F5 Certification – Concepts

F5 certification bridges the gap between Networking and Advanced Application Layer Stack. It takes about 8-12 months to develop a test. I was fortunate to be part of the Item Development Workshop (IDW) for F5 201v2 exam and wanted to share some of the information I learned during the IDW.

Key Development Concepts utilized during the IDW:

Reliability: Consistent and precise questions.

Fairness: Does not put any group under disadvantage.

Validity: Accurately and appropriately measures what is relevant.

Reliability is not just related to the individual items but the exam as a whole. In essence, reliability of an exam is measured by the consistency of an individual’s score over multiple attempts, assuming the individual’s ability hasn’t changed substantially over the many attempts.

Validity is similarly not just about an item but the overall exam. Validity is how well the proposed purpose of the exam meets the outcomes of the exam.

Minimal Competency:

Minimally Qualified Candidate (MQC) is someone who meets the minimum requirements defined by the syllabus. A rough definition of MQC is that of an MQC Lawyer who may or may not have the skills to become a Supreme Court Judge but society is comfortable with them practicing law as the MQC Lawyer satisfies widely accepted qualification standards.

Cognitive Complexity and Difficulty:

The difference between low and high difficulty is knowing pi is 3.14 or 3.1415926535. Cognitive Complexity is using pi to find the area of circle with specific radius. Based on the blueprint of the exam, up to the 3xx level exams, only Remember and U/A were used extensively in the topics. A/E shows up more in the 4xx level exam. The difference in cognitive complexity for multiple topics are provided in the blueprint of the exam.

Cognitive Complexity:

  1. Remember (R)
  2. Understand / Apply (U/A)
  3. Analyze / Evaluate (A/E)
  4. Create (C)


The Remember cognitive complexity generally tests rote memorization and information retrieval. There is a general preference against Remember (R) questions. So, instead of asking a question to list the TCP flags, a question that requires understanding of TCP flags in order to answer the question is preferred.


U/A is utilized to test application of concepts within standard operations. U/A requires an understanding of processes and the ability to pick the right process to solve a problem while being able to compare multiple processes.


A/E tests the ability integrate new information with existing information to provide answers. Diagnose a problem and understand the relationship between the concepts and how one concept influences other concepts.


Create (C) tests the ability to create new products/solutions by utilizing new or existing concepts.


Items are the questions and possible options that show up in the exam. An item consists of a Stem and Options. Stem is a combination of Problem statement and Question Statement. Options can be Distractor options or Key option(s). The Key option(s) is the right answer in the item.

Remember requires only question statement. Problem statement is required for U/A, A/E and C. An ideal MQC should be able to determine the Key without having to read the options. This is one of the reasons why time is an important aspect to differentiate the competence of an exam taker. An ideal MQC should know the answer without looking at the options. Others may have to check all the options which means they will end up spending more time per question and may run short on time.

The Stems were constructed with positive words (Positive Construction). Almost all the stems eschew negative words like NOT, NEVER, EXCEPT that could potentially lead to a wrong answer as the candidate may miss the key negative word while reading the Stem.

Each item is intended to focus on a single trait that is being tested instead of multiple traits as much as possible. A trait is a subtopic that is utilized within the blueprint. Higher complexity question could have multiple traits utilized. The item is intended to be congruent to cognitive complexity & content identified in the exam blueprint without introducing any irrelevant variance that is not required to answer the question.

Response options (Distractor options and Key options) should be similar in terms of length and logic in order to prevent the option from being an obvious wrong/right answer.

F5 Certification Program

I am an F5 Certified Product Consultant & Systems Engineer for LTM (F5-PCL, F5-SEL) and have about 5 years experience in supporting their products and slightly more experience working with other Networking Vendors. I was quite intrigued by this certification program as this is one of the first exclusive certification for Application Delivery Networking that was intended to be set up similar to the Cisco’s multi level certification culminating in CCIE which is a lab based test.

Sometime in the summer of 2012, I took my first test (Beta Test) in the newly created F5 Certification Program – 101 Application Delivery Fundamentals. As of now, I have successfully completed 101, 201, 301 & 302 exams. 303 & 304 are still remaining and I understand that the 401 exam will be released for beta testing by Q4 2014 or Q1 2015.

Exams currently available (Q3 2014):


  • 101 & 201 – BigIP Certified Administrator
  • 301a & 301b – F5 Certified Technology Specialist – LTM
  • 302- F5 Certified Technology Specialist – GTM
  • 303- F5 Certified Technology Specialist – ASM
  • 304- F5 Certified Technology Specialist – APM

As you can see, passing the 101 exam doesn’t provide you with any certification. However, it is a prerequisite in order to take higher level exams.



The beta tests cost $95 and the production, non-beta tests cost $135. The pricing is given in US Dollars. Of course, now that the production tests are available, beta tests are not available for 101, 201, 301a, 301b, 302, 303 & 304 tests.


Beta tests had a duration of 2 hours. Production tests have a duration of 90 minutes.


Without hands-on experience working on F5 products, it is going to be quite tough to pass these exams. The questions are closely tied to the blueprint for each exam. You can get the blue print from the F5 exams page.

Some of the early test takers and F5 Engineers have put together a study guide in order to help the test takers. You can find the study guide, after you register for the exam at the F5 Credential Management System (F5 CMS)

This is the new F5 Certified Candidate Portal.

Before you register, I highly recommend that you check out the F5 Certification Page.

Other resources include F5 University & DevCentral

Exam Retake Policy:

  • 1st Failure:  15 days wait
  • 2nd Failure: 30 days wait
  • 3rd Failure: 45 days wait + complete retake allowance form
  • 4th Failure: Wait 2 years

F5 has a policy were, upon failing an exam for the third time, you may request a review of your past exam performance before taking the exam for the fourth time. This review will provide a list of objectives on which you have scored less than 50% in at least two of the three attempts. To request this review, simply email F5certification@f5.com a day or two after your third failure.

Public Registry:

This link provides access to information on individuals who are F5 certified in different regions. As of Q3 2014, there are about 30 individuals who have achieved all the 3xx level certification.

Personal Opinion:

I had taken the F5-PCL & F5-SEL tests (older F5 certification) and I must say that they were a bit too easy with excessive emphasis on certain configuration elements.

The newly created tests are quite challenging & credible in my opinion for the following reasons:

The tests are conducted by Pearson Vue in test centers with more security (Photo, Palm) which means there is a lesser chance of tests being leaked.

The stricter retake policy would prevent people from taking the exam multiple times just to memorize and leak questions.

F5 seems to have a better tracking system to prevent multiple attempts from individuals.

The tests are tougher in general compared to the previous F5 exams and are set up in such a way that you need at least 1-2 years of real world experience before you can ace them. In other words, bookish knowledge alone won’t help you. In my opinion, the tests and exam scores are easier to achieve than a Cisco certification.I think this will get more complex and challenging as we gain more certified individuals.

Ken Salchow, the F5 Program Manager for this certification has created a linkedin community for F5 Certified Professional and engaged with techies with F5 expertise to answer their questions and address their concerns related to the new certification program. The linkedin community is a great resource for any questions related to the certification program.