Thankfully, CCNP Switch wasn't as rough of a struggle as I thought it would be. Well, kind of.
As is my habit, you'll find my command reference guide attached for all of the commands found in the CCNP Switch official book, as well as some tips for what to do on your test (should you choose to take it).
Is There A Benefit To Taking CCNP Switch First?
While it depends a lot on the background of the person taking the test, I wouldn't normally recommend taking Switch first - for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Switch incorporates several topics from Route to build its problems out of. For example, if you went down the CCNA R&S road 8-10 years ago, you remember that HSRP and GLBP were actually on the CCNA exam back then along with the routers and routing protocol section. Why? Because they're not normally used on Layer 2 switches, but are used on Layer 3 switches and routers. Well, now those topics are on a Switch exam, and not for no reason, either. Think about it.
Secondly, keep in mind that some concepts in Switch cross over into Route, and vice versa. CEF is a prime example of this, because it operates at both Layers 2 and 3 and Switch dives into some of the hardware-oriented aspects of how it works. Route lays the foundational knowledge for CEF that's built upon a lot more in Switch.
If you normally work with more of a switching focus than a routing focus, then you might attempt the Switch exam first. Keep in mind that you don't actually earn any cred by only having the Switch exam and you'll have to achieve all three exams to earn CCNP, so you'll have to take all three eventually. With that in mind, my suggestion would be to just take them in the recommended order.
Study Prep - How To Prepare
- CCNP Routing and Switching SWITCH 300-115, by Cisco Press
- CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Volume 1, by Cisco Press
- CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Volume 2, by Cisco Press
What I'm about to offer is a completely honest opinion that I don't want to take an absurd amount of time to thoroughly research or prove, so take this with a real grain of salt:
CCNP Switch is an oddity in that roughly half of the questions on the test aren't in the CCNP Switch book, but are found in the more complete copy of Narbik Cocharians' CCIE exam study guides in the switch information sections. My experience with CCNP Switch has actually led me to suspect that the current exam version was partially constructed from the ashes of the switching portion of the old CCIE written exam.
With Cisco introducing their CCar certification (Cisco Certified Architect) recently, CCIE was no longer the "gold standard" in network cert achievements - CCar is. Well, with a new capstone in place in their cert structure, Cisco seems to have taken everything else in their cert program and pushed it down a level and mashed it up to make more room at the top for CCar. They've conveniently done this without really telling anyone. Lovely.
We're starting to see this concept applied a lot more in the CCNA and CCNP tracks, as increasing feedback I've gained from talking to others as well as my firsthand experience is that these exams are vastly harder than they used to be, and stray substantially from the stated exam objectives. This seems to be the case because higher-level former exams are now having their content crammed into the lower-ranking current exams.
Since CCNA is a prerequisite for CCNP, you've probably already seen a measure of this in the CCNA exam you took to get to this point. Remember any questions on your CCNA R&S test that really should have been in CCNA Security, CCNA Collaboration, or even in CCNP R&S? I certainly do.
Getting back to the subject at hand, though, I'd strongly recommend reading through the CCIE books on the switching sections just to gain a slightly deeper understanding of the concepts that the CCNP exam describes. There were a handful of test questions I saw that were literally pulled from the CCIE books. While I'd already read the CCIE books before attempting the CCNP Switch exam, someone who hadn't done the same could find themselves in a very angering situation on the actual exam and risk failing it due to no real fault of their own simply because the CCNP book isn't enough.
** As a short disclaimer, it's my earnest desire that Cisco doesn't frown upon me offering advice about their exams in this manner, especially when a large portion of their exams stray prominently from the stated exam objectives on their website. Having to read 8 books just to tackle CCNP Route was an infuriating experience that nearly drove me to the point of cheating on the exam, and I'd like to offer any help I can to others to try and not only prevent the cheating mentality, but to help reinforce the value that being Cisco-certified brings. In addition to this, encouraging others to buy more Cisco books, study more Cisco technologies, and adequately build their Cisco skills in order to pass these exams is a bit of a "free" sales pitch on my part as a nod towards Cisco at the end of the day. **
What To Expect On The Actual Exam
As with the CCNP Route exam, you're probably already well aware that Cisco's test questions LOVE to test engineers on configurations or situations that are not only incredibly bizarre, but that you'd run a 0.0001% chance of ever actually seeing in a real-world production environment (and if you did see them, you'd likely burn them with fire). In your labs, it's thus become a bit of a necessity to "screw" with some of the configuration commands in strange situations to try and grasp what deliberately misconfiguring your switch will actually do. While I find it pretty head-scratching as to why Cisco does this with their tests instead of testing on industry-standard best practices, it's what they've done.
One of the larger concerns that I've noted from perusing the Cisco forums is that the simulation problems on CCNP Switch are far more involved than the ones in the Route exam, and more time has to be delegated to working them. A few folks even commented that they nearly ran out of time on the exam. The best tactic to employ to counter the simulations is to make sure you're not spending more than 80 seconds on average for each of the multiple choice problems - this spacing helps to ensure that you have plenty of time to handle the sims as well as avoid second-guessing yourself too much on the multiple choice questions.
Overall, I hold that this test is easier than the Route exam. As long as you've gone through the books and included labs that I recommended prior, you should be set.
Relax. You've got this.
This guide contains all of the commands from the CCNP Switch book, and does not include the commands from the CCIE books. The reason I've opted to do this is that the commands aren't pulled from CCIE quite so much as the concepts are - and you'll want to read the books to get the full scoop on those.
What you may find a bit funny is that for an exam that's supposed to be about switching, the command reference guide is only about 60% directly related to switch functions; there's a surprising amount of security stuff thrown in as well as FHRP protocols (which I would still argue should technically be in Route, but I digress). Be sure to analyze the "not-so-switching oriented" commands, as they're sure to be featured on your test.
Overall, the guide is intended to be used as a "road map" of sorts for those that have been in a Cisco networking job function for some time and want to see how much of a bridge gap there is between their knowledge and the test, or as a final-day nifty review guide for someone who's getting ready to sit for their exam. It is not a substitute for the CCNP Switch book, which you'll still need to purchase and thoroughly examine.
And, as with all Cisco exams:
Good luck. Have fun.