Note: Most of the information below about the CCIE Practical Exam is dated and will not apply to today's version of the exam.  That said, some of the notes I've made about preparation and attitude might be helpful for those of you that are preparing for it.

<read in a Law & Order intro voice>

On the morning of May 24, 2001, I was flying from San Jose, CA to my home in Dallas, TX, having just survived my first (and only!) attempt at the Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer (CCIE) practical exam.  On this flight, I decided to brain dump the entire exam experience, including the preparation (in an NDA safe manner) and share it with a study list. Here is the story (unedited except for formatting):


Hi all!

I just wanted to write everyone and thank you all for the congratulations and also to jot down some things that I hope will help you in your quest for the CCIE.

I obviously can't go into details about my particular exam (believe everything you hear about the NDA), but I can tell you some of the materials and strategies that I used going into it that I know helped me pass.

For what it's worth - The most important decision/sacrifice I made leading up to my lab date was to take all of my vacation time for studying right before the lab. This helped cement that fact that the goal of getting the CCIE was my goal, and that I wasn't afraid to do what it took to get there.  This was obviously a personal decision, but the less number of times it took me to pass the lab, meant the less amount of time I would be locked in my lab away from my family working on scenarios.  At the same time, I didn't set myself up to be devastated if I did not pass the first time.  The average pass is on the third attempt, and I knew that if I didn't make it the first time, that I would be that much more experienced going back in.  This is a tough exam, and the mystique and hype surrounding it doesn't make it any easier.

Resource Materials

"Internet Routing Architectures (2nd Edition)" - Sam Halabi
This one is the BGP bible, and a must-have for anyone that works with BGP or is preparing for the lab.  It is a great book.

"Routing TCP/IP Volume I" - Jeff Doyle
This book is the IGP bible.  Full of great info on RIP, RIPv2, IGRP, EIGRP, OSPF and Route Maps.  IMHO it is a must have for the lab.  It is also very well written.

There is a Volume II available that covers BGP (not as good as the Halabi book), EGP, Multicast, IPv6, NAT, and a few other things.  It's a good book to have on the shelf, but I didn't find it necessary for the lab (unless you're extremely weak with Multicast and NAT).

"Bridges, Routers, and Switches (2nd Edition)" - Bruce Caslow
This book is good for some of the obscure stuff and a high level view of the core material.  The best part about this book is the methodology and lab tips discussed.  It is also the key book for the written exam.

"CCBootcamp Practice Labs" - <website defunct>
A set of 19 lab practice scenarios - The most complete set of scenarios available according to everyone who has used them.  They're $650 for the set, but they are honestly worth every penny if you use them to practice with.  They cover pretty much everything that you could face on the lab along with the "issues" that you will run into as well.

RFCs and White Papers
The most common ones that people read are the ones that cover OSPF, DLSW+, RIF and BGP.  A great resource if you want to get really in depth.
Cisco exams typically look for the "Cisco answer".

Cisco Documentation CD
You need to get really familiar with the layout of the Documentation CD (without using the search engine) because you will have to look stuff up during the lab guaranteed.  I suggest using only the Doc CD as a resource if you're within a couple weeks of your lab date.

ECP1 - <website defunct>
A training course based on the Caslow book above - It's a great course, but there are comparable courses coming out from Global Knowledge that are a bit cheaper and probably local.

The CCIE lab mailing list is full of great information, but there is also a lot of bad information on it, so I suggest double-checking everything yourself.  The archives on the website are searchable, which is handy since lately the list is very busy and has a lot of off-topic discussions because of the volume.

A home lab.
A lot of folks resist the idea of putting their own money into a home lab, but they forget that a) it's an investment [CCIE being the payoff], b) in some cases it's a tax write-off, and c) you can easily sell your lab when you're finished and get every penny back.

Networkers 2000 CCIE Lab Power Sessions - <website defunct>

Specific lab information right from the horse's mouth, so you know that it is reliable.  You should probably read through this presentation a couple of times, and once more when you get close to your lab date.  There are lots of tips and strategies in it and all without having to worry about the dreaded NDA.  This was probably one of my most important resources for review and to put things into perspective.

Common Config

This is the common configuration that I used for all routers during preparation and during the lab.  I would basically just flip to each router, paste the config in, having it end at the "hostname" prompt, type in the hostname, and start the saving the config while I moved on to the next router.  Everything in the config should be self-explanatory, but you can look up the commands on the Documentation CD if something's not clear.  Also, these commands should be pretty "safe", the proctor will deduct marks for extraneous commands, and none of these should qualify.

line vty 0 4
  password cisco
line con 0
  exec-time 0 0
  history size 50
  logging synchronous
logging buffered
service timestamp debug date msec
ip tcp syn 5
ip classless
ip subnet-zero
no ip domain-lookup
enable password cisco


Most of you have already passed the written/qualification exam already, but for those who haven't, you should make a point of studying for the written and the lab exam separately.  The written is about networking technologies and is very broad, the lab exam is essentially about configuring routers and switches within a given set of parameters.  They are drastically different from each other and should be kept that way.  Once you are done with the written, then, and only then, should you start practicing for the lab.

Cisco has made no secret what the core elements of the lab exam will be.  Namely, OSPF and BGP.  You will want to get to a point where you can configure either of them without thinking and that you know all of the issues surrounding the different protocols when used with Frame Relay and ISDN and other network types.  Although you are allowed to refer to the Cisco Documentation CD and printed documentation provided, if you need to look up the different ways to configure OSPF over frame relay, you will run out of time, guaranteed.  Know these protocols cold, and inside and out.  "TCP/IP Routing Vol 1." mentioned above will probably be your best reference for OSPF, and "Internet Routing Architectures" should have everything you need for BGP.  You should also refer to the RFCs for each protocol as necessary.

Once you have mastered OSPF and BGP, you should then start practicing with the other technologies that you're likely to face on the exam.  Everything that Cisco IOS up to 12.1 is capable of except for the technologies that Cisco has recently eliminated from the exam (LAT, DECNet, Appletalk, X.25, LANE, Apollo etc.) is fair game and should be expected.  Trying to master all of the secondary technologies is probably futile, but if I had to chose, I would also get exceptionally good with RIP, IGRP, EIGRP, redistribution, IPX, and DLSW+ so that you might only need to look up little things related to them.  For everything else (aka the obscure stuff), you will want to practice with them a few times (if your lab permits), and at least know where to find the important information on the Documentation CD for everything.

Along those lines, for the last month the only resource I used to look things up was the CD.  You need to get very familiar with it and make it your friend.  You can't expect not to have to look things up on it, they write the exam so that you will need to, so the faster you are at finding the specific information, the better.  Do NOT rely on the search engine to find things on the CD, you don't know what version they will give you in the lab, and the engine tends to be inconsistent between different versions.

Select an exam strategy/methodology and use it while studying.  The methodology covered in Caslow's book is a very good one to model yours from.  The point is to develop one and use it during your practice.  This includes reading the exam at least once through before starting, diagramming techniques, IP address allocation techniques, configuring the different layers separately, etc.  This is something you want to be second-nature by the time you sit down for your lab.  Effective time management should also be part of this strategy, as this is the biggest killer on the exam.  The strategy I used is covered in the following "Exam Day" section.

Exam Day

There are some important rules of the exam that I picked up while preparing for the lab.

1 - Do not piss off the proctor.  He or she will be marking your exam.

2 - Do not use static or default routes unless specifically instructed to in a section (exception below).

3 - Ask questions, but ask informed questions.  The proctor is there to help you and make things comfortable for you.  They do look for and expect questions from candidates.

4 - IMPORTANT - DO NOT BE NERVOUS!  There is a lot of hype around the exam, and that really tends to throw candidates into a very dangerous mindset going in.  Cisco will not ask you to do any impossible tasks on the lab.  I believe a lot of what makes people run out of time is that their minds aren't as clear as they should be because they are nervous (or over-confident).  Cisco intentionally tries to throw landmines into each section of the exam, so if you're not thinking straight, you're going to miss them.

The first thing you should do when you sit down (after the administrative stuff that your proctor will direct you about), is take a deep breath and read the exam carefully.  I suggest going one step further and reading it twice.  They develop the sections under the assumption that you will have read it through before starting.  The last thing you want to do is to get 3/4 through the exam booklet and have to backtrack to change something from earlier because you were given a new requirement.  Reading the exam twice through will probably save you some headaches later on, which will save you some of your most precious resource in the exam: time.   In between readings, you might want to "wr erase" your routers and reboot them one more time to make sure there's nothing left over.  There will probably be some 2500s in your rack, so you can start your second reading while they're booting up.

Next you should record information about each router, this information might include IOS features and versions, numbers and types of interfaces etc.  This would also be a good time to paste in your common config to all routers and save your configurations.  After this, you should start working on your diagram. Make it clear and concise, but do not spend a whole lot of time making it pretty.  It will be used while you're configuring later on, and you may or may not be marked on it, but they're not going to hang it in a museum.  After you have completed your diagram, you should do your IP address allocation and write the addresses on your diagram, as well as in some kind of a matrix for easy reference later.  You should also write the IP addresses down beside the router information that you recorded above.

The steps above are going to help you a lot throughout the two days.  Once you have completed them, you can devote all of your time to configuration and probably not have to worry about distractions.  They will also help you troubleshoot any issues you run into during configuration.

Following the Caslow methodology of doing your layers 1, 2, and 3 first and then proceeding with the exam is probably a good next-step.  After these are done, you're pretty much free to follow any other order you want.  There is no rule saying that you have to complete the exam in order, so don't hold yourself to that.  Go through the booklet and configure the easy stuff first if you like, and leave the items that you know will consume time until the end (things that you have to look up etc.)

If you get stuck on a particular section, don't be afraid to skip it and come back, or  skip it altogether and give up the points.  The goal of the first day is to get at least 30 points out of a possible 45. While you should try to get as many as possible, intentionally losing 2 or 4 points so that you can move on to other sections without running out of time can be a smart strategy.  The same idea holds true for using "fixes" or workarounds for something that you're stuck on so that you can move onto another section that relies on the first section working.  A good example of this is putting a static route in and losing a couple of points, so that you can work on a 4 point section later on.

The proctor will kick you out at lunch for 30 minutes, so make sure that you are saving your configs often.  A good technique is to type "wr" just as you're about to switch to another router so that if it's a 2500 it will have plenty of time to do its thing.  Along with saving your configs, you should also reboot your routers a few times during the day to make sure things don't go screwy when they come back up (Router IDs changing etc.).

The ideal (but VERY difficult) goal for the first day should be to finish early enough to give yourself time to check your network (routing tables, configs, connectivity, etc.) one last time.  This is where your diagram will come in handy, especially if you've detailed where routing protocols and redistribution points are.  Because most people run it down to the wire, you will also want to be sure to check things as you go, just in case you are  kicked out of your seat at 5 PM.

If you walk into the lab on day 2 and find a workbook on your desk, congrats, you have already beaten the odds.  The one very, very, very important thing to keep in mind at this point is that day 1 is OVER, don't worry about it, it is marked and in the books.  Your day 2 network will build upon what you've already done, so you will want to make sure your existing network is stable before you proceed, but you will NOT get any marks for things fixed from the previous day.

Anecdote - at 3 AM between day 1 and day 2 I woke up in my hotel room in a cold sweat and yelled "SEND COMMUNITIES."  This was the only thing I had neglected to do on day 1 and although I was frustrated about it, I tried my best to forget about it before I started the day 2 sections.

This section is pretty much like day 1, but with only three hours available, and as such, the same strategies should be kept in mind.  The morning of day 2 is worth 30 points, and your lab book should specify the grade needed to make it to the troubleshooting portion.

That pretty much sums it up I think - Keep in mind that most of this was written at 33,000 feet, so I'm not responsible for inaccuracies, errors, omissions, subliminal messages, or miss-spellings contained within. :-)

Good luck!