Should You Wait for the New Exam Version?

Part of my daily routine is to log into Reddit and check popular IT certification websites. I like to help where I can but I do see some frustration with the moderators and long-term members when the same questions repeatedly pop up. Questions such as:

  • What’s the best way to study?
  • What’s in the exam
  • What’s the best book?
  • Should I take the current version or wait for the new one?

It’s the last question I want to address in this blog post. The others are nonsensical or forbidden to answer due to NDA, but the last one actually makes sense.

Exam Updates

Every three years, on average, vendors update their IT exam syllabus. Of course, the more skeptical among you may label this as a cash grab, but it certainly makes sense for most IT careers. There are a few certifications that last for life including the CompTIA Project+ and the Linux LPI Essentials but these are few and far between.

Exam vendors receive feedback from students, clients and companies who hire engineers and update their exam syllabus accordingly. This is especially true for careers involving regular updates to techniques or standards such as IT security and networking where speeds, protocols and standards are constantly changing.

Consider IPv6 for example. This wasn’t mentioned at all in any exam syllabus and slowly crept in gaining more and more importance until it’s a cornerstone of all networking exams now and will soon replace IPv4 entirely.

Reasons to Take the Exam Now

Generally speaking, exams get harder each iteration. I’ve seen more and more CCNP level topics slip down into the CCNA exam for Cisco until the current version is unrecognizable from the one I first took in 2000 in terms of difficulty. Sure, it’s good to pass a difficult exam but associate level exams should be just that. The P in CCNP stands for Professional which of course is a much higher level.

New exams almost always require you to understand current standards and protocols AND the new ones so the list just gets longer for you. Eventually, legacy protocols will be retired from the exam syllabus but it can take years for companies to adopt the new and retire the old.

The vast majority of people asking the question have already embarked upon their study program so have purchased study guides, attended courses and spent considerable time studying. The new exam may well have another 20% content to master requiring considering time to be invested as well as new topics to be mastered.

Reasons to Wait

If you aren’t ready to take the exam anytime soon and don’t think you will be able to pass the current version before it expires then of course, it makes sense to wait until the new exam is available. Just don’t use it as an excuse to stop studying hard. Around three months is more then enough time to take most of the IT exams available today.

If you have left it too long and the current exam expires in around a month then you can either have a go and give the current exam your best shot or wait and take the new exam. You will have to learn the new material though and probably invest in new study guides.

It’s your call of course so you need to do a cost benefit analysis. If you can turn off the TV and social media for a few weeks and have a big study push then it may well be worth it. If you have a very busy life and can only spare weekends to study then you might want to take the pressure off yourself and wait.

I do find though, that there is usually a six month overlap period where you can take the current and new exams. You can work out when a new one is due by checking then the current exam launched and working forward three years. You will also see beta versions of the new exam appear before then officially launch it.

A Few Myths

It’s worth busting a few popular myths I see being espoused.

Employers will not know or care which version of the exam you pass. All they will see is your ID card if you get one from your vendor or the fact that you are certified via a secure link the vendor let’s you send to prospective employers or clients.

Your knowledge won’t be considered obsolete just because you passed the previous version of the exam either. The syllabus will change by around 10-30% depending on the vendor. Everybody holding the certification will eventually have to either renew or allow their certification to expire.

If you really do need cutting-edge information for some reason you can easily brush up on topics at your leisure. I’ve yet to find an employer who asked or cared about which exam version you passed. If a new protocol has been added to the exam syllabus you can learn it but often, you will be working with some technologies not tested in the exam or at a company with mixed equipment from vendors such as HP, Cisco and Aruba

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