CCIE Written – Observations

      4 Comments on CCIE Written – Observations

So I obviously won’t talk about the questions that were on the exam, but I will talk a little bit about the exam as a whole.  First, I’d like to talk about how I prepared.

It’s becoming rather apparent that I ‘over-prepared’ for the exam.  I started studying casually for the CCIE after wrapping up my CCIP cert back in December of 2011.  Casually to me means slowly reading through Odom’s CCIE cert guide.  Now the problem is that casual studying really doesn’t work for me.  I tend to lose focus unless I have an outline and some end goal.  So back on February 18th I booked the exam.  Having the date on the calendar really lit a fire underneath me to get things done.  So here’s how I tackled the exam prep.

Exam Prep
-I printed a copy of the blue print for tracking my progress.  If I was comfortable enough with a topic or section I highlighted it right away so I wouldn’t waste any time messing around with it.  Then as I completed sections I highlighted them to track my overall progress. 

-I read Odom’s book cover to cover over the period of a month.  As I read I’d start filling out a page in a notebook with topics that I wasn’t comfortable with or wanted to see work in the lab.  My rule was that once I got a full page, I’d stop reading and go to the lab to work through the items I had noted down.  Once I finished the reviewing the page, I went back to the book and repeated the process.

-The Odom book is a great ‘topic refresher’ ,but in my opinion, doesn’t have enough details to take a reader from novice to expert.  There were lots of blueprint topics that only had a brief mention, a page or less of content, in the book that really wasn’t sufficient.  When needed, I supplemented the Odom book with others.  These were the books I ended up reading cover to cover…

CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide (4th Edition)
Routing TCP/IP, Volume 1 (2nd Edition)
Interdomain Multicast Routing

The multicast book was sort of a ‘I’m really interested’ purchase and not necessarily required, but I think it’s a book worth having (Big thanks to Kurt Bales for the recommendation many months ago!).  The first two books are definitely required reading though.  I also used the internets to supplement some comment.  If you google something like ‘CCIE spanning-tree’ you can usually find all kinds of blogs created by other CCIE candidates that have great answers and explanations.  I’m a big believer in the fact that people need to hear concepts in different ways to understand them their own way. 

-I labbed everything I could.  Not only did  I lab it, I spanned and analyzed the actual packets hitting the wire.  This was, without a doubt, the best way that I learned about how the protocols worked.  Often times I’d read something and think to myself that I completely understood the topic.  Then I’d configure it, and when I saw the actual packets I would be completely amazed at how much I had misunderstood (or just missed pieces) the protocol just by reading about it. 

Practice Tests
I don’t generally like doing practice tests until the very end of my studies.  I find them sort of distracting and it’s really easy to get off path by using them.  In the last week of study I installed and used the Boson exam that came with the Odom book.  To be frank, I found it useless.  There were at least two questions that were completely wrong and many that were worded in a such a way that they were almost impossible to answer.  To top it off, the explanations were awful.  In my opinion, don’t waste your time.  Rather, someone from work recommended to me the Boson exam questions that you can actually purchase from Boson…

These questions were MUCH better.  The questions were well thought out, the explanations were amazing, and I felt like it gave a much better idea of the actual type of question you might see on the exam. 

The key to successfully using practice exams (in my opinion) is to not only understand the correct answer, but to also understand why the other answers were wrong.  I found that by doing this, the questions were very helpful.  Also, when I added them to my cart there was a button that said something like ‘special offers’ next to the checkout button.  When I clicked on that, I found a $20 coupon off so I got them for $80.  I think I got the discount for registering the Odom book first but I’m not sure. 

The Exam
The exam itself is like any other Cisco exam.  You NEED to take your time, go slow, read EVERY possible answer (even if you think A is the right one for sure), and double check the final answer.  Beyond that, there is a strategy I use generally on multiple choice tests that I can share with you. 

In college, there was a professor I had who made the worst multiple choice exams.  You know, the ones that had had 7 possible answers and E and F were combinations of A, B, C, and D (ex: F  – Answers A and C).  After doing poorly on an exam I went to his office and complained that the answers were too vague and it was hard to discern which one(s) were the right answer.  He explained to me that there was a simple way to pass his exams.  All I had to do was work backwards.  Rather than finding the right answer, all I had to do was get rid of the ones that I knew were wrong leaving only one answer.  If for instance I could prove that A was wrong, I knew that F (Answers A and C) was also wrong. 

On Cisco exams, I use this approach often.  Not only because they can sometimes use tricky wording, but it also helps me ensure that I actually read all of the questions so I don’t miss something. 

That’s all I’ve got.  I can’t say for sure my study method would work on it’s own, but it worked for me.  I’m looking forward to a couple weeks off and then starting in on the lab prep.  If anyone’s got any advice on that front, I’d LOVE to hear it!

4 thoughts on “CCIE Written – Observations

  1. Lindsay

    Over-preparing for the written is no big deal – you’ll need the knowledge for the lab anyway.

    For the lab itself, I’d say:
    * Pick a training vendor if you haven’t already. The usual suspects: INE, IPExpert, Cisco 360, Micronics.
    * Stick with that vendor for a while. Later you can add in other vendors, but I think at first it’s better to stick with one. Use whatever study plan they recommend as a starting point
    * Go through the blueprint, and rate yourself brutally honestly against every item. Do this every month or so, to see how you’re progressing.
    * Sort out your study timetable, and ensure that your friends/family support you, and understand what commitment is required. Ensure your plan leaves some time for them too. CCIE can wait a few more months. Family may not be able to.
    * Later in your studies, throw in a few mock labs – ideally from a different vendor to the one you’re used to. Gives you a gauge of where you’re at.
    * Consider a bootcamp. You’ll get more out of it if you take it later on. Otherwise it might all go over your head.
    * I’m not sure what you’re doing re: equipment, but one thing I would say is don’t spend a huge amount of time mucking around with a GNS3 setup. Use it if you must, but if you start striking odd things, don’t get bogged down – just note those, and check them out on real equipment. Aim for effective study, maximising your time. Mucking around with lab setup is not effective study time.

    Finally, be patient. Take a little bit longer, and don’t get burnt out on the way. It’s not worth it. Instead, finish happy and strong.

  2. that1guy15

    Great write up!
    I have always had good luck with the Boson software in the past but I was pretty let down by the free version that came with the OCG.

    My approach now is to work through my lab plan with INE’s workbooks and videos and somewhere about half way through I will circle back and take the written.

    Ive always been bad at taking test so I will give Boson another shot at this next attempt.



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