Tips and Tricks for passing the CCNP TSHOOT exam
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The thing about the Cisco TSHOOT exam is that it is unlike both ROUTE and SWITCH. It primarily requires a good handle on how to troubleshoot network issues, and secondarily a good handle on the different technologies involved in the troubleshooting. This article is a discussion of the recommendations that can be used to help pass the TSHOOT exam and to troubleshoot network issues.
A good network troubleshooter should be able to isolate a problem to some level without requiring a great amount of specific technological knowledge, but with a simple understanding of how networks operate. The specific problem may exist within a specific feature but this feature does not need to be well known to isolate the problem, although the feature does typically need to be known to fix the actual issue, or at least to refer the issue to a department or individual with specific feature knowledge.
In a production environment, one of the most valuable traits of a good network engineer is knowing when to admit that specific knowledge to configure or troubleshoot an issue is not currently known (with this the ability to say “I don't know,” but will also include follow up by learning the topic so the next time it will be known). Of course this is useless when taking the TSHOOT exam as it is not possible to reassign the question or to have the time to learn the feature or technology.
For the TSHOOT exam, the best way to prepare for the test is to finish the Cisco ROUTE and SWITCH exams first, which builds up the technological knowledge of the topics that will be covered in the TSHOOT exam. Once this knowledge is firmly in place, it is time to learn the different troubleshooting techniques; there are a number of different ones that are used. The best one to select is dependent on the engineer and the specific problem, only experience will teach the candidate which technique to use to resolve a problem in the most efficient manner. Purchase one of the TSHOOT exam books and study the different troubleshooting techniques and the troubleshooting process.
After the troubleshooting techniques have been reviewed, the best thing to do to prepare for the TSHOOT exam format is to practice in an IOS environment; this could include a work test bed, simulated or emulated options, purchasing lab time from lab providers or building a home lab.
Work test beds are available to some current engineers and make life a little easier as the equipment can be used and the practice may be allowed within working hours. Simulated or emulated environment options are available including a simulator from Cisco Press and emulation options from dynagen and GNS3. There are also a number of different lab practice providers out there; the investment in practicing in their environments is quite useful. The building of a home lab is the best option for anyone looking to climb the network engineering certification ladder, but of course it is also the most expensive.
So how do these options stack up? Work environments work well if the environment is complete with both routing and switching options that cover the technologies covered in the TSHOOT outline; if they do not, then use them for what they have and study the other topics on one of the other options. Simulated environments work well to a point as they do not typically support the complete IOS experience, but again use them for what they do offer and study the other topics on one of the other options. The emulated environments offered by dynagen and GNS3 are really the best cheap option to work with the ROUTE technologies and thus to study for the troubleshooting of these technologies. Some switching support is available using these options using network switching cards but it is not the same as working on a switch. The best way to study for the SWITCH topics is to either rent the lab time from a provider that has a good switching offering or to purchase a switch (or switches) to work with in a home environment. When making this investment, make sure to ensure that the switch supports multilayer switching, this includes switches like the 3550 and 3560 which are quite common on sites like Ebay for a reasonable price.
Really the ‘best' way to study for any given test is quite subjective and depends greatly on the time and resources available to the testing candidate. A compilation of a number of the available options will probably be used by most candidates as it can be altered to the different resource availabilities of each candidate.