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. Everyone fails an exam every now and then - my exam history is a definite testament to that. If you never fail an exam, I suspect you spend more time on preparing for an exam than you really should. Let’s have a look at some of things you can do so that it doesn’t happen too often though.
F5’s exam policy (https://support.f5.com/csp/article/K90101564) stipulates when you are allowed to retake exams again; wait 15 days after first fail, 30 days after second, 45 after third and a year after fourth. This has been done to ensure that nobody will keep doing the exam in the hope of memorizing questions and passing by accident. I quite agree with that. Still, everyone can have a bad day, and everyone will fail every now and then – as I said, my own exam history is a perfect example of that. But when you fail, don’t let that keep you from trying again!
Here is how I look at the number of tries:
I will leave it up to you to decide when is a good time to try again, but don’t put it off too far, or it will be “conveniently” forgotten about. If it was worth doing it a first time, it’s worth trying again. “It is better to have tried and failed, than to have never tried at all” Wait, is that how that saying goes? But it is right. I’m not saying waste your tries, but don’t hold back either, failing isn’t such a bad thing!
Although your initial result at the exam centre doesn’t tell you your score, once the results have been uploaded to F5, you should find your exam score in the Exam History section of the Certification portal (https://certification.f5.com/). I believe that nowadays the exam score runs from 100-350 points with 245 (or in hex…F5!) being the passing mark. It’s not much consolation, but knowing how close you are to the passing mark, gives you an indication of how much extra work you should be putting into preparing for the next time.
If you were close to the pass mark, you should have a good feeling of which questions you were struggling with and what topics you didn’t know enough about. If you can’t remember, it's likely that everything was difficult and you are best off starting from the beginning again. Remember, these exams are designed to distinguish between those who can and those who cannot. So if you were just “wingin’ it”, you'll get beaten up by the exam. Go back to the blueprint and see if you can match up those topics you were struggling with. That’s your starting point for the next phase.
When you are going back to your study material to find out what you have missed, don’t stick with just the same material. My daughter being a prime example who keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. “But I’m trying!” No you’re not, you are just too stubborn to stand back for a few seconds and think about what you are trying to do, and changing it if needed – oh how I recognise my younger self in her... Just like the hackers that are trying to attack your F5 really. If they notice that an attack doesn’t work, they will change their approach – no point in trying something that doesn’t work.
So should you change tack too. The material you may be using might not be of the level you require. Maybe you are just not understanding what the material is trying say, or the material is simply not covering the topics that you need. Find some other resources to study, ask some other people for help and build out some more scenarios in your lab. If you do this right, I am certain that there will be a few times that you say “aaahhh, of course, that’s what I missed” when you go through it. Of course there is no guarantee that you will get the same questions again next time around, but you have at least covered off yet another gap in your knowledge, and have gone on to improve yourself – and isn’t that what the whole certification program is for anyway?
A few years ago, I coached someone for the 401 exam. He had a great background in networking and security, but limited knowledge of F5’s. He managed to pass most of the 300-level exams in a few months’ time! By the time we met, he was ready for the 401. After spending a day with him talking about a variety of topics, and letting him lab up various scenarios for a week, he sat the 401 exam…. And failed. Meh, no real problem, we had another chat afterwards, discussed some of the topics he recognised he was struggling with, spend another week in the lab, …and passed! Well done and well deserved for sure! Before you ask, no, I do not suspect any foul play. I have never seen such a feat repeated again and am still in awe of this guy’s brilliance. (If you read this, you know who you are...) For most of us, that's not the case though and we actually have to make an effort... 😉
Long story short, for me that was a perfect example of someone used to passing, but still failing from time to time. Meh, it happens, brush yourself off, learn from your mistakes, try again and succeed!
Note: For another perspective on pushing through, check out Peter Silva's successful failure with the 201 exam .