How I Passed the Cisco CCNP Exams

Here is my experience with the Cisco CCNP exams and the material I’ve used to study and pass them.

First, make sure to download the official exam blueprints and read them carefully. Here is a quick link to the CCNP Routing and Switching syllabus in PDF format, as of May 4th, 2015.

Before we jump on the topic, let us look at the prices of the CCNP exams:

  • Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE) 300-101: exam costs about 200$
  • Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) 300-115: exam costs about 200$
  • Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (TSHOOT) 300-135: exam costs about 150$

If you book one of the exams, you may find that in your country these prices are a bit different, even after currency conversion. That was the case for me, with every Cisco exam. The testing center I deal with buys Cisco exams from Pearson Vue Europe (in Euros). It charges its own fees, in addition to the high conversion rate from Euro to Tunisian Dinar. So each Cisco exam costs me about one third of a salary.

My Experience and Study Material for Cisco CCNP BSCI Exam

At that time it was called BSCI instead of ROUTE. It was harder than I thought. After finishing reading the Cisco Press official study guides and practicing the material with GNS3, I looked into practice exams. I needed the question/answer format to evaluate my knowledge level. There was at the time Exam Suite, which contained a near real-life environment simulator: black on white exam questions, a countdown timer, the possibility to mark questions, etc. I did not look at the answers though. I only focused on the score I get each time, and I reviewed the topics where I missed points. Thanks to practice exams I knew my weak areas back then. Some of them were:

  • Route maps, distribute lists, prefix lists, in the context of route redistribution,
  • IPv4 to IPv6 migration schemes,
  • multicasting (router config interpretation),
  • OSPF special areas (NSSA,..),
  • LSAs propagation boundaries,
  • BGP AS PATH attributes,
  • etc.

So I kept on postponing the exam date because I was still getting bad scores in the practice exams and I was repeating the cycle over and over: take practice tests, study my weak areas again.

I finally decided to schedule the BSCI exam, In the beginning of the test I was taking enough time to read and answer the questions. However I lost much time in my first lab simulation. The scenario wasn’t clear to me. And each time I had to click on the console button to reach a router. And I was not seeing changes in the routing table so it confused me a lot.

I began to worry about my score.

And I got my second lab simulation. And immediately after, the third. I told to myself: “man, what did I do to Cisco to treat me this way?”
So I had almost 38 minutes to do the third lab sim and 32 questions !
Besides, the test supervisor was tearing papers on her desk. And the other guy in the room was complaining about the bug in his exam. I was going to scream.

At the end, I was almost skimming through the questions and selecting answers on a hunch.

I finished the test. The testing supervisor told me “congratulations!” I passed it on February 27th, 2009, on the first try, with a score of 822, the passing score was 790.

BSCI Study Material

  • Cisco Press Exam Guide
  • Cisco Student Guide
  • Cisco Press Lab Portfolio
  • Cisco Press BSCI Command Reference
  • Chris Bryant BSCI study guide
  • Lots and lots and lots of GNS3 labs
  • CBT Nuggets and some Train Signal and even after all this preparation, I feel I still don’t master all the topics. That’s where come hands-on experience and individual reading.

My Experience and Study Material for Cisco CCNP SWITCH Exam

I began studying for BCSMN long ago.  I kept a sheet of my study time and used an egg timer to time my sessions. During study, I completely blocked facebook, msn (yes there was MSN chat at that time), no blogging; just me and the book. I also wrote mini-tutorials about the topics I found difficulties dealing with.

I wrote first the BCMSN exam back in 2009 and failed at it. I often make sure to read the Errata before studying the book. It saves time, obviously. On the Cisco Press website, the errata can be found here: BCMSN Exam Guide 4th Ed- Errata.

Then came the new CCNP Switch book. Apart from the cover, I would have said that it’s the same book. I was astonished by the similarities between the two versions of the book (the old BCMSN and this SWITCH book).
I was on my final preparation for the exam. I thought that I’ll engage the new exam. But, seeing the book content, I stuck to my old books and got a copy of INE CCNP BCMSN material.
I felt I was still not ready for the exam. And with a new job coming, I should better manage my time.

I didn’t manage to sit for the exam before July 31, 2010 though.

Then I got myself on track towards the CCNP exams again, after banging my head against the wall. I went through the material and I filled the gaps with the new SWITCH books.

I passed my CCNP SWITCH on 10/30/2017, on the second try, after a total of about 4 months of study. 

Home lab

I can could not afford a real Cisco lab at home. I can could not buy online gear because that’s not possible for individuals in my motherland. BUT, I can afford a virtual Cisco lab.
Here it is:

Typically, it’s taken from CCNP curriculum lab diagrams. I added some modifications to it.

SWITCH Study Material

I laughed when I saw the same typing mistake that Cisco folks did on their student guide. In fact, I think they just did a copy/paste of the text and added some pages :-) You don’t believe me? Check the Vlan ACL chapter. Here’s the old BCMSN version:

And the same error propagates into the new SWITCH version:

Ok, so what now? don’t we believe in Cisco books? of course we do. But this should remind us of the importance of personal awareness and taking different sources of reading material when preparing for CCNP exams. Even the Cisco official documentation may sometime contain errors as I read in some CCIE forums!

to make long story short, I have used the following material listed in no particular order of importance:

SWITCH home lab

  • GNS3
  • a Catalyst 3750: for some security features such as IP DHCP snooping, dot1x
  • VPCS
  • Cisco BCMSN Lab Portfolio

Video training

  • TrainSignal BCMSN
  • CBT Nuggets BCMSN
  • INE CCNP Bootcamp

Other sources

  • INE articles, especially the MSTP article by Petr Lapukhov
  • Cisco Learning Network community

Other tips

  • a lot of patience and courage.
  • Affirmations done with emotions (yes they DO work, if done properly).
  • track down your uninterrupted study time with Excel.
  • use 25 minutes sessions with Egg Timer.
  • use mind maps! Don’t be lazy, or think they’re a waste of time! It’s totally the opposite, they help you retain information with all their colors and pictures.

My Experience and Study Material for Cisco CCNP TSHOOT Exam

TSHOOT is the last of the CCNP exams I took and also the funniest! I passed it on 05/26/2011 on the second try. I felt so happy that two years of discontinuous study and a lot of frustration paid off. Oh yeah I deserved this nice recognition!

Now, I can tell that it takes a LOT of patience, focus and self confident to pass not only this exam, but the whole track. Why? because many guys fall in the trap of cramming questions in order to become CCNP fast.
I began the CCNP journey in 2009. You see, I only became CCNP in 2011! Some guys may tell me that I was not serious about my studies. But here are my arguments:

– I only have access to L2/L3 switches in production network,
– I did not cut off my leisure activities because I still did not have enough discipline. So I lost considerable amount of time during weekends.
– I had to to get a copy of the study materials and print them on paper by myself, since Cisco books are not available for importation in my country . And despite of that I had to pay 10% of my salary for each book!
– I used to love to sleep :-) ,
– I don’t or haven’t dealt with most of the technologies I learned,
– I feared failure, since the exam costs 35% of my salary. So I mentally delayed studies and exam schedule. By the way, from now on, I’ll schedule my exam date while I’m half in my studies.
– I used to go out with my friends a lot. Then I cut that off and made room to some free time. It was not easy though.
– Limiting beliefs: I can’t stress that enough. Along the studies, I often wondered “what will I use CCNP for? How am I going to keep it active? what type of jobs could it land me to?”… you ought to work on eliminating them. Trust me, they made me feel depressed and frustrated often times.

My TSHOOT Strategy

There are known Troubleshooting methodologies:
– Follow the path
– divide and conquer
– Move the problem
– Bottom up
– Top down
After watching Kevin Wallace Bull’s Eye videos and INE Tshoot Exam Demo video, the best method I found to tackle the troubleshooting part of CCNP exams is to use a combination of Divide and Conquer-Bottom up/Top Down-Follow the path. There’s not really one single method that will lead to finding where the problem lies.

This is a collection of possible troubleshooting tips I collected over my studies. They are organized by OSI layer:

Layer 1
– interface is down? admin down?
– interfaces along layer 2 path: down?
– cable is in place? (not for Tshoot exam)
– Port Channel is up?down? admin down?
– Etherchannel member ports are all up? is one member port down?

Layer 2
– Spanning-tree running on the vlan/the interface?
– Spanning-tree is blocking the interface/the vlan?
– vlan exists on switch?
– port in correct mode (trunk/access)?
– trunk interface exists?
– vlan is allowed on trunk?
– Etherchannel member ports have same config?
– Etherchannel vlan mask is the same as member ports?
– Etherchannel, on both ends, has same vlan mask? is trunking on both sides?
– Frame-relay mapping exists?
– for IPv6: frame-relay is done with link-local addresses?

Layer 3
– client has correct ip address? correct subnet mask and gateway?
– Duplicate IP address? duplicate IPv6 address?
– Static routes misconfigured?
– IPv6 enabled globally?
– routing enabled on router/L3 Switch?
– ip address on interface exists? wrong subnet?
– OSPF/EIGRP neighborship up? is there passive-interface?
– OSPF network type on interfaces match? beware of default OSPF network interface types
– Frame-relay mapping contain broadcast keyword?
– OSPF Hello&Dead timers match?
– OSPF authentication implemented?
– OSPF authentication type match?
– OSPF authentication keys/key-strings match?
– OSPF/EIGRP advertises default route?
– OSPF network statement correct?
– OSPF area numbers match?
– OSPF area types match?
– OSPF into EIGRP: metric defined?
– Route redistribution: distribute-list prevents correct route injection? misconfigured route-map?
– Vlan access-map blocks traffic?
– Router ACL blocks traffic? misconfigured? placed under wrong interface?
– HSRP group has correct vIP? has correct priority? has preemption?
– HSRP object tracking (and interface tracking): decrement value is correct?
– DHCP service exists?
– DHCP pool correct?
– DHCP excluded-addresses correct?
– DHCP ip helper-address exists? on the right vlan?
– NAT access-list matches correct traffic to be translated?
– NAT inside/outside interface placement?
– NAT pool of global inside addresses correct?
– Old NAT translation entries still exist?
– GRE tunnel up on both sides?
– GRE tunnel mode matches on both sides?
– GRE tunnel interfaces reach each other? –> IPv4 network (GRE transport protocol) is correct?

Layer 3/4
– BGP neighbor statement correct?
– BGP source IP of update packets reachable?
– BGP network statement: matches ip route in RIB?
– BGP authentication: same type? same digest?

TSHOOT Study Material

The study material I’ve used for CCNP TSHOOT are:

  • Reproduced the Cisco TSHOOT official lab topology on GNS3 and had to suffer the repetitive GNS3 crashes!


The Cisco CCNP ROUTE (formerly known as the BSCI) is the toughest of all CCNP exams by far. I highly recommend you start with it first in your CCNP journey, then go through SWITCH and finally close with TSHOOT.

I simply loved the feeling associated to getting the CCNP status. All those hours and days of studying. And above that, I discovered that it is valid through May 26, 2014! That leaves enough time to study for more exams :-)
Now, I’d better use my new status in better career situations..

What is your current CCNP study path and which one of the CCNP exams was the hardest to you?

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *