Should I Take the ENCOR Before the ENSLD?
| certifications | cisco - David Zomaya

Should I Take the ENCOR Before the ENSLD?

Passing Cisco's 350-401 ENCOR (Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies) and 300-420 ENSLD (Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks) exams is one way to earn the popular CCNP Enterprise certification. This often leads aspiring CCNP cert holders to ask, "Should I take the ENCOR exam before the ENSLD?"

No answer will be right for everyone, but for many future CCNPs, we think the answer is yes. Let's take a closer look at the two exams, explain our response in a bit more depth, and consider when the answer might be no.

Prerequisites: Planning to Earn CCNP Enterprise and Take the ENSLD Exam

If you're asking the "Should I Take the ENCOR Before the ENSLD?" question, we're going to assume these three things:

  1. You're a current network professional. There are no formal prerequisites to sit for the CCNP exams. However, if you don't have any network experience, you probably aren't starting with the CCNP.
  2. You want to earn a CCNP Enterprise, which means you'll need to take 350-401 ENCOR. Since  Certpocalypse, the ENCOR exam is one of two exams you MUST take to earn the CCNP.
  3. You have decided to take the 300-420 ENSLD concentration exam. With the new CCNP there are six concentration exams you could couple with the 350-401 ENCOR to earn your CCNP Enterprise. We're going to assume you want to focus on network design and have picked the ENSLD as your concentration exam.

With those prerequisites out of the way, let's dive into answering the main question.

Understanding the ENCOR Exam

The 350-401 ENCOR is a 120-minute professional-level exam associated with both the CCNP and CCIE certs. We already covered how it is one of two exams required for the CCNP Enterprise. ENCOR is also a qualifying exam prior to the 8-hour hands-on labs for CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure and CCIE Enterprise Wireless.

Additionally, like with all other Cisco professional-level exams, passing ENCOR gets you a cert. After passing the ENCOR exam, you will earn a Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Core certification.

The six main topics of the 350-401 ENCOR exam are:

  1. Architecture (15%)
  2. Virtualization (10%)
  3. Infrastructure (30%)
  4. Network Assurance (10%)
  5. Security (20%)
  6. Automation (15%)

You can view the complete list of topics for v1.0 of the ENCOR exam on Cisco's website.

As you can see, this is a broad range of enterprise networking topics covered. While it is not an entry-level exam, it covers the core topics Cisco believes you should know to specialize in the Enterprise niche. While exam costs can vary by region and over time, as of this writing Pearson Vue pegs the price of 350-xxx exams like ENCOR at $400 USD.

Understanding the ENSLD Exam

The 300-420 ENSLD is a 90-minute professional-level exam that focuses on enterprise design. In addition to being one of the concentration exams for the CCNP Enterprise, passing the ENSLD will earn you a Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Design certification.

The five main topics covered on the ENSLD exam are:

  1. Advanced Addressing and Routing Solutions (25%)
  2. Advanced Enterprise Campus Networks (25%)
  3. WAN for Enterprise Networks (20%)
  4. Network Services (20%)
  5. Automation (10%)

You can view the complete list of topics for v1.0 of the ENSLD exam on Cisco's website (PDF).

As you can see, the ENSLD is significantly narrower in focus than the ENCOR. As opposed to a foundation in enterprise networking, ENSLD focuses on enterprise network design. As of this writing, the ENSLD costs $300 USD, $100 less than ENCOR.

ENCOR vs. ENSLD Breakdown

Now that we've taken a look at each exam, let's compare some of the high points.

ENCOR 350-401

ENSLD 300-420

Exam levelProfessionalProfessional
Exam focusImplementation of core enterprise network technologiesEnterprise network design
Exam length 120 minutes90 minutes
Certification earned for passing ONLY this examCisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise CoreCisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Design
Exam cost (US residents)$400 USD$300 USD

When to Take ENCOR Before ENSLD

In most cases, it likely makes sense to take the ENCOR before the ENSLD. We believe this holds true for more learners than not because gaining a broad understanding and then specializing makes more sense. With ENCOR, you'll cover a broad range of relevant topics that can give you good foundational knowledge to build from.

The broadness of ENCOR can also be a benefit for your current or prospective job. Because ENCOR covers so much ground, there is a good chance if you are working in networking, you'll pick up some skills you can apply day-to-day.

Additionally, while this isn't technically in-scope given our prerequisites above, taking the ENCOR first allows you to keep your options open more than the ENSLD. If you pass the ENCOR, you could change your concentration exam and still earn a CCNP Enterprise. Alternatively, you could bypass the CCNP altogether and try for a CCIE.

All things considered, we think taking the ENCOR before the ENSLD makes sense when:

  • You want to establish core enterprise networking skills before specializing further
  • Your current or prospective job requires the implementation skills ENCOR validates

When to Take ENSLD Before ENCOR

Let's now look at when we think you should take ENSLD first. The ENSLD is more narrowly focused on network design. So, if your near-term career goals involve growing in that niche, ENSLD may make sense. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to start your studies with a narrower focus, instead of tackling all the subtopics ENCOR does, ENSLD first makes sense.

To summarize, you might prefer taking the ENSLD before the ENCOR if:

  • Your current or prospective job requires the specific design skills ENSLD validates
  • You prefer to take a shorter, more narrowly focused exam first

Final Thoughts

The "fundamentals are important" argument is the main reason we favor an ENCOR-first approach. Going broad before you go deep can help you better contextualize the material. That means ENCOR can provide a decent chunk of transferable knowledge and help you get it as you work towards other certs  — especially Cisco ones. Of course, it's not an all-or-nothing deal, and things you pick up studying for ENSLD will likely be transferable too.

The right answer will vary depending on your goals and preferences. Read up on the exam topics, consider your goals, and make a decision that matches your circumstances.

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