This article is a follow up to CCIE R&S Syllabus, Part 1…
Q: I’ve made up my mind to pursue CCIE certification. Now what?
A: Making up your mind is indeed the first step. If you are half-hearted, making progress will be difficult. There is a lot of material to cover; if you aren’t determined, you’ll likely flounder. Early in the game, set 2 simple goals: pass the written qualification exam, then pass the lab exam.
Q: Everyone seems to think the CCIE written exam is easy. Is it easy?
A: Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the written exam. The written exam for routing and switching is not easy. Think about it for a minute. The written exam’s greatest purpose is to qualify you to reserve a seat for the CCIE lab exam. Lab exam seats are expensive and in high demand. How would Cisco gain by handing out an easy written exam, potentially allowing yahoos to waste a lab seat that could be been occupied by a serious candidate? Let’s not forget that the CCIE written exams can also be used to recertify lower-level certifications, as well as the CCIE certification itself. Again, it does not serve Cisco’s interests to make the CCIE written exam “easy”.
I wrote about my experience with exam 350-001 v3.0 here.
Q: What tools should I use to prepare for the written exam?
A: You need the following:
- An open mind. Even if you are a CCNP with 10 years of experience, you probably do not know enough to pass the CCIE R&S written exam. If you think you already “know it all”, you will most likely fail. The written exam probes a large number of subjects both wider and deeper than most network engineers go in their day-to-day jobs.
- Book(s). The CiscoPress CCIE Official Exam Certification Guide (OECG) by Wendell Odom is very good. You should supplement that reading with the Cisco.com DocCD, particularly the configuration guides for blueprint topics. Many people also like the Routing TCP/IP books by Jeff Doyle, although the Doyle books were not a significant part of my study regimen.
- Notes. You need to take notes on what you study in the OECG. Taking good notes will help you retain new concepts. My approach to this was composing detailed blog entries as I worked my way through the OECG. Other people choose to type up their own notes, and then carry them around in a 3-ring binder for later review. I’ve even seen a candidate who had his notes bound.
- A review process. You must regularly review the material you are studying, as this will help your retention. It is a mistake to study a broad topic such as OSPF, move on to other topics for the next 3 months, and then think you’ll remember everything you should about OSPF. Regular review is key to holding onto broad topics. You can review by going back over your notes, doing a quick re-read of OECG chapters, and doing practice tests. Another good review tool is the CiscoPress CCIE Routing and Switching Exam Quick Reference Sheets: Exam 350-001.
- A study schedule. Assuming you are working full-time, you should be able to get through roughly one OECG chapter per week. You should write down on a calendar what week you’ll be working on which OECG chapter. The schedule will keep you honest. If you hope to “wing it” without a schedule, it will be mentally easier for you to blow off studying on a given night, because you’ll lie to yourself that you’ll be able to make up the lost time later.
- A test date. Once you’ve made a schedule, prove to yourself that your schedule is realistic by working with it for a month. If at the end of the month you’re still on track, then schedule your written exam. Knowing you have a test looming will motivate you to stick to your schedule.
Q: What practice exams will help me for the written exam?
A: You have a few options.
- There is a CD with the Official Exam Certification Guide that includes a practice test engine. I worked with this a bit. The engine was functional, but the questions were not terribly difficult. Overall, it was a good review tool.
- Boson offers an exam simulator for 350-001. I have not used this product, but Boson has a good reputation.
- NetMasterClass.com offers their TESTiT product. TESTiT is solid, probing more deeply than the free test engine that comes with the OECG. At least, that was true back in July 2007 when I was putting the finishing touches on my written prep.
- Vendors such as TestKing and Pass4Sure (and probably others) will sell you practice test engines as well. However, understand that these folks have a reputation for stealing actual test content from a testing center, bundling it, and selling it to you. Yes, seeing actual questions and answers make it easier to pass an exam. Many people use this approach, just to get the test out of the way. Be careful if you are tempted by this bogus option. You should view written exam preparation as laying the foundation for success in the lab exam. The written exam is a learning opportunity. Making the most of that opportunity will benefit you going forward. Besides that, there is a possibility of being accused of cheating on the exam, with potentially negative consequences.
Q: I passed the written exam. When should I schedule the lab exam?
A: Scheduling the lab is a tricky proposition. First, remember that you must attempt the lab within 18 months of passing your written, or you have to take the written again. With that in mind, consider that lab exam preparation will take you a long time, at least 3 months if you can work on it full-time. If you have a job and a family, your lab preparation will take more like 6 – 12 months before your first attempt, if you’re properly dedicated.
Another challenge in scheduling the lab is that the testing centers are booked well in advance. Last I knew, there was about a 6 month lead time to book a lab seat at either San Jose, CA or RTP, NC in the US. Other sites not in North America are similarly busy from what I’ve heard. Seats tend to free up in the month leading up to a specific date, as candidates often cancel before the 28-day cutoff. Even so, you can’t count on a seat being available when you want it if you wait until the last minute.
Understanding that everyone’s studies will be a little different, my best guess of when to schedule your lab exam is to choose a spot 9 months away from when you passed the written. Even with a full-time job and family, 9 months will probably give you enough hours to work through roughly 30 full-scale practice labs, dozens of technology-specific labs, and brush up on your areas of inadequacy.
In part 3, I’ll address vendor prep materials for lab preparation, and a strategy for lab prep.