CWTS

Last month, I took the Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS) exam. This is issued by CWNP, who are similar to CompTIA, i.e. it’s a vendor-neutral exam rather than being based around specific technology (e.g. Cisco access points).

The CWNP website says: “The CWTS certification validates the knowledge of enterprise WLAN sales and support professionals who must be familiar and confident with the terminology and basic functionality of enterprise 802.11 wireless networks.” Similarly, when I booked the exam on the Pearson Vue website, they list it as: “PW0-071: Certified Wireless Technology Specialist – Sales (CWTS)”. This exam isn’t a pre-requisite for any of the higher qualifications, so you could start with the CWNA instead (“the foundation level enterprise Wi-Fi certification for the CWNP Program”). As I understand it, the main difference between the CWTS and the CWNA is “what vs. how”, although I don’t really know enough about the CWNA yet to comment in detail.

Having said that, I learnt a lot by preparing for this exam, and I think there is quite a bit of technical detail in here. For instance, here’s section 3.6 of the exam objectives:

Understand and apply basic RF antenna concepts

  • Passive Gain
  • Beamwidth
  • Simple diversity
  • Polarization

I think there are a lot of IT professionals who would struggle to define all of those terms. Similarly, here’s one of the sample questions from the start of the textbook:

What can contribute to voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) in an IEEE 802.11g wireless LAN circuit?

  1. Output power of the access point
  2. Impedance mismatch
  3. Gain of an antenna
  4. Attenuation value of cable

So, this is a bit more involved than just saying “Buy a wireless router and plug it in at home”!

I used the official study guide as my primary source to prepare for this exam. However, I also have several years’ experience of working with wireless technology, and I’ve read various articles/manuals to get things working properly; my A level Physics came in handy too. I’ve reviewed the book over at Goodreads; basically, I thought it was pretty good. There are a few errors (which I’ve reported to Wiley), but nothing too serious; it’s better than most Microsoft study guides, although not as good as most academic textbooks.

The book also refers to the companion website:
http://www.sybex.com/go/cwts2e
However, that link now redirects you to the Wiley website, and it suggests that you go elsewhere for companion content:
http://booksupport.wiley.com/
If you search for this edition, you won’t find anything. If you do a more general search for “CWTS” then you can access the content for the first edition of the book, which applies to the previous version of the exam (PW0-070 rather than PW0-071). The simpler approach is to go to the CWNP website:
https://www.cwnp.com/training/freeresources/sybex_download/
That has companion content for all the Sybex study guides, although it still only has CWTS content for the first edition.

In practical terms, that means that some of the information is out of date. For instance, it claims that IEEE 802.11-2007 is the latest version of the standard (rather than IEEE 802.11-2012) and it says that channels can be 20 MHz or 40 MHz wide on a 5 GHz MIMO system (ignoring 80 MHz wide channels for the 802.11ac amendment).

Also, the test software uses Adobe Flash 9, and it has an odd glitch: if I go backwards, it remembers the answer I chose but it doesn’t actually select the relevant option (filling in the circle). That’s not an issue for the real exam, because I can’t go backwards, but it looks slightly odd; I’d say that the test should either match exam conditions or display the same screen as before.

However, I think that it’s still worth downloading that content; it’s better than nothing. I recommend waiting until you’ve finished reading the book, then you can assess whether you’re ready to take the exam.

Looking at the CWTS forum, I found this post from from someone who failed CWTS on their first attempt:

“I took the test yesrterday, and I was shocked that I failed. I was surprised how many questions were too long to read, then after the mini story, then the question was asked. It took me a few long seconds to figure it out what was being asked. Is this test designed so that you fail the first time, then make you pay another $150.00 fee. I think you guys should give an opportunity to those that came closed to the 70% that took the test or first time.”

You have 90 minutes to answer 60 questions, so that averages out at 1½ minutes per question. When I did the practice exams, they took me about 15 minutes each. I spent about 30 minutes on the real exam, and that was when I made an effort to slow down and take my time. In fact, I found the real exam slightly easier than the practice tests. So, that’s where the practice tests will be most useful: if you’re struggling to finish in time, you probably need to do more studying before you actually sit the real exam.

As for the mini-stories (scenarios) at the start of each question, I think that almost all of the details were relevant. By contrast, the A+ exams often contained irrelevant information, presumably because they didn’t want to hint at the correct answer. (For instance, if the correct answer was “This person can’t print because their printer is turned off”, the question would still specify which version of Windows and Office they were using.)

When I came to book my exam, Pearson Vue charged me $170 + $34 VAT (at 20% UK rates) = $204 total.

CWTS

However, the CWNP website sells vouchers for $150, and Pearson Vue don’t charge VAT if you use a voucher. So, that’s definitely the cheaper way to go! CWNP also offer a combined kit (voucher, practice test, and study guide) for $275. The practice test costs $125, so you’d effectively get the study guide free ($40); that might be worthwhile in the USA, but it’s not so good for me when I’d need to pay for shipping. It’s a pity that they don’t offer an ebook version.

You need to create an account with CWNP to buy the voucher, but you’ll also need that later on to access your certificates etc. so you may as well set it up early. Mind you, I think their user interface could do with a bit of work. It’s a bit rubbish that I had to re-enter my name/address when I bought the voucher after I’d already specified that for my account; at the very least, it could have defaulted to the existing details.

I bought the voucher on 2015-03-18, and it expired on 2020-12-31, so it was valid for about 5 years. Personally, I didn’t intend to wait anywhere near that long! I’m not sure what happens if you buy a voucher and then the exam is superceded; hopefully CWNP would be willing to exchange it free of charge.

I took the exam at LSA Training (near Wembley stadium). I hadn’t been there before, but the automated email from Pearson Vue included some directions:

We are located adjacent to Holiday Inn Hotel called ‘YORK HOUSE’ and the landmark to look for, is a Tesco Express. The nearest train station would be Wembley Central (Bakerloo Line) and the closest tube station is Wembley park (Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines), we are at 10 minutes walking distance from both. Strictly no parking on event days, also please note that the main entrance is locked on weekends, call LSA through the buzzer located right next to the main entrance door and we will unlock the main entrance door. We do not have the parking facility on our premises but we have multi stored car park right beside the building which is pay and display.

This was slightly misleading, because they’re not exactly adjacent to the Holiday Inn. You would use Wembley Hill Road (B4565) to get to both buildings, but they have a side road in between (Royal Route), so don’t turn down that side road. There’s a barrier in front of the York House car park, so I assume that they wouldn’t let you bring in your own car. However, there’s also a double-storey bike rack in front of the building, and nobody objected to me locking up my bike there.

There are lots of companies based inside the building. When I reached the LSA office, they had small lockers for valuables. That wasn’t big enough for my bike pannier or helmet, so the reception staff let me store those behind the desk, and I just put my keys, wallet, phone etc. into the locker (then put the locker key in my pocket). As usual, I had to take along a couple of forms of ID; the automated email will give you the relevant details.

I then went into the room and the member of staff logged me into the computer to do the relevant test. I’ve done several computer-based exams before, and this one seemed a bit more abrupt than others. (That’s not a bad thing, just something to be aware of.) For instance, there wasn’t a practice test before the exam, it just went straight into question 1.

My normal approach for these exams is that I’ll start by answering every question as best I can; if I’m not sure about a particular question then I’ll mark it for review. After I’ve finished my first pass, I’ll go back to look at the questions I marked, and spend a bit more time on them. In some cases, I’ll eventually think “Well, I don’t know the answer, but this guess is as good as it’s going to get.” Once I’ve put in my final answer, I’ll unmark it and move on. When all the questions are unmarked, I’ll then do a third pass to check all my answers, just in case I made a silly mistake somewhere. Then I’ll click the “Finished” button at the end.

However, as I mentioned above, the CWNP exams are different: you only get one chance to answer each question, i.e. you can’t go back afterwards to check your answer. I can see a potential reason for CWNP to do this; sometimes you can cross-reference questions to deduce extra information, so this method could be a fairer test. Anyway, that means that you need a different strategy, and you may need to keep an eye on the clock to make sure that you don’t spend too much time on a particular question.

Most of the questions told me to pick one answer (radio buttons), but a couple of them told me to pick a specific number of answers (check boxes); if I checked too many boxes then it displayed a warning message. After I answered each question I clicked “Next”. I’m not sure what would happen if I double-clicked the “Next” button by mistake, i.e. if I implicitly moved past the following question without answering it at all. I asked about this in the CWNP forum and someone (staff?) said that it should warn me. However, I didn’t want to put this to the test by deliberately leaving one of my questions blank.

Related to this, some exams let you mark questions for comment, then you can give feedback at the end of the exam (e.g. if there’s a spelling mistake or the question is ambiguous). The CWTS exam doesn’t have that option, but there is a separate button next to each question which allows you to submit comments as you go along, so I did that for a few questions. Just be aware that this is coming out of your exam time, rather than a separate comment time at the end of the exam, so it’s probably best not to do that if you’re worried about running out of time.

There weren’t any syntax questions in this exam. For instance, you might say that you would disable certain data rates but you won’t have to tell them how you’d do it. Some questions involved photos, where they’d basically ask “What’s this thing?” Thinking of it in household terms, you should be able to tell the difference between a TV aerial and a satellite dish.

After I answered the final question and finished the exam, I was expecting to see a survey. (This normally comes up before your result, presumably so that you won’t leave rude comments if you know you’ve failed!) However, there wasn’t a survey at all for this exam, it just displayed my result straight away. Happily, I passed.

After the exam window closed, I noticed a message on the desktop wallpaper:
“This copy of Windows 7 is not genuine.”
In my experience, that means that the evaluation period has expired and they haven’t entered a valid licence key. The test centre may be under some constraints, i.e. if they’ve been given a disk image and ordered not to change anything, but my advice is that they either need to set up a KMS host or re-apply the image often enough to avoid that message.

I went back through to reception, where they gave me a printed page with my exam results, and I mentioned the error message. The guy behind the desk had a “deer in the headlights” look on his face, which was a bit discouraging; I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to know any technical details, but it suggests that they don’t have any process in place for handling technical problems (e.g. calling an internal helpdesk). This does affect my opinion of the company as a whole. The staff are friendly, and the location is convenient, so I’m happy to sit more exams there; in fact, I’ll be back there in a few days. However, I wouldn’t go there for any training.

The printed page said:

  • Go to https://www.cwnp.com/tracking/ and follow the instructions. You will receive your user name and password within 10 days of earning your first CWNP certification.
  • Please allow 10 days for the CWNP Program to receive your exam results.

When I went to that URL, it said:
“You no longer need to register your exam results. Your results will be transferred automatically to CWNP within three business days. After three business days, please verify that your exam results have been transferred by logging in to the CWNP web site. If you have any questions or concerns, please email customercare@cwnp.com.”

So, it seems as if a few things aren’t quite in sync. Similarly, the right hand side of the printed page appeared to be chopped off, although that may be a printer problem at the test centre. It’s not serious, but there’s room for improvement.

As I mentioned above, I already had a profile on the CWNP website (to order the voucher) so I logged in the same day, but there was no sign of my new qualification. I then got an email at midnight (i.e. less than 24 hours after my exam) which prompted me to log into the website again, and this time I could download my certificate (as a pdf). So, I assume that there’s a scheduled job which runs once a day to update all the results, and I didn’t have long to wait.

This qualification never expires. However, it does satisfy the requirements to renew CompTIA’s A+ce or Network+ce qualifications, i.e. you could take this exam as an alternative to re-sitting either of those, although that will only work once.

All in all, I’m happy with the way this went, and I think it’s a useful qualification to have.

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