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The Evolution of Network Engineering Exams

Let’s talk about certifications!

It can take years earning networking certifications, and like many of you, our Arista and SDN Pros Training team has also spent countless hours preparing for and taking network engineering exams. A quick count has shown that our team has accumulated over 107 certifications across 8 different vendors.

A brief history of networking certifications

Having recently spoken to our CTO and Senior Instructor, Elan Beer gives us an important look at the essential evolution of networking exams.

Historically, network engineering exams were, and still are, multiple choice exams. Over the years those exams became more and more detached from the courses which professed to help you prepare. In the mid 2000s, many vendors decided that those developing exams would not be allowed to see the courses to ensure that the courses did not bias the content of the questions. However, that also meant the courses no longer had relevance to the exams. At that time, exams were also developed by “Exam Developers” rather than technical experts, causing this style of  certification exams to lose a great deal of prestige, cohesion, accuracy, and relevance.

Multiple choice exams encouraged candidates to memorize facts that would never be used in most of the networks they would ever see. They also became technically inaccurate and filled with procedural errors.

Arista exams have now become the pinnacle of exam evolution. None of the exams are multiple choice, and none of the exams asks you to memorize trivial facts. All exams are practical, and open book; this requires candidates to actually understand concepts, content, and be able to prove their knowledge. This is how exams should have been all along.

Like everything IT, exams have certainly come a long way. Some of our seasoned engineers reminisce about past experiences!

“One network vendor did away with technology and their exam was exclusively paper-based! If you failed you didn’t need to wait until a re-sit, you just got up from your desk, picked up another exam paper, and did it again!”

“I took one exam which asked, ‘Using the diagram enclosed, which of the following 5 options is incorrect’. Sounds reasonable, except there was no diagram and there were only 4 options!”

“Round trip of 4 hours to and from the exam center because I’d forgotten I needed 2 forms of ID to take the exam, not just 1!”

“One question I came across asked, ‘Which of the following 6 options is correct’.  Option number 5 was, ‘None of the above’, and option number 6 was, ‘All of the above’. If you believed that options 1, 2, 3, and 4 were correct, then you couldn’t choose option 6 ‘All of the above’ because that would include option 5 ‘None of the above’. There could never be a correct answer.”

“My favorite exam question was, ‘which of the following incorrect answers is most correct’….huh?”

Multiple Choice Exams

Traditionally, multiple choice exams have been the industry standard, but due to the fast changing nature of technology, these exams can often include outdated questions, creating the need to study different (outdated) iterations of the products. This ultimately serves no purpose beyond passing an exam.

Multiple choice exams often require hours of memorization for the sole purpose to recall information in order to pass the exam. This may be helpful to obtain certain certifications, however it ultimately leaves the candidate with simple theoretical knowledge and no practical experience or ability to apply the information to real scenarios. In our minds, just cutting corners…

Arista’s Lab-Based Certification

This style of exam may be unfamiliar to you unless you have previously taken higher level or expert level exams. Currently, Arista is the only vendor offering practical, lab-based exams for ALL levels of networking courses on offer. Designed and developed by a team who were increasingly disappointed with traditional exams, the goal was to create network engineering exams that could SHOW an engineers’ real ability and skill, and not just how well they could memorize theoretical knowledge.

So, what is Arista CORE?

CORE is Arista’s route to certification: Cloud Operational Readiness Evaluations. Arista’s lab-based exams.

What is Arista CORE Infographic. An advanced approach to traditional network engineering exams

Accessing your Arista exam lab environment 

If you are familiar with multiple-choice exams, taking a lab-based exam is going to feel like a duck out of water.

Have a look at the exam environment below to get a feel for what to expect, in particular, access options for your environment and how to connect each of your devices.

How best can you prepare for a lab-based exam?

Here are some recommendations for taking Arista CORE: practice, prepare, read, use and study!

Top 5 Tips for successfully passing the CORE certification network engineering exams - Prepare, Focus, Lab Out, Bring Notes, Read Scenario
  • Practice building the technologies that are covered in the level exam you are taking.
  • Prepare using all of your resources!
  • Read the configuration guides and try out the examples given.
  • Practice building the technologies that are covered in the level exam you are taking.
  • Use the lab environment provided to you within your course and familiarize yourself with how to access everything.
  • Study all the topics. Each course has key topics and these are skills that will be assessed.

Some helpful reminders for exam day:

  1. Exams are open book, so remember to have your resources easily at hand – this includes lab guides, config guides, google, user guides, etc.
  2. Read the scenario completely and carefully before you start.
  3. You are unlikely to get the same scenario twice, but the core skills tested remain the same.
  4. Exams are designed to test skills, not naming conventions. Try not to worry about small things like names; instead, focus on getting it working rather than how you get there.
  5. The proctor is always available if there is an environment based issue or questions, so always ask for assistance!

Retaking a Networking certification exam

Networking exams are no joke. It takes a lot to get it right on the first attempt, particularly for those coming from other vendor exams; the real-world exam scenario can be surprising and prove challenging. This rather new exam concept can be challenging to get new candidates to wrap their head around and sometimes the harsh reality can be failing. Arista purposefully requires a 30 day break before retaking to encourage candidates to have time for additional studying.


  1. Lab it out. Open and test it.
  2. In depth review and analysis of key topics which will be fundamental skills tested in the exam. Read and study materials beyond those key concepts using whitepapers, networking news, articles and user guides.
  3. Take your time. Retaking an Arista exam is less expensive than the initial attempt, but this is not the case with all vendors. Wait until you are ready and more prepared for it!
  4. Don’t give up! It’s a cheesy saying, but the harder you work for it, the more rewarding it is!



Exam Resources

At the very least, you will have 3 weeks of lab access with an official Arista course and an opportunity to get more (additional lab time, CORE prep bundles, self-paced study options) with Arista Academy. Additional lab time and resources can be used after the course has finished and will be integral in preparing you for CORE.