By Raiy Wong | October 6, 2009
Listed here is the collection of tips and strategies that I found helpful in passing my CCIE exam on my first attempt. This information is provided as my personal recommendations, and are not endorsed by Cisco Systems. Furthermore, I took the exam before the switch to the one-day format. Unfortunately I do not have much advice to offer based on the new format (except to type fast!), but the core topics and advice below should still apply.
I cannot provide any better strategy than that already provided by Bruce Caslow and Val Pavlichenko in their book Cisco Certification: Bridges Routers and Switches for CCIEs. (I’ll refer to this as the BRS book for short) The strategy they provide for test preparation AND test taking was vital to my success in passing the exam. If I had to try and summarize the 900+ page book into a single key concept, it would be the explanation of how the CCIE lab exam attempts to test your networking knowledge and an appropriate preparation strategy. This concept is often described by the phrase "spot the issue", which has become sort of famous among CCIE candidates who are familiar with this book (which is quite a few; see for yourself on Amazon.com or Groupstudy.com).
The strategies outlined in the BRS book is the basis for the 5-day course Routing and Switching NetMaster Class (RS-NMC-1) [NOTE: This is the new version of the famous Expert CCIE Preparation 1 (or ECP1) class which was offered by Mentor Technologies, but is no longer available. Bruce and Val, as well as Fred Ingham, teach this class regularly and can be scheduled by visiting the website for the class. There is also a follow-on course called RS-NMC-2 that will be offered in 2002. Both of these courses are some of the most intense, hands-on classroom training offered anywhere. You can expect to work from 8:30am until close to midnight most every day of the course.
People often ask what is so special about the RS-NMC-1 course; there are other 5-day courses available for less money. I had the very fortunate opportunity to work as a lab assistant for the class 4 times before I took my exam. Based on this experience, I would answer the question this way: It is the "issue-spotting" and test taking strategies that are taught by the instructor and through the specially designed lab scenarios.
In addition to reading the BRS book and attending the RS-NMC-1 course, a basic home lab and a commitment to spend a lot of time studying is necessary. I’ve listed other study resources below that I personally used and believe are critical for CCIE preparation. One of the most important is the creation of your own personal study notes for all of the relevant CCIE topics and your checklists. While the BRS book covers this, I provide my own recommendations and example of how to create the notes below.
Self-Assessment and Schedule >
Probably the first step as you begin preparation for the CCIE exam; you want to assess your strengths and weaknesses; a good guide is the blueprint for the CCIE available on the Cisco website; you may consider using the spreadsheet I created based on the blueprint, available here. I highly recommend filling in the Due Date column-you really need to set milestones to get through this long process!
Develop Personal Study Notes >
See below for recommended technique; these notes should include a summary of tricky configuration tips, things to watch our for (landmines!), key show commands, and key debug commands BUT, do not try to re-write CCO!
Develop Your Checklists >
Trust me, these will save you in the exam! You need to have at least the following lists: Getting Started, End-of-day Wrap-Up, and Desperation. The details of these are covered in the BRS book and even more in RS-NMC-1.
Build a Home Lab >
Yes, it is expensive, but you really can’t get around this necessity. Hopefully you have some resources at work to augment your home lab for very expensive items such as ATM, LAN Switching, ISDN, and Voice. You should be able to cover a lot of topics with just 3 routers (BGP, OSPF, and the other core topics you need to know forwards and backwards). The good news is that most of the equipment maintains its value over time and is easy to sell. Check out some of the deals offered by Brad Ellis at Optimized Systems or on eBay. If you don’t have resources available at work, check out the various remote labs that will rent rack time (e.g. ccbootcamp and vLab listed below)
Practice Lab Scenarios >
The more lab scenarios you can get the better! Keep practicing various scenarios in your home/work lab until about a week before your exam (take a break during the last week so you’re fresh for the test). Once you think you know how to configure a protocol or technology one way, do it again using another technique. Remember, the lab will not tell you how to do a given task, but it will often tell you what you are NOT allowed to configure. Therefore you need to be able to accomplish the same task 2 or 3 different ways (when IOS provides the opportunity).
Get a Study Partner >
While not critical, this sure makes the long process easier. Try to find someone at or above your skill level so that you can push each other along. If you can’t find someone locally, the idea of a virtual study group is how www.groupstudy.com got started (see below).
- Routing TCP/IP Vol 1, Jeff Doyle (note: Vol 2 recently came out. I have not read it, but I do know that it covers additional topics such as NAT, Multicast, BGP4, etc.)
- Internet Routing Architectures, 2nd Edition, Basam Halabi and Danny McPherson (the definitive BGP4 source)
- Enhanced IP Services, Don Lee (source for IPSec and QoS)
- www.groupstudy.com This is a virtual study group that has grown quite popular among CCIE candidates. You can subscribe to the email list for the lab after you pass your written, though it may take a while to get added. In the mean time, you can read the archives online. TIP: Despite what the welcome message for the list may say, do NOT introduce yourself to the list with a ‘hello’ email. Also, it is probably better to ‘listen’ for a while before posting a question and you should check the archives first to see if the question has already been answered. Ignore this tip at your own peril or if you enjoy being flamed!
- www.certificationzone.com If you need some good white papers to get up to speed quick on a topic you are weak on, this is a great site and worth the $99 for a 6-month membership. This site is also very useful if you are still prepping for your written exam.
- Cisco Technologies Page Yes, a Cisco site might seem a bit obvious. However, this is a link to the Technologies support page maintained by the TAC. It often offers much clearer explanations and examples for certain concepts that the IOS documentation. This was one of my favorite sites during my study time.
- vLab Since we developed this technology and host the labs, you shouldn’t be surprised to see this link. Our latest version of vLab, vLab Assessment, should be available soon and will provide the additional value of providing instant grading of a given lab scenario. Stay tuned for a version of vLab Assessment that will specifically assess your readiness for the CCIE lab exam. [This resource was lost with the demise of Mentor Technologies–there was some talk that a company bought the rights, but I am not sure the status]
- www.fatkid.com This site gives quite a few good, FREE lab scenarios to practice your skills on various technologies.
- www.ccbootcamp.com Probably the most popular site for complex, multiprotocol lab scenarios specifically designed to prepare you for the type of scenarios you may see in the exam. These are not cheap ($650.00) and you only get paper copies of the labs with the solutions sent to you electronically. One nice feature is that it is like a subscription service where you get new labs for free. It is also probably worth noting that our last 6 CCIEs all used these labs.
Personal Study Notes
As mentioned previously, I feel that creating your own personal study notes is one of the most important test preparation tasks. I considered providing a copy of my notes as part of this web page, but decided against it because I feel the real value is the effort required in creating your own set of notes. Instead, I want to provide some tips for creating your notes and will also provide the MS Word Template that I used to create my notes. Several people will think that this is way to much trouble for taking notes, but I think it pays off in the long run (if you can type, which is a skill you will need in the exam anyway!) The template should save you significant time in getting your notes file setup.
To see how I would recommend you create your own personal notes, please see the "Taking Electronic Notes" tip in the Consulting Tips and Tools section of my web page. A snapshot of the file I used for all my notes is below. The advantage of this method is that it helps you to keep your notes organized as you make them and allows for very fast lookup for almost any topic. It is probably not visible in the graphic, but my notes were about 38 pages long. However, I could very quickly jump to any topic using the document map feature in MS Word.
As can be seen in the graphic below, the document map on the left side of the screen is organized according the strategy described in the BRS book. Underneath each of the major headings for each level of preparation, there is a standard set of headings for each technology. These headings include ‘How to Configure’, ‘Landmines!’, ‘Key Show Cmds’, and ‘Favorite Debug Cmds’. The significance of each heading is apparent after reading the BRS book and/or attending the RS-NMC-1 course.
Example of Personal Notes:
Download MS Word Template for Electronic Notes: You will want to save this file to your templates folder (you can verify location from the Tools | Options | File Locations menu). To create a new electronics notes file, select File | New and the new template name (‘electronic-notes’ if you didn’t change it). For more info on taking electronic notes, see my Tips and Tools page. ELECTRONIC-NOTES TemplateCCIE, Study Guide
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