Cisco’s CCNP R&S track currently has 3 exams, ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT. Pass all 3 exams and you will be CCNP R&S certified. I receive many questions from students asking what the best method is to study these exams and how to prepare themselves. In this lesson I’ll explain what you will encounter on the exams and the best way to pass the exams.
Before I dive into CCNP R&S, let’s talk a little bit about CCNA R&S first. I am going to assume that you passed the CCNA exam and now you are looking to become CCNP R&S certified. Before you start with the CCNP material, you should consider if your “knowledge foundation” is strong enough. Most of the topics in CCNP are not new but will be more in-depth than what you learned from CCNA. To illustrate this, take a good look at the Cisco certification pyramid:
Most students don’t pay a lot of attention to this picture but if you take a good look, you’ll see that CCNA is the largest part of the pyramid. If you want to pass the CCNP exams you will have to be absolutely 100% comfortable with the things you learned in CCNA R&S. If it’s been awhile since you became CCNA certified, please do yourself a favor and re-read your CCNA material or do some more CCNA level labs. If you have difficulty doing subnetting questions without a calculator or have no idea anymore how spanning-tree, frame-relay, OSPF and EIGRP work…then CCNP will be a very bumpy ride. If you are familiar with everything from CCNA then CCNP will be a very enjoyable ride! Be honest with yourself, even if you passed the CCNA exam…if you had some difficulties with certain topics, visit those again and make sure you have no knowledge gaps. If you want to learn how to ride a motorcycle, you should start learning how to ride a bike…having said that, let’s look at the CCNP R&S exams!
Let’s start with an overview of all the major ROUTE topics:
- EIGRP Packets and Metrics
- EIGRP Summarization
- EIGRP over Frame-Relay
- EIGRP Authentication
- EIGRP Advanced Features
- OSPF LSA Types
- OSPF Summarization
- OSPF Special Area Types
- OSPF Authentication
- OSPF Virtual Links
- Routing Manipulation
- BGP (Border Gateway Protocol)
- IPv6 Routing Protocols
- IPv6 Tunneling
In short the ROUTE exam is about EIGRP, OSPF, some routing “manipulation”, BGP and IPv6. You already learned about EIGRP and OSPF and a little bit of IPv6 in CCNA so these should be familiar topics, you will learn (a lot) more about them however. For example, in CCNA you learned about OSPF and its LSDB (Link State Database) but in CCNP you will take a close look at all the LSA types that fill the LSDB. You learned about IPv6 in CCNA but now you will also learn some migration and tunneling techniques so you can connect IPv6 networks over existing IPv4 networks. If you forgot about the difference between EIGRP/OSPF and things like “link state” vs “distance vector” then please re-visit the CCNA material before you dive into ROUTE.
My recommendation is to start with the ROUTE exam first, since you will find some routing-related topics in the SWITCH exam while there are no “switch” topics in the ROUTE exam. Also, you won’t need any hardware to study for this exam since you can do everything with the GNS3 router emulator!
Let me show you the major topics of the SWITCH exam:
- VLANs and Trunking
- Private VLANs
- Spanning-Tree Basics
- Rapid Spanning-Tree
- MST (Multiple Spanning-Tree)
- Spanning Tree Toolkit
- Etherchannel (Link Aggregation)
- InterVLAN Routing
- Gateway Redundancy (VRRP, GLBP, HSRP)
- Switch Security
Some of these topics should ring a bell, you learned about VLANs and Trunks from CCNA but you’ll learn some more about them. Spanning-tree should be familiar but you will learn about the different flavors like “rapid” spanning-tree and Multiple spanning-tree in-depth. Etherchannels were mentioned in CCNA but now you’ll learn about the different types and how to configure them. There are also some “multilayer” switch topics like routing between VLANs and creating virtual gateways for clients using VRRP, GLBP and HSRP. In CCNA you learned about port-security which is also in the SWITCH exam but you’ll also learn about DHCP and ARP snooping. Last but not least you will learn how to prepare your switched network for Voice over IP, Video and/or wireless networking.
If you are fuzzy about spanning-tree and its port states like the designated, non-designated, root port, port priority and such…please take a look at the CCNA material again before you start with SWITCH!
To study SWITCH at home you will need some real hardware switches. GNS3 can only emulate routers and the NM-16ESW switch module which doesn’t support rapid spanning tree, multiple spanning-tree or the different etherchannel protocols. You don’t need expensive hardware, my recommendation is to buy 2x Cisco Catalyst 2950 switches and 1x Cisco Catalyst 3550 switch. For more information take a look at my CCNA hardware recommendation lesson. Most of it also applies for the CCNP SWITCH exam.
The TSHOOT exam is different compared to what you have seen so far. The ROUTE and SWITCH exams are similar to CCNA, you will get some multiple choice questions, labs, click-all-that-apply questions, etc.
TSHOOT is different as the exam will present you with a (large) network topology that has a number of issues. You don’t have to fix these issues but you have to be able to look at the configurations of the devices and answer what the problem is. If you want to pass this exam there are two things you will have to do:
- Truly understand all the topics that you learned in CCNA, ROUTE and SWITCH.
- Become familiar with the topology that Cisco uses in the TSHOOT exam.
There is no “magic” troubleshooting technique that will help you solve any problem. The only way to become good at troubleshooting is understanding all the protocols and how they work together. You can become good at troubleshooting by doing labs, labs and even more labs!
Cisco released the TSHOOT exam topology to the public, take a good look at it to understand all the different components. You don’t want to see this topology for the first time when you are doing the exam…
I did my best to rebuild it in GNS3 and you can download it right here. Look at all the different protocols that are running, how they work together and the exam will be a LOT easier.
CCNP Study Strategy
You now have an idea what the exams are about, and that it’s best to start with ROUTE, SWITCH and finish with TSHOOT. So where do you start?
Buy some CCNP ROUTE study material like a book or some training videos, whatever you prefer. Of course I try to promote my “How to Master CCNP” books but there are other good books out there. While you are studying for ROUTE you have time to browse Ebay or something to “hunt” for your switches that you’ll need for the SWITCH exam.
As you are reading, try to stick to one topic at a time, and don’t read the book from front to back right away. As you are reading and learning about a topic or feature, try to configure it yourself on your GNS3 routers or switches and make sure you understand what you are doing. Look at some show commands, try some debugs. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do labs, labs and even more labs. Most people make the mistake of trying to “brute force” all the theory in their head and doing not enough labs. If you want to know why I’m such a big fan of labs, please read my “How to study Cisco and Networking” lesson.
Doing labs is also a lot more fun than just reading books or watching videos…If you want labs to practice instead of building your own, I built most of the CCNP level labs and you can find them for free on GNS3Vault.
Also as you are working your way through a chapter, make sure to take notes:
- Use mindmapping to write down all the “theory” in a structured order, you can learn how to do this in my “How to use Mindmapping” lesson.
- Take notes (I use notepad) to write down some of the commands that you have difficulty with remembering. This helps to speed up doing labs.
Once you feel you mastered a topic, move on to the next chapter. Try to focus on 1 item at the time instead of reading about everything at the same time, focusing is your friend when it comes to studying.
Q: Is is possible to become CCNP R&S certified with self-study?
A: Definitely yes! Because of GNS3 it’s easy to practice all router protocols on your own computers and with a couple of switches you will have all the equipment you need. It will take self discipline to work yourself through the material since you are not “forced” to be in the classroom and attending a course.
Q: How much studying time does it take to pass the CCNP exams?
A: This is a difficult question to answer as it is different for everyone. It depends on how much experience you have in IT / networking and how easily you can memorize information. Roughly I think it will take anywhere between 100-200 hours or so to study ROUTE and SWITCH each (so that’s 200-400 hours for both!) and TSHOOT maybe 50-100 hours. This includes reading books, perhaps watching videos, doing labs, reviewing notes, etc.
Q: What is the best studying material to use? Classroom training, reading books or watching videos?
A: If you are completely new to a topic then classroom training is probably the best method since you will have someone in front of you that explains everything. When you don’t understand something you can just ask it and it will be explained to you until you understand it. The downside of classroom training is that it’s quite expensive and depending on the other students the course might run too slow or too fast for you. Watching videos also works very well when a certain topic is new to you, I wouldn’t recommend watching them if you are looking to fill some “knowledge gaps” as you will have that “I already know this” feeling when watching the video and get bored easily. Personally I like books best because I can speed up or slow down reading exactly when I want to. Most networking books can be very difficult to get through if something is new to you however. In short, if you are new to something…classroom training will be great. If you go for the self-study path, see if you can watch some videos and then move on to reading books.
Q: How much time should I spend watching videos or reading books vs doing labs?
A: The short answer is that I think you should spend roughly 80% of your time doing labs and 20% of your time watching videos or reading books. If you want a complete answer, please read my lesson called “How to Study Cisco and Networking“.
Q: What hardware should I buy?
A: Don’t buy any hardware for the ROUTE exam, you can do everything with GNS3. For the SWITCH exam the cheapest solution is to buy 2x Cisco Catalyst 2950 switches and 1x Cisco Catalyst 3550 switch. You will find some more information in my “Recommended Lab equipment for Cisco CCNA” lesson. Most of it applies for the CCNP SWITCH exam as well.
Q: In what order should I do the CCNP R&S exams?
A: I think it’s best to start with ROUTE, then SWITCH and finish with TSHOOT. The reason for this is that you will find some “routing” topics in the SWITCH exam. In CCNP R&S you will learn about multilayer switches in the SWITCH exam so it’s best to understand routing before you approach this topic. Even if you decide to do SWITCH first, it doesn’t matter all too much since multilayer switching will be easy to understand if you passed the CCNA R&S exam.
After reading this lesson I am sure you will have many other questions, things that I didn’t even think about when I wrote this. Feel free to ask anything in our forum. Thanks!