F5 Certifications Mega Meta Series: The art of knowing what you need to know
In this series of articles, I will go into the details of how the exams are developed (...as far as I know at least), and how I think you can improve your chances of passing them. With F5’s exams being focused on what you can do in real life, rather than what you know in theory, it makes it difficult to know what exactly you need to know for the exams. Techies don’t like that – we are like binary; we know it or we don’t. We’re not good at blagging (cheeky British term for obtaining through persuasion) our way through a conversation about something we don’t know, so why should exams be any different. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work like that, and neither should exams. This can therefore easily become a stumbling block when preparing for the F5 exams; “I don’t feel I know everything I need to know, so therefore I’m not going for the exam yet.”
In this article (part five of eight), I hope to give you some hints and tips on how to find the right information. Everyone has their own ideas on how to work through the material though and I am under no illusion that my way is the best way – whatever works for you, great!
Step 1: Blueprint
K29900360. The one document to rule them all! A simple document, but oh so powerful! These are the topics that you need to know about and this is the document that the exam developers use to come up with questions (check out a recent article about that if interested). So, think of yourself sitting in the pub with some of your F5 friends and you start talking about these topics; what would you talk about, what could you ask each other? Who knows, see it as a highly specific F5 pub quiz! How simple it may sound, that will probably be the things that you would need to know about Then, looking back on the study guide, the more I already know about a certain topic on the blueprint, the less time I will spend on studying for it.
Also remember that the vast majority of questions are about testing if you know the technology and how to apply it in real time, not whether you can remember facts – Google is much better at that! So don’t worry too much about remembering facts, spend more time at playing with the kit! (see our upcoming article for more about that)
Step 2: Training and Research
If you don’t know what a topic in the blueprint means, go to Google! (other search engines are available – I’m sure Yahoo, Bing or AltaVista may still work…) Simply get a better understanding of what a protocol or function means. Protocol-wise, I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. F5 has a variety of repositories available as well for all kinds of information; Clouddocs, AskF5, DevCentral. – get familiar with them and use them. This is also a good moment to think about training courses, if you haven’t done so already. Although the F5 training courses don’t specifically focus on the exams, they do cover a large variety of topics from the products and give you the chance to play with the kit. Most F5 trainers are also very knowledgeable about their products - they must have passed the respective 300-level exam to be allowed to deliver it after all, so feel free to ask us about it.
Step 3: Expand your knowledge
You will learn more than you have to for the exams – get over it. Yes, if exam is based on a book, you know exactly what you need to learn and what not. Because we don’t, and we want to make sure that we are covered, you will learn more than you have to. Is that such a bad thing? It wouldn’t be the first time that I get to a consultancy a few weeks after I’ve learned something new and they ask me if I’ve got experience with that specific topic. “Ahyes, sure! I’ve just done a project for this a few weeks ago!” They don’t necessarily have to know that it was a project in my own lab, as long as I understand and have experience with it. If anything, it shows the power of the exam; you expand your knowledge and improve your overall worth! So don’t be afraid to take some detours from the blueprint now and then when you are studying; a lot of that knowledge will come back at some point. If not to better understand the material for this exam, then at least for whatever you will do afterwards – maybe even the next exam!
Step 4: Study guides
Read the study guides that are available; f5books.eu are supposedly pretty good! They were developed after I’ve finished my 101 and 201, so haven’t used them myself, but have heard great things about them.
Step 5: Blueprints Revisited
See if the topics make more sense now. If you haven’t done so already, read the example questions that are showing on each section. If anything, it’s a form of cheating to already get these questions; use them! These example questions should be fully understood by now and you should know what technologies they are talking about and how this works with F5. If unsure, build a lab scenario that contains this information. When reading these example questions, you should also know what other technologies are related to this. For example, something that may pop up in an APM exam; understand how the F5 works with AD. Well, that tells me that I need to know the basics of AD, how the F5 works with AD, what troubleshooting tools are available for it and how it normally functions. Besides that, I can imagine that questions about related technologies such as LDAP, Radius and the likes can also be expected. Just now typing in “f5 apm ad” in Google already gives me a nice list of the most common ways to configure and troubleshoot this on the first page. Brilliant! That is my study guide sorted for the next half hour. Once you start reading stuff that either clearly hasn’t got anything to do with it, or you start to read things that you have already read, you are done for now on that topic!
Step 6: Shortlist
Make a list of any topics that still elude you. There are likely to be some topics that you simply don’t know where to start, or that you cannot find any good resources for. In those cases, Google and the likes are less likely to help you. Speak to colleagues, speak to consultants, trainers, presales, whoever you can find that you can talk to about it some more. It is very likely that you have simply thought of a topic the wrong way around, or have misinterpreted what it means. Someone that knows the technology can explain it to you in a different way, and all of a sudden, it may just click! They can also often give you some information that you simply hadn’t thought about yet, or can fill in other gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even though I have been working with networking and security for over 10 years and I’m supposedly an expert in this area, about 25% of my time still goes on training; reading articles, joining webinars, training sessions and building scenarios – it never ends. The more I can learn from other people, the better! The only idiot here is the person that thinks they know everything.
At this late stage, people often start looking for exam dumps. An honest warning; don’t. Not only are they likely to be either old exams, practice exams or just nonsense questions, you are also likely to get the wrong information because of it. Just because someone somewhere has said that for this question, this must be the right answer, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Ah, the good old days when information on the internet could be trusted. Always check for yourself and know your stuff. Better still, stay away from exam dumps altogether as they negate the effectiveness of any exam and degrade the quality of your hard-earned certificates. In addition, F5 spends quite a bit of effort on tracking unsavoury behaviour by test takers and the like (for good reason!) and I’d hate for anyone to be barred from the program because you got a bit lazy.
Step 7: Relax
Because of the scenario-based nature of the questions, people tend to do quite well on the exam or pretty badly. Which if I’m correct, should translate in a better spread of the overall exam results. Combine this with the knowledge that you can’t really cheat on the exam and that the exam doesn’t have to trick you to test your knowledge, and you will find that the pass mark for F5 exams are also be reasonably low. If you get a few things wrong, no worries – that’s part of the process. If you forget some protocols during the day, meh, you’ll be fine.
So, get preparing… As long as you’ve done your due-diligence beforehand and tried your best to cover all topics, you’ll do fine during the exam as well. Good luck!