One of the goals I set for myself for the month of December was to pass the SWITCH Exam (642-813). This exam has a bit of a track record for having some quirks and creating angst among test takers. I am happy to say that as of last Friday, I achieved my goal. With that being said, I wanted to make some points about this particular Cisco exam.
The first thing I want to say is that I have been configuring Cisco Switches for 10+ years and I would classify this test as very difficult. In addition, I would say that there are questions that are open for interpretation. I also found at least one that I would classify as broken. There is one more thing that I need to admit–this was not the first time I saw the exam. That’s right, I actually failed this test a couple of months ago. Last weeks pass was my second attempt. So for those intending to just “wing” this exam, I’m afraid they may find disappointment.
So what can improve the odds of passing the SWITCH exam? The first thing I would say is understand the scope. It is easy to assume that SWITCH only covers Switch “stuff”. However, it covers everything in those areas of the network. It is imperative to become familiar with all of the items on the blueprint. Be aware that it is open enough to include things like first hop routing protocols (hsrp, vrrp, glbp), IP SLA, and even some knowledge of routing protocols.
In addition to knowledge of the items on the blueprint, the ability to apply them is imperative. Cisco exams seem to be including more and more simulations. Therefore hands on experience is required. I would recommend practicing each topic on real equipment or simulators. Also, come to the exam center with the expectation of working through lengthy configurations in simulators.
One interesting point I found in the exam is the difference in time it took to complete a question. Some questions may take only 20 or 30 seconds. Others took 10 minutes or so. Therefore, it is difficult to reconcile the remaining time necessary against the remaining time allocated for the exam. I would recommend having a goal of finishing with a few minutes to spare. The primary reason is to allow enough time if the last two or three questions happen to be really time consuming.
The final point I would make is not to give up. We all have our opinions and frustrations about certain exams. Fortunately, Cisco has fairly reputable certification programs. So while I’m not to excited about wasting $200US on the initial failed exam, I do believe in the end product. With that being said, testers should not be discouraged when they fail this exam. In those cases, take note and address any areas of weakness before promptly scheduling another attempt.
I feel like I could have intelligent conversations about every single question on the exam. Moreover, I felt like there were questions that needed to be tweaked to eliminate ambiguity. My pass was certainly not what I would consider a “solid” pass. I do believe that for those who have a strong understanding of every item on the blueprint, this test is passable. It just might [unfortunately] take more than one attempt.