it's been a long road to get to this point, hasn't it? From the disaster on the CCNP Route exam, through to the CCNP Switch exam being a mild breath of relief, T-SHOOT proved to be the gauntlet ring at the end of the line that would deny any would-be CCNPs from their end goal.
I've included my thoughts on this test, a few tips that aren't violating the NDA to help you adequately prepare for the exam, and some ideas for renewing this certification or setting your three-year-goal sights on the mother of all Cisco exams... CCIE.
How To Prepare
To speak to a comment that I've seen surface in several places on the Cisco.com Learning Networking forums, reading the book actually raised a warning flag in a few people's minds that the content on the actual exam is fairly easy. You'll likely learn very few new things in reading the book since so much of it is just depth review.
The book correlates pretty well to the actual exam content you'd see on the test, and actually covers it fairly comprehensively. T-SHOOT isn't the curveball that the ROUTE exam was in the regard that (deep breaths here, folks) you can actually pass the exam having only used the T-SHOOT book and no other study resources. I didn't even use the Learning Network or Skillport courses in preparation for my test, and still scored high marks.
The reason for this is because the best preparation for the exam is simply having a decent hands-on background with the platforms tested. Knowing where to look for what, being able to rapidly break down network models to find problems, and dissecting 'show' commands to see statuses and information are the key points to victory for you.
Fellow CCNP Robert Boldy made the comment on this exam that while it tests a plethora of real-world skills in a format that wasn't previous in the entire Routing and Switching exam path outside of CCIE, it's overall a fairly easy test for someone who's been in a CCNP-level job role for more than a month. While I believe he's giving the test slightly lower marks that it deserves with that statement, I agree with his standing more than disagree.
If you're using this exam to get a better job than you have right now (usually what folks take it for) and you don't have a work environment where you can perform CCNP-level job functions to prepare yourself, my suggestion would be to either build out a physical lab for yourself or invest the $200 or so in Cisco's VIRL virtual lab solution. Once you have your lab, play around with it while using the Cisco Press book as a reference.
I can't underline this enough, folks - having hands-on experience and good troubleshooting methodology is going to be the key for you in getting past this exam.
The Actual Test, & Avoiding Common Mistakes
Wait a minute, Caleb! Did I read that right? Only 15-25 questions? That's right!
Now, you can probably readily deduce a couple of things from this information. If there are far fewer questions than the other CCNP exams up to this point, then the questions are likely much harder and take longer to solve. Also, seeing as how myself as well as many others stress the importance of hands-on troubleshooting experience for this exam, you could easily add two and two together to summarize that a decent portion of this test is going to be hands-on simulations or testlet problems.
Time constraints may become a very real issue for you on your exam because on all other Cisco exams up to this point, the hands-on simulation questions were always weighted much more heavily than the multiple choice questions towards your score. But, since the majority of this exam is going to be hands-on simulations, it should be taken into consideration that the weighting is going to be distributed a bit more evenly across across them all.
The point I'm getting at with this is that if you're well and truly stuck on one of the simulations, take a quick 3 minutes or so and research the best guess at the solution that you can, guess on it, and move on. Completely bombing one of the simulations likely will not cause you to fail the test, although it will make your margins a LOT narrower for victory.
In a similar vein, time management is going to be an issue for you regardless of whether you're a newcomer to CCNP or a seasoned 20-year veteran simply because the scope of some of the problems is absolutely enormous. While the solution would likely be apparent at the small-scale level, just getting far enough down in the topology scope to find it can be a search for a needle in a haystack. Keep an eye on the remaining clock time, and accelerate your pace if you're being a little bit too cautious and checking a lot of work needlessly.
I finished my exam with two minutes to spare; I'll admit that I was more visibly shaken than I would have liked to be on the tail end of the test simply because I was almost certain I was going to run out of time.
One infuriating aspect of this test that should probably be brought up in spite of the Cisco NDA is that I had multiple problems where using PINGs to test point-to-point connectivity sporadically didn't work in the simulation even though I was ripping my hair out at a loss as to why they were failing. Routing protocols were up with no equal-cost load balancing, the next-hop adjacency was present, no ACL was blocking the traffic, and the traceroute command was conveniently disabled to prevent easier path troubleshooting.
Perhaps Cisco could consider a slightly more thorough lab environment analysis for this exam; as a test taker, these failed PINGs were a frustrating experience that not only forced me down several bunny trails that they shouldn't have, but aren't correlative to a real-world troubleshooting situation. At the very least, enable the traceroute command if you're going to use it so prodigiously in your book's examples!
My two cents.
Where To Go From Here?
In my completely subjective opinion, it comes down to what you're currently doing in terms of work experience and where you ultimately want to go. If you're getting CCNP certified to get into a better job than you have right now, you're likely going to be too "green" to attempt CCIE. Heck, I've been in a CCNP-level role for a couple of years now and I'm still debating on putting CCIE into my five-year personal development plan or not.
The biggest considerations are going to be the amount of time you have, how well you still have the ability to learn (it gets worse with age, I'll admit), and the degree of patience you have as a person. I've generally heard that for CCNPs committing to the CCIE track, 18 months to 3 years of dedicated study is the ballpark that most engineers find themselves in in terms of study. That number fluctuates a little based on family, personal obligations, ability to learn, etc. - but you get the basic idea. It also factors in that the average amount of attempts needed to pass the CCIE lab test is between 3 and 4.
Not to deter you from your goals and dreams, but an arguably more reasonable short-term goal (and one that will also serve to renew your CCNP in the process) is to aim for CCDP within two years of achieving CCNP R&S. There's only a one-exam difference between the CCNP R&S path and CCDP (the Design exam), and it's decently desired in many engineering environments, particularly datacenter.
This could also serve as a guidepost of sorts for an Expert-level exam track for you. Most CCIEs will attest that the CCDE exam is easier than the CCIE R&S exam, and might be a milder way of getting your feet wet in the Expert-level territory.
For myself, I'm going to do CCDP next year, then see where my career is currently landed and decide at that point on CCIE. To be honest, if my current plan on having VCP6-DCV and CISSP in a couple months bears fruit, CCIE would only be a marginal pay increase (if that) over what my resume currently has in terms of letters behind my name. The other consideration at the moment for me is that I'm not trying to over-invest in my career, since my position as a global humanitarian and non-profit organizational leader will become my career in due time.
I'm only going to be able to top out so high. And I'm alright with that.
I feel like I've aged ten years in getting to this point. I'm in desperate need of a break from reading books and being stuck at a command line for the entirety of my spare time.
I wish you the best in your CCNP efforts. It's been a wild ride, and I'm sure there will be more to come in the days ahead.