Everybody in the business of studying for/passing/failing a CCIE Lab exam has an opinion on what is the best strategy to maximize chances of success. Some people like to read a lot at the front end, gather requirements and group configure items. Others like to open the lab workbook and configure everything in the order that the information is presented. Most are somewhere in between. What does surprise me when I passively eavesdrop on others’ “strategic” conversations is the focus on formulating a plan for the 8 hours a candidate spends in the chosen Cisco testing center and the lack of focus on planning for the weeks/months leading up to the exam. The intention of this article is to give you some food for thought on this subject- how to best use your precious time in the months prior to the lab date.
I would like to start off by mentioning a couple of important points to existing CCIE’s who already possess their number in different track- you cannot copy the same formula that served you so well in yesteryear. You will have to prepare slightly differently for this particular beast. The Voice lab is (in the main) a group of silo’s and contains a series of non-overlapping topics. We can’t redistribute Unity Express into Contact Center for example. The next point is that the documentation is more dispersed and not as informative in comparison to the IOS Configuration Guide and other related documentation that is useful in most of the other tracks. I think for this reason the value of hands-on lab practice cannot be overstated. Being book-smart will only carry you so far.
Before giving you a few ideas on how to go about organizing your time in the preceding months, I’m going to make some base assumptions because ultimately all candidates’ circumstances are different. If at all possible you should consider discarding all forms of employment and family:-) I’m guessing that in most cases this is not at all possible. This leads me into stating something obvious that is often overlooked – BE REALISTIC! Being realistic might mean you have no more than 15 hours per week to dedicate to this pursuit. Well- if I’m speaking to you right now then organization and efficiency is even more important since your study time is at a premium.
Try and get some lab gear together from your employer or purchase what is affordable from sites such as Ebay. Remember you do not need to mimic the full CCIE Voice rack. For the bits you are missing you can use rack rental sessions. For example you may not need a Contact Center and/or Presence Server or Unity Express module if it is difficult to obtain- that’s ok. You can learn almost everything you require in these areas during 5 or 6 rack sessions and this might be the more economical way. Some people choose to solely use rack rental sessions – the advantage here is that you don’t waste time acquiring and proctoring a rack and you are able to devote every hour of your practice time to what counts.
When beginning your preparation for the CCIE Voice Lab you should consider taking a modular approach to your new way of life. Don’t spend time doing full 8 hour mock labs early on. If you do this you will end up spending a small amount of time in many topics. It’s better that you spend more time on fewer topics initially. Week 1 might entail working on Infrastructure and phone registration (in other words DHCP, VLAN, NTP, TFTP and UCM/CME phone registration). Now you don’t need to be on a router and/or switch to be actively studying. Go through the Infrastructure section from as many labs as possible and consider all permutations. Take notes- make checklists of things to watch out for and focus on troubleshooting steps to take if things do not go according to plan. Spend time looking at walk through videos of solutions since you will benefit from an instructor making silly mistakes and useful verification steps that only hands-on experience can give you. Looking ahead through as much material as possible from the beginning is a good thing! You do not need to “save the labs” for the element of surprise- take a look as much material as possible. Diversity is key! Always persevere with your own scenarios- you should continuously be asking yourself “what is the impact if I change this command to be xyz”.
Below is a example of what I hope is a realistic study plan to take a candidate that has a job and a family life (which will temporarily diminish but not to the extent that it is permanent) to the point of passing the CCIE Voice Lab. In this study plan I am proposing that you spend 3 hours on 3 different week days going through the relevant sections of the Video On Demand, Walk Thru Solutions and Workbook Labs and Detailed Solutions Guide for specific topics each week. At the weekend I am suggesting you spend one day going through the selected topics from a chosen lab either in our Volume 1 (or even Volume 2) Workbook. It doesn’t matter if you have already looked at the lab beforehand- in fact it is probably better that you do so because you don’t want to spend your premium hours at the weekend getting stuck on one problem when time is so scarce. I am allocating 12 hours on one day at the weekend- this might be divided up as 2 hours prep time, 8 hours lab time and further hours review time. With this plan you get one day free at the weekend – I warn you that this day maybe the toughest day given the amount of tasks your spouse has in store for you!
It is important that you complement everything you do with some bed time reading of the necessary SRNDs and other useful documentation (such as the CME Admin Guide, UCM Features and Services Guide, UCM System Guide, Catalyst 3750 Software Configuration Guide- QOS Section). You can do this in your days marked as “OFF” or at work (ssshh!). Remember that you are not alone in this pursuit- gain the advantage of other candidates’ experiences and thoughts from the mailing list which you can subscribe to at www.OnlineStudyList.com.
Remember the aim of what I have proposed is to give you ideas on how to create a realistic study plan. The optimum is to spend 12 hours a day everyday preparing for the lab but most people are not in this position. If you are then edit the study plan and it may take you 12 weeks and not the 22 shown above. Conversely, if you think that this plan is unachievable then it might mean you are looking at 30 weeks.
One final point to reiterate before I depart- don’t hide material from yourself in the name of preserving an unknown lab on which to practice. I understand why you would want to do this but you really need to appreciate as many different permutations as possible as early as possible. Don’t worry- the lab has enough challenge and I promise that you will not find it easy at any point. If it was you wouldn’t be here.
Vik Malhi, Managing Partner of IPexpert IncCreating a Study Plan for the CCIE Voice Lab,