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This article is a follow up to CCIE R&S Syllabus, Part 2…
Q: I’m ready to start preparing for the lab exam. Where do I begin?
A: To start preparing for the lab, you should have a good idea of what you’re up against. The CCIE lab exam isn’t merely a technical exam. The lab exam is also a test of your organizational skills, time management, and attention to detail.
- You will have 8 hours to complete the lab exam. 8 hours is NOT a lot of time. If you go into the lab without a strategy of how to take the exam, that time will go by much faster than you like.
- The lab exam will present you with a number of configuration tasks taken from the lab blueprint. Since the lab blueprint is vague, Cisco has a large number of tasks they might challenge you with. You don’t know what specifically you’ll be asked to do. Therefore, having a broad and deep understanding of the lab blueprint technologies is key.
- Candidates who have to repeat the lab exam find that they get different tests on subsequent attempts. Therefore, it’s a bad strategy to take the exam “just to see it once”, and then study up on all the topics you remember from taking the lab that first time.
- You are building a complete, working network on this lab exam. You will be expected to make several complicated technologies work together. If you understand the lab blueprint technologies independently of one another, your chances of passing the lab exam diminish. You must understand how one technology affects another.
- The tasks on the lab exam might have many components. Points are awarded for a task on an all-or-nothing basis. Therefore, you must complete every portion of a task successfully to be awarded the points. This means that paying attention to detail is important. Overlooking a task requirement will mean that you lose all points for that task, even if you did everything else on the task correctly.
Q: Okay, I understand what I’m up against. So now, how do I start learning the blueprint technologies?
A: In my opinion, the first thing you should do is get comfortable configuring the blueprint technologies individually. By working on individual technologies first (and NOT doing full-scale CCIE practice labs), you will gain the breadth and depth you need to be successful. Yes, it is possible to step right into full-scale practice labs and just “go for it”; in fact, I did exactly this. In hindsight, I believe the “go for it” approach is a mistake, considering there are vendors offering technology-specific CCIE-level practice labs.
- I recommend Narbik Kocharians’ Advanced CCIE Routing & Switching – Technology Focused workbooks to learn the individual blueprint technologies. Narbik’s workbooks go deep, teach a methodology of proving that you configured what you think you configured, and offer concise explanations of important topics without any filler text. Note that if you attend one of Narbik’s CCIE lab bootcamps, you will receive these books as a part of the class.
- An alternative to Narbik’s workbooks is the InternetworkExpert.com IEWB Volume 1 workbook.
Q: I’m ready to tackle full-scale practice labs. Now what?
A: Several vendors offer full-scale CCIE-level practice labs. Most of them offer a free sample lab you can actually do to give you an idea of their approach. The labs offered by these vendors are intended to teach you complicated technical issues that face CCIE’s, time management, and an organizational approach to the lab exam.
What you get out of these practice labs is largely up to you. The more time you spend understanding challenging scenarios and how to solve them, the better you will prepare yourself for the actual lab. Racing through these practice labs while relying heavily on the answer key to get the lab working will prove insufficient. Practice labs are tools that teach complex scenarios and resolutions, not simple questions and answers. The practice labs can also be used as exam simulations that you use to gauge your time as well as your overall attack strategy.
In general, all of the notable vendors offer practice labs that include topology diagrams, task lists organized by technology, and annotated answer keys that explain the solutions to the various tasks. In the series that I’ve seen, labs are not necessarily sorted by order of difficulty. You might assume that the first practice lab in a given series will be “easy”, with subsequent labs being more challenging. That’s not necessarily the case.
- NetMasterClass.com offers the DOiT Volume 2 series of 25 practice labs. The DOiT labs have a reputation of being the most difficult. I’m not sure if that’s true or not; my recommendation is to not concern yourself with how difficult the practice labs are. While there’s a point in working through a difficult lab, you’ll find that overly difficult labs are frustrating as opposed to enriching. All of the reputable vendor practice labs are sufficiently challenging to get you to the level you need to pass. I did all 25 DOiT labs. You can read my comments on each scenario from this page. NMC also offers online content that’s a companion to the DOiT workbook. For example, you can check their configuration database to see exactly how they configured the rack to solve a certain task. You can also check routing tables and other “show” command output. Note that this is not coming from live equipment – rather, NMC captured CLI output and stored it in a database for you to query. I used that feature often – it helped clear up confusion.
- InternetWorkExpert.com (IE) offers the IEWB Volume 2 series of 20 practice labs. I did several of these, but not all of them. These are certainly effective practice labs – I had no complaints. One notable difference between the IE workbook and the DOiT workbook is that IE uses the concept of a “backbone” (BB) router. A BB router is pre-configured; the challenge is to make the other routers in the lab successfully communicate with the BB router, without tweaking the BB router config.
- IPExpert.com offers their CCIE R&S Lab Preparation Workbook: Volume 2 (Multi-Protocol Lab Challenges) set. I have not used them, but they have a good reputation among candidates who have.
No doubt, there are other vendors that could be mentioned. I only mentioned the vendors I am most familiar with. Once you start poking around, you’ll find that practically every vendor offers some sort of “end to end” program, where they’ll take you from start to finish through the CCIE program using only their training materials. I did not use this approach, in part because of the expense of most of these programs. Many people prefer the “one vendor” approach, however.
Q: I’ve completed a ton of practice labs, but I don’t know if I’m ready for the actual lab exam just yet. What can I do to bolster my confidence?
A: If you think you’re about ready the take the lab, a good reality check is to take a mock lab. A mock lab is a timed, graded lab that is as close the real thing as you can get without making a trip to a Cisco campus. You will connect to a rack remotely via the Internet
- InternetworkExpert.com mock labs, overall, are more challenging than the actual lab. I took #2, #6, and #5 (in that order), and scored 47, 59, and 55 respectively. I took #5 10 days before my actual lab. I should point out that on mock labs #5 & #6 that I was often very close to have a correct answer on several of the tasks, but was careless or otherwise fell short of the mark.
- NetMasterClass.com offers their CHECKiT series of graded mock labs. Because of the cost, I didn’t take any of these, but they have a great reputation. I know of a number of candidates who charted their readiness for the actual lab based on their results as they progressed through the CHECKiT series.
- Cisco offers their CCIE Assessor labs. I did not take any of these, as they are rather expensive. From what I’ve heard about them, there is no closer mock-up of the actual lab than these.
The mock labs are nice in that they give you a good idea of where you’re really at. Beyond the technical challenge the mocks present, you are up against a hard deadline. Your rack is no longer accessible at the end of 8 hours. That brings a sense of reality to the mock lab exam that a practice lab doesn’t quite give you, even if you tie yourself to a clock.