For the past couple of months I’ve been looking at ways that people prepare for the CCIE Routing and Switching lab. I’ve talked to a lot of recent CCIEs and a bunch of CCIE candidates. They all acknowledge that lots and lots of hands on practice on gear is important. CCIE R&S candidates really need to know a range of technology as I mentioned in CCIE Roadmaps, Topics, and Blueprints. Practice using one or more preparation vendors so candidates get exposed to different question styles seems helpful as well.
But I believe successful CCIE candidates also need to have some serious soft skills so they can demonstrate on an eight hour test that they have the technical knowledge to be certified as a CCIE.
Soft skills are part attitude and part approach to CCIE preparation and the lab. Many people have blogged about soft skill ideas, or posted comments to CLN or GroupStudy discussions. Cisco even publishes ten tips for taking the lab exam here:
Cisco also posted a brief video demo to help familiarize candidates with the online interface here: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/docs/DOC-1171 that they say includes tips to help you be more efficient on the lab.
I’ve put together my interpretation on soft skills that builds on the two Cisco documents. These “soft skills” are needed so CCIE candidates can be efficient at completing the CCIE lab:
B) The lab has an online interface, so be prepared for an online interface.
C) The lab has an online interface, so understand what the demo says the interface supports.
D) The lab has an online interface, so practice using Putty for console access.
E) The lab is a timed test, so practice with time constraints.
F) The lab is a timed test, so manage your time during the exam.
You don’t need 100% to pass the exam, you “just” need 80% in troubleshooting, and 80% in configuration in the allotted time frame. So during your practice and during the actual lab, you need to keep in mind the point value of each question, and how long it is taking to solve it.
As Cisco mentions “don’t lose too much time working on a 2- or 3-point question.”
If a 2 point question in any section will take you too long to solve, be prepared to skip it until the end of that section, or just deliberately ignore it. (This may be really hard for linear thinkers – but it is a really good strategic decision. CCIE candidates need to satisify a hard score to pass the lab exam, but they do not need to complete all of the hard tasks.)
However, don’t sacrifice connectivity, you can deliberately implement a fix that is not allowed in the lab, lose a few points, but still achieve access to all devices.
You should scan the entire lab and note what will be easiest for you to implement. At exam time you want to complete the easiest points first so that you get enough to pass the section.
You should as familiar with the online interface as possible, so you will be as efficient as possible on the lab. Watch the demo video. Watch it again. There is no longer a paper exam – the virtual topology, test questions, documentation and section guidelines, and other tools are all presented online through a lab delivery system and accessed through a centralized tool bar. Your final weeks of lab practice should follow this format as closely as possible. For example, you should be reading practice lab scenarios and viewing diagrams electronically. You should practice quickly reading through an entire mock lab in an electronic format.
You can also use the Cisco Learning Labs to practice the IOU experience. For example, while not as complex as the CCIE lab, the TSHOOT labs might be helpful in looking at tickets, looking at online diagrams when solving tasks, using Putty, etc.
- When you click on a device on the topology map, you are connected to a device console. (For the troubleshooting section, this a virtual device.)
- Each console session shows the device name in the upper left corner.
- You can adjust the Copy / Paste options a bit.
- You do not need open console sessions to all devices at all times. Focus on the sub-set of devices impacted by a particular incident, open others as needed.
- You can reload a device to the initial lab starting configuration from the Manage Devices tab.
- You can look at one incident or diagram at a time in a separate pop-up, or all the incidents and diagrams in the troubleshooting section in one popup. You should make it a practice to quickly read through the entire lab at the start of the section.
- Only controlled links to “lab approved” Cisco documentation are provided during the lab, you reach them through the Help section.
- You can look at one section or diagram at a time in a separate pop-up, or all the incidents and diagrams in the configuration section in another popup.
The online tool appears to use a customized version of Putty, so practice using Putty exclusively before your lab.
Bruno van de Werve from Cisco posted some examples of what can be changed in the console sessions here: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/message/57737#57737
Here is what is available in a standard Putty window:
Be efficient at copy and pasting between Putty windows, and moving between multiple windows. Practice using Windows Notepad to type out common configuration commands, then copy and paste into multiple devices. Make copy / paste and navigation in Putty your standard operating procedure, while at practice, and while at work.
Set hard limits for time to work through practice scenarios and build your speed. If a troubleshooting scenario is supposed to take 2 hours to complete, set a timer for two hours. Start the timer, then begin the process by reading through *ALL* of the scenario. Then be selective – do the easiest tasks first. Plan to sub-divide your time among the incidents but leave some room for review. So for 10 tickets in a two hour period, allow yourself no more than 8 minutes a ticket, with time to scan through all tickets at the beginning, and work on harder tickets at the end. Set a second timer for each ticket. Since the lab diagrams will be presented electronically, start with electronic diagrams. It is fine to sketch out additional diagrams, but don’t use printed diagrams, and don’t create sketches until your overall scenario timer has started. Then practice other scenarios with a shorter 7 minute per ticket, than a 6 minute per ticket pace. Apply the same process to configuration sections – read through the *ENTIRE* scenario, pick the easiest tasks, and do them first.
Make a goal to get enough points to pass each lab section as quickly as possible. Do the easiest tasks first. Manage your time in each section by sub-dividing your time among the incidents or configuration sections while leaving some room for review at the end. Make a note of incidents or topics that you are deliberately skipping, and then move on. Track your points – what you definitely have completed, what you want to look at again, what you estimate is too time-intensive for your lab time budget. After you finish your first pass through the section, check your time, calculate your points, check your completed work, and than review the ‘look again’ items. Check your time, calculate your points again, then tackle the remaining items, always looking to get enough points to pass the exam quickly.
Note: The Troubleshooting section has a maximum of 2 hours. Cisco says “Candidates who finish the troubleshooting section early may proceed on to the configuration section.” This is a pretty strong hint that if you can complete the troubleshooting section quickly, you can move on to the configuration section. If you finish troubleshooting, checked your results, and know you have sufficient points to pass troubleshooting, you should move on to the configuration section. You can NOT move back from the configuration section to the troubleshooting section.
ps – If you want to see what the lab exam site looks like, here is a video from Cisco that provides a look inside: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-WXl68EJl4
Although this older video still shows printed lab books, it also provides some useful tips such as reading through the entire lab so that you won’t have to change an earlier configuration due to later requirements, and using the proctors to clarify questions.