Monday, June 20, 2011

CCIE's Diary Day 28: Lab Day!

(This post is taken from Project Avatar CCIE's Diary group discussion)

Today is the day!

After all the preparation, all the practice in the lab, all sacrifice of your time, finally today you are going to take the CCIE lab exam. At the end of the day you could walk away the lab with your number. Your future is in your hand!

Here are the last 10 tips you may want to read before you go to the lab. This will be the longest tip of the day in the whole Diary:

1. Have a breakfast if possible
Remember, it will be a long 8 hours (actually 9 hours with 1 hour mandatory lunch break) so you need to be ready physically. You had a good night sleep and in the morning before you go you should have a breakfast since the next chance to eat something is during the lunch break.

2. Arrive early
Don't add unnecessary pressure by showing late in the lab. You did a visit a day before, so you have calculated how long it takes to reach the lab. Leave early to reach there early. If the exam says you should be there by 8 try to come around 7.30. It's your chance to get used with the Cisco office and meet the other candidates

3. Don't think too much
Today can be really stressful. You arrive in the lab and you may see some other candidates are in panic mode. You meet the proctor for the first time and he may not look really helpful. Don't get intimidated with the situation, stay calm. I know the pressure on your shoulder is heavy, especially if you have to pay the lab yourself. You may have this thought in mind that if you fail you will lose many things. You position in the company is in the line. You have financial pressure. And the worst is if you have to repeat the process to study again, this means you have to sacrifice your life again for unpredicted timeline.

Stop it.

What you need to focus now is how to answer the questions in the next 8 hours. That's all. Remove all the other thoughts because not only it will not help you with the exam it will just add unnecessary pressure.

4. Re-draw the topology
This advice is for the configuration section. The first thing I advice you to do when you start the exam is to re-draw the topology even if the lab question has provided you one. It will not take long time to do so and that's the fastest way to understand the topology. Physical topology usually consists 7-8 routers connected to several switches. So you need to draw the logical. Which VLANs are used to connect the routers and switches. Then you can move up to the IGP drawing. Which routers will be configured with OSPF, which with EIGRP and so on. Later you can make the drawing of BGP topology, for each address family.

Once you have your own drawing when you start working on the question you can do the configuration faster since you are already familiar with the network you are going to build.

5. Don't get stuck
Don't get stuck. Put the configuration, check it, then move on. If somehow it doesn't work but it will not affect the other part of the network, skip the question. Try to answer the obvious questions first. Things like Netflow, SNMP or QoS config can be skipped since most of the time they can be considered as stand-alone and won't affect the other configuration.

If you have to configure PPP authentication on your serial link and somehow it doesn't work, and you can't skip it because there are some routing protocols running over the serial, configure the normal PPP without authentication on the serial just to bring the link up and you can continue doing the configuration for the next question.

There are some questions that rely on the previous questions. For example, you can't configure MPLS VPN if your IGP is not up yet. Let's say you are working on OSPF, it's already up and running, but you still can't answer the fast convergence question for OSPF, you can skip that part and come back to it later. At least you can move forward and make progress.

Don't get stuck especially during the early time of the exam. Because getting stuck in the beginning can make you get frustrated and lost your focus for the rest of the day.

And always make a target to achieve. For example, put target to finish at least more than half configuration questions before lunch. If there is troubleshooting part and you have to solve 10 issues, put target to complete at least 7 in the first hour. That means you should try to solve the easiest issues first.

Remember, you just need to get 80% score to pass. So it's fine to skip questions. Finish everything and come back later to try to answer the questions you left behind. Even if you don't have chance to come back but if you have answered all the other questions and reached 80% you still pass the exam.

6. Ask the proctor
The proctor is in the lab to monitor the exam, to keep it a fair game, and to help you if necessary. They will not give you the answer to the question. I repeat, they will not give you the answer. If you face any issue with the hardware, do your troubleshooting steps and approach the proctor to show the problem and what you have done to fix the issue. If there is wording you don't understand from the question (especially for non-native English speaker) you can ask him to provide the alternate wording. You need to ask the right question. You need to act and do the necessary before you tell the proctor you suspicion about the hardware issue. That's CCIE attitude that is expected from each candidate.

7. See the questions as a whole
When it seems too confusing, you may want to sit back and look at the questions as a whole. Use the helicopter view approach. Review the topology and read again all questions quickly. What are we trying to build here? How is the traffic flow from one AS to another? Is there any policy in the questions that will change the behavior of the traffic? And so on.

8. Re-check your work multiple times
You will make silly mistakes. Regardless how careful you are, you may forget to configure something or you answer it wrongly because you misinterpret the questions. Sometime the last question you answer may break the answer for the previous question. That's the reason why you have to check your work, and re-check, and re-check, and re-check.

You must try your best to answer all questions and still have a lot of time to check your work. Once you reach the last question, you need to go back from beginning and check it again. Then you can go back and this time make sure your answer is inline with what requested by the question. You may have a working solution but you violate the lab rule or after you read the question the second time you realize your solution is not what the exam author wants you to do.

9. Save your config often
It looks like a no brainer advice, but don't take chance and just save your config ofter. If it's necessary you can save all your config and reload all the devices. This will make sure your solution will remain work and behave the same even after the reload. Obviously you need to do this when you still have plenty of time.

10. There is no spoon
Remember when Neo in The Matrix was trying to bend the spoon. The small kid told him not to think about bending the spoon, instead just realize that "there is no spoon". It's all a mind trick.This was the mantra I used everytime I took my lab exam.

You have spent lots of time to read books. You have practiced in your lab extensively. You have followed the advice from other CCIEs. Now the last thing you need to do is to believe that you can pass. Don't think too much about the challenge you may face in the lab, the questions you are not familiar with, and many other factors that may make you fail. Just be in the moment, answer the questions one at a time, and believe you will walk away from the lab with your number.

So go enter the the lab now and claim your number.

Think the lab exam is just another workbook you need to practice. And you'll be fine.

You are making history today.

Have a great day!


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