Cisco CCNA – 10 Fatal Exam Mistakes to Avoid
The fact you are reading this means you are planning to take your Cisco CCNA or another Cisco exam in fact and just knowing that means you may fall victim to one of the 10 fatal exam mistakes. I can speak with some authority on exam mistakes because over the past 8 years I have made most of them myself.
Enough about me anyway. I have taken a lot of IT exams since I left the police including Comptia exams, the MCSE, CCNA and the CCNP among a few others. IT exams are usually taken at an approved testing centre who all have to follow set rules and procedures to ensure each candidate has a similar experience. The problem is that there are factors both outside and inside the centre which can make passing the exam far more difficult for you than it needs to be.
Without further ado, allow me to explain how to avoid the 10 fatal exam mistakes for your Cisco CCNA exam or any other IT exam for that matter.
Mistake 1 – Not Doing a Dry Run
I took an exam recently. It was at the same testing centre I have used over the past 6 years. The only problem was that when I arrived to take my test I parked outside the office block and went for a nice coffee safe in the knowledge that I had allowed myself a good 30 minutes before my allocated test time.
The problem was that when I went to the front door I read to my horror a sign saying that they had moved. I felt a surge of adrenaline rush through the pit of my stomach. Luckily, they had only moved to the other side of the same building. Even though, that experience was very unnerving and I was still a bit jittery when I walked into the centre.
Please make sure you know EXACTLY where your testing centre is and if necessary do a dry run before exam day.
Mistake 2 – Cram or Not to Cram
Do you drive to the exam testing centre with your cram notes in your pocket? I have done both, taking cram notes and not taking them. I can’t tell you which is the right thing for you to do but my personal experience is that you should not take cram notes with you for a last minute read. Sitting in your car outside the testing centre trying to read notes with your hands shaking will not help your nerves. You would be better served listening to some relaxing music.
Mistake 3 – Not Reading Your Exam Confirmation
Would you believe that my friend turned up to take a Cisco exam a few years ago and when he sat in front of the computer he realized to his horror that he was taking the wrong exam! He was a clever guy as well. It was just that when he booked the exam he mistook a number and booked himself onto a specialist Cisco exam instead of the CCNP module he wanted. Strangely enough, he actually passed the exam as well!
It is so easy to book the wrong exam so please double check before you book. Please print out your exam confirmation and double check the exam code, the date, time and venue. Please also ensure you take your exam confirmation with you to the testing centre. I have turned up to take an exam in the past and was told that I was not expected that day or any other day in fact. If I hadn’t taken my confirmation with me then I would have had to drive all the way home as well. Not good.
Mistake 4 – Caffeine
I love coffee. I am in Starbucks almost every day. But there is a price to pay and that is having to visit the toilet every 30 minutes. Most Cisco exams are 90 minutes long as from my experience, they take almost exactly 90 minutes to complete. If you have to visit the toilet twice then you have lost about 5 precious minutes in your exam which you can’t afford to do.
I would avoid having any caffeinated drinks before your exam.
Mistake 5 – Not Reading the Questions
I know you are not daft and can read perfectly well. I have done this myself though, I read the question on the exam but due to nerves and pressure of time I see the question I want to be there. Our eyes are basically scanning tools and the brain performs some sort of auto-complete as we read any text.
The auto-complete feature is not very useful when it comes to exams. Please read the question twice before looking at the answers.
Mistake 6 – Trying to Beat the Clock
That pesky clock sits in the corner of your computer screen silently taunting you as you sit there reading the questions. It might as well be a movie of sand falling through an egg timer.
The clock is a useful tool of course but don’t let it pressure you to going faster than you can. The next few questions could be very simple ones such as port numbers rather than multi-step router configurations or 5 part troubleshooting scenarios. Use the clock to keep yourself on track but don’t let it make you rush your answers.
Mistake 7 – Panicking
Exam nerves are very common and a little stress is good. What I find when I speak to many CCNA exam candidates is that they are experiencing symptoms such as shaking hands, excessive visits to toilets, blurred vision, memory loss and even tears!
I know how you feel because as a former police officer I have experienced terrible stress and nerves. Try having a gun pointed in your face! If you feel that exam nerves are going to affect your performance then please get help early. I recommend relaxation downloads. Find a reputable hypnosis downloads website and download some inductions for a few dollars. Money well spent. Please also see mistake 10.
Mistake 8 – Not Booking the Exam!
Do you know how many people I know who tell me that they are going to book their exam ‘When I Feel Ready.’ If I could comment on this situation. You will never feel ‘ready’ so you might as well book the exam now. Book it for a few weeks time and put the date into your diary. You can always move it back if you get to a few days away and are not adequately prepared.
Your brain is a goal seeking organism and if you have no firm goal set then you will yourself getting distracted or side tracked with the usual things life throws at you. For this reason I strongly recommend booking your exam date, even if you are just starting out with your studies.
Mistake 9 – Making a Fuss
When I took a Cisco exam recently the simulation software did not load correctly. I had to configure a router but the router prompt was below the window on the screen so I couldn’t see what I was typing! Talk about difficult. I had to type commands and then press enter several times to see what I had typed finally appear in the window.
I pointed out the issue to the exam invigilator so I had a witness. She didn’t have an suggestions for me and told me to fill in a box on the screen pointing out the issue to Cisco. There was no point shouting at her or demanding refunds. She was just there to set up my exam and enforce the rules about cheating.
I actually passed that exam which was a surprise to me but had I failed I’m sure Cisco would have given me a refund and I had a witness to the issue as well.
The wrong approach would have been to argue with the invigilator, to make a scene or even to refused to finish off the exam. If you see issues with the questions in your exam or experience similar issues then make a note on the screen which will be sent to Cisco, tell the invigilator if you need to and then continue. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Mistake 10 – Taking it Too Seriously
In know it is important to you but in the grand scheme of things it is only an exam! The most important things are you health, your family and God. Failing an exam will not be the end of the world.
Over the past few years I have failed exams, driving tests, job interviews and several other things which seemed important at the time. I even failed the CCIE lab once and that cost me $1500 plus air fare. Ouch! I just retook anything I failed or worked out other things I wanted to do instead.
If you do fail an exam then well done, at least you had a crack at it. Write down an action plan to tackle your weak areas and book it again. Everyone in the world fails at something important and you are no exception.
Keep a cool head and plan your exam in advance to give yourself the best chances of success. Treat the exam as a project and be serious about passing and at the same time, if you are not successful then give yourself a break, you are only human and anything worth passing is going to be hard by its very nature.