How Difficult is the ENSLD?
The Designing Cisco Networks exam, also known as Cisco CCNP ENSLD (300-420), is one of the concentration exams required to earn a CCNP Enterprise certification. It is intended for network administrators who have three to five years of experience in advanced network design.
Successfully completing the exam demonstrates the ability to set up and manage the performance and security of an organization's network. Those who pass it have proven they have the competence to design the equipment, software, and connections necessary to properly implement a network.
What is on the ENSLD Exam?
The ENSLD exam covers a wide variety of topics. Foremost, you need to understand network design principles at the enterprise level, such as those involving wide-area networks (WANs), software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) and wireless LANs (WLANs).
You have to show that you can configure data path virtualization technologies, configure protocols such as Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), diagnose network problems with common tools such as syslog and trace route, configure device access control and wireless security, and automate tasks involving configuration, troubleshooting and data collection.
Specifically, the exam covers the following topics:
Advanced Address and Routing Solutions (25%)
Advanced Enterprise Campus Networks (25%)
WAN for Enterprise Networks (20%)
Network Services (20%)
While the structure of the exam could change at Cisco's discretion, you should expect a 90-minute exam with 60 questions, which include multiple-choice questions, drag-and-drop questions, and exhibit-based questions. A passing score is around 840.
You should further expect that the exam will contain a combination of easy and difficult questions. Cisco hasn't created this exam to trick you with lots of gotcha questions. They simply want to ascertain that you have the necessary skills to succeed on the job. Thoroughly read the questions and make sure that you understand them. If some of them seem easy after that, they probably are.
How to Prepare for the ENSLD Exam
Perhaps the most important preparation for the ENSLD exam is having three to five years of experience in advanced network design. There is no magic substitute for experience, as it teaches you things that you cannot learn anywhere else. You simply have to bear down and gain real-world experience.
Once you have the experience, you may strongly want to consider first taking the Implementing Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies (350-401 ENCOR) exam, if you haven't already. Many of those who have successfully completed the ENSLD exam have indicated that preparing for and passing the ENCOR exam was a major stepping stone toward passing the ENSLD exam.
The next step in preparing for the ENSLD exam is studying for it, and there are many good ways of doing this.Some people choose to self-study for the exam. Cisco Press offers a well-regarded study guide that, in an in-depth manner, goes through all the material that is covered in the exam. It also includes a detailed study plan as well as practice tests and quizzes.
You can further self-prepare through a combination of reading through other practice exams that are available on the Internet and by taking online versions of these. Some have even taken the actual exam as preparation for passing it sometime in the future.
While self-study is certainly better than not studying for the exam at all, it alone doesn't fully prepare you to succeed. You learn only by rote, which might not help you as much as you need in a high-pressured exam environment. Also, and perhaps far more importantly, people who have both taken and passed the ENSLD exam have indicated that the book and other study material only provided them with baseline knowledge. They have further said that this wasn't sufficient for them to pass the exam.
The crucial ingredient that these people found in achieving success was receiving professional training that had been tailored specifically to passing the ENSLD exam.
No matter how deep or broad your knowledge of network design may be, it is unlikely that you have been exposed to the totality that the exam covers. These courses provide this totality, and many of them also give you access to highly-skilled instructors who can answer questions that you may have about the material. Some of these instructors may have even taken (and passed) the exam themselves and can offer you unique insights into passing it. Many courses also include hands-on labs, which allow you to directly practice with the technologies covered in the exam.
Both Cisco and many third-party training providers offer ENSLD exam training. While the cost and quality of this training can vary greatly, it doesn't take much searching on the Internet to separate the wheat from the shaft and to discover which training offers the best bang for the buck.
The good thing is that you don't have to choose between self-study and professional training. You can do both. They, in fact, complement each other. By first self-studying, you will be able to get far more from the training than you would otherwise, as you will already have a basic command of the material. Start with the study guide and then take a professional training course. Afterward, follow this up with practice tests and flash card prep until you feel confident that you are ready to take and pass the exam.
Is the ENSLD Exam Easy?
Quantifying whether the ENSLD exam is easy is difficult is largely subjective. What one person finds easy, another may find difficult.
One experienced IT pro and trainer both took the ENSLD exam, and said he found it exceedingly easy. He says that he was able to successfully complete the exam in only 20 minutes. But, unless you have a background similar to his, your mileage could vary considerably from his.
Still, when analyzing the public comments of more mortal people who have passed the ENSLD exam, the general consensus is that the exam is relatively easy. There is, however, one big caveat to this: all of these people, as a rule, were very well prepared for the exam. This means that they had the prerequisite experience, they had successfully completed the ENCOR exam, and they had all engaged in a significant amount of study that involved both self-study and professional training.
How Difficult is the ENSLD Exam?
Every Cisco certification exam, to some extent, is difficult, and the ENSLD is no different. If you think your background alone will prepare you for it, and you don't put the effort into preparing for it, you will likely be in for a very rude awakening in its aftermath.
So, go into the process believing that the ENSLD exam will be the most difficult one that you have ever taken. Do all the prep work that you can, including everything outlined above. By doing all this, it won't matter how difficult the exam is. You will be prepared to pass it.