I am currently waiting to receive official notification that I passed the JNCIE-M exam that I sat for last Friday [UPDATE: I am now JNCIE-M #449]. Just like when I passed the JNCIP-M in January, the first thing most people ask when they hear that is: “How can I pass?” In fact I have had so many folks ask me what I did to study and how I prepared for both of these Juniper Networks practical exams that I decided it would be worth while to write it down and share with everyone. While my experience is with the M&T series track specifically, most of these suggestions should help with any JNTCP hands-on test and probably other vendors as well. So if you are planning to sit for one; follow these 13 tips for passing Juniper lab tests and greatly improve your chances:
1. Have some experience
While you can probably successfully study for a JNCIA or JNCIS written exam with no actual Juniper experience (I did), that task would be very difficult for a JNCIP or JNCIE practical exam. Having hands on experience with the hardware and software that the test covers before you begin to study will make your task much easier. Personally, I would recommend at least 6-12 months of real world JUNOS experience before attempting the JNCIP and one to two years before trying for your JNCIE. The more you have the easier your studying will go of course.
2. Buy or download the study guides
This may be fairly obvious as a tip but I thought I should point out two things here. The first is that in my experience, Juniper’s study guides are much more relevant to the tests they cover than other vendors. The material covered in the study guides is great for reference and learning, with plenty of solid examples, and it also relates directly to the test objectives. Secondly, in the case of the M&T series track, the study guides are out of print and available for “free” from Juniper’s website: http://www.juniper.net/us/en/training/certification/books.html. I used quotes on the word free because I paid over $140 to have the two books printed at Kinkos, soft copy just isn’t enough for me in this case.
3. Use a lab
Another possibly obvious tip but I know folks who attempted to study “dry” (without a lab) with poor results. You should have access to a lab as you read the study guides so that you can follow along with the configuration and troubleshooting examples. Even more importantly, you should conduct all of the case studies provided in the books in such a lab. There are various ways to build your lab for far less expense than you might think. Look into VMWare and Olives. In many ways, securing and/or building your lab is at least half the battle.
Both times that I walked into the testing room to sit for the respective exams, I was on the verge of being completely sick of the covered topics. I was almost tired of configuring Junipers all together. It worked to my great advantage. Because of my abundance of studying, I knew the material inside and out and was able to finish both tests quite handily in far less than the alloted time. These are not easy tests and they both cover a lot of ground. Even if you (like I) work on a Juniper network everyday, it is very unlikely that you take on all of the tasks needed to pass the tests on a regular basis, so study, a lot.
5. Talk to someone who has recently passed
While you are studying, find someone who has taken the exam which you are preparing for recently. Pick their brain. While they will not be able to give you specific details of the actual test, they should be able to give you a good feel for what to expect. Walking in confident is key and beyond all the studying, feeling a bit familiar in the testing room can help give you that confidence.
6. Read all of the objectives before starting
These tests are essentially a series of objectives which you must configure the network to meet. Before you start configuring anything, read through all of them. It is very possible that later objectives will affect the configs surrounding earlier ones. If you are not aware of these conflicts, you will most likely end up re-doing things, this costs you time and brain cycles that could be used working on new tasks instead. Read through all of the information provided and try to understand the big picture (at least vaguely) before you start hacking away at that keyboard.
7. Pay attention to detail
Read every objective and every requirement or restriction provided at least twice. Seriously. There are a combination of very strict / explicit requirements and more loose requirements. You must understand exactly what you are being asked to do or face major point losses for minor errors.
8. Take your time
The eight hours that you are given is plenty of time if you are prepared so take your time and avoid mistakes. Read thoroughly, think about the problem posed and all possible solutions, double check your assumptions. Slow and steady wins this race – haste makes waste and all that as well, it is very easy to glaze over an error or misunderstanding if you are too focused on working/finishing quickly.
9. Use shortcuts
With that said, don’t waste time either, this is a timed test after all. The best way to avoid wasting time is to understand the shortcuts available to you. You are allowed to open as many terminal sessions as you please and to use a text editor as well. Take full advantage of this. Learn your keyboard shortcuts, learn to quickly identify pieces of code (config) which can be altered slightly (or not at all) and pasted into other routers, know which tools are available to you in the test beds code version (load set, load merge, load patch, etc) and how to best use them. Practice this way and be sure to work this way on test day.
10. Test your work
Do not trust your configs. It is easy to miss a bad or missing line of configuration on one router, it is much harder to ignore a traceroute that goes wonky or a ping that does not complete. Test the functionality of each objective once you think the config is correct, you will find errors to fix.
11. Ask questions
The proctor is there for more than making sure you don’t cheat, he or she is a resource for you as well. If you are unclear on what you are being asked to do, ask for clarification! While the proctor obviously can not tell you how to do something, they will be able to help you understand what it is that you are supposed to be doing in the first place.
12. Remember the big picture
If you can’t meet a requirement with the given restrictions, consider meeting it while ignoring a restriction or two. Remember that in the long run it is likely much better to lose a point or three for breaking a single restriction than skipping an entire objective that later tasks may be dependent upon. Static routes are banned but only cost a point each, this is a viable option to save your overall operability. You can always come back and try to fix it later, once you finish all the other objectives.
13. Don’t Panic!
This one gets a lot of folks. It is very easy to freak out and forget everything you know. Stay calm and methodical no matter what. If you make a mistake or time is running short, buckle down and maintain. The absolute worst thing for you is to get angry or scared or rushed and compound your problems with silly mistakes. Go get a drink of water and a couple deep breaths and then carry on!
Please let me know if these tips help you or if you think I missed something important – I love hearing from readers![UPDATE: There is some wonderful additional info in the comments below, I highly recommend that you read them as well!]