have certification exams test your real-world skills than require you to regurgitate obscure facts that don't have much bearing on your everyday work. The simulation-based component of the CCNA exam is designed with the former approach in mind.

You will be asked to perform switch and router configuration by entering actual IOS commands. For example, you may be asked to show the configuration of a router. Acceptable responses could be show config, sho config, or sh conf.

For professionals who use such commands on a daily basis, simulation-based exams should be a nice change. Instead of picking the correct answer in a multiple-choice question where you might accidentally select the wrong answer or be confused by visually similar answers, you are now able to let your knowledge and skills shine by performing the required tasks.

Before you get too excited about the new exam format, however, you should know that you'll be facing fill-in-the-blank questions, multiple-choice single answer, multiple-choice multiple answer, and drag-and-drop questions, in addition to router simulations.

Getting your feet wet with the Exam Interface Tutorial
To provide you with a good idea of what to expect with the new format, Cisco has created an Exam Interface Tutorial for the new CCNA exam. To view this tutorial, click this link.

As you can see, Cisco has gone to great lengths to ensure that you are familiar with the new exam interface. As you follow the tutorial, you will be provided with several types of question formats. The left side of each screen in the tutorial contains detailed information about the type of question, while the rest of the screen provides an example of the question.

After clicking the Continue button on the first screen, the tutorial shows an example of a multiple-choice single-answer question (Figure A), which most of you are probably all too familiar with. Clicking the Try Me button lets you answer the question to get an idea of how the actual test engine works.

Figure A
A multiple-choice single-answer question

Next, the tutorial shows you an example of a multiple-choice multiple-answer question (Figure B). Obviously, this type of question is similar to the multiple-choice single answer question shown in the previous example.

Figure B
A multiple-choice multiple-answer question

Next, the tutorial shows you an example of the type of drag-and-drop question that you may see on the CCNA exam. As you can see in Figure C, there are more answers than drag-and-drop locations. Drag-and-drop style questions can also require you to put a list of items in the correct order. This type of question could be used for things such as the OSI reference model.

Figure C
A drag-and-drop question

As you can see in Figure D, the tutorial also demos the type of fill-in-the-blank question you may encounter on the exam.

Figure D
A fill-in-the-blank question

The tutorial concludes with the final question example: the router simulation. Questions presented in this format allow you to enter actual router commands. As Figure E shows, you will be given a terminal session and then be asked to perform some sort of action. You can use the full command or a partial command, just as you can with an actual router.

Figure E
A router simulation question

More than theory
Cisco has always done a good job of providing exams that test real-world knowledge of the subject matter, and the new CCNA exam goes a step further. By ensuring that those who hold this credential know how to perform essential job-related duties, the certification is even more valuable to employers. Ultimately, simulation-based questions provide a good measure of IT professionals' skills; in addition to knowing the theory of the technology, they must also be able to perform the tasks to make it work.

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