CCIE Lab Attempt #2: Time to change directions.

It’s been 10 days since I visited RTP to take my second attempt at the CCIE lab, and unfortunately the results were not what I had wanted. The result was another failure, and afterwards I was far more emotionally and mentally drained than after my first attempt. I’d felt like I had a good shot at passing this time around, I thought I had hit up my weak areas and would at least see a decent improvement over my first attempt. That was not the case, as my results were worse than the first time around in both TShoot and Config. Diagnostics was still a pass, but honestly, that’s the one area that I didn’t even study for since there’s really no true way to do so.

First off, I don’t want this to come off as a pity party for me, as it shouldn’t be and that’s not why i’m writing this. I think there was a combination of anxiety and stress that I put on myself for the second attempt that I didn’t place on myself for the first, and while that played a part in what transpired, upon reflection it’s become apparent that over the past 5-6 months I’ve put the goal of passing the lab ahead of the journey to get to that point.

When I started working towards my CCIE in July of 2016, I laid out a plan of attack. Read, take notes, test myself on what I’d read, determine what I needed to work on more, repeat until a topic was solidly understood and embedded in my brain. After I passed my written last December, I continued this until around May, when I switched to doing nothing but labbing, with only the occasional continued learning and reminding myself of things. I would go over my notes on occasion, but as time progressed, I found myself focusing on just doing labs. If I didn’t understand something, I wouldn’t go back and read and focus on the fundamentals, I’d just try to make sure I understood it enough so that when I took the lab I could figure it out. For me, that resulted in two failed lab attempts.

I honestly believe that everyone who approaches the lab will have a different method to how they study and learn, and they may need to adapt their approach as time goes on and as the situation changes. I made changes in my approach several times, and this is just the latest one. My new approach is to go through the blueprint again, item by item, and review everything that is on it. Lab it up, make sure I understand not only the how but the why behind things. Dig up more RFC’s, even though they are sometimes like taking a bottle of Ambien. I want to master the topics and not just do “well enough to pass,” but have passing be a byproduct of what I’ve learned. That’s the ultimate goal, and the one that I lost sight of.

It does make me hesitant to approach my next attempt from this perspective, because right now, I don’t know what my timeline for my next lab will be, other than it will need to be before November 13th of 2018, since that’s my 12-month window between labs. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family in this process, and a boss who has given me so much support in making time for studying and supporting this goal that I’ve felt like I’ve let them down, and that’s been the most difficult part for me at this point. But the only way that I fail at this point is by giving up. By pressing forward after failure to achieve success is the only way to overcome the difficulties that lie in my path. I sound like a Tony Robbins meme right now, but I honestly believe that and will continue to forge through this time.

One last thing I want to share is the scores of my two CCIE attempts. If you’re on this path as well and you hit the same sort of wall as me, don’t think of yourself as a failure if you continue to push forward. The drive to continue to push on, to overcome, to see those failures as motivation to improve yourself, take it and use it.

Attempt #1: Attempt1

Attempt #2: Attempt2

 

As you can see, there was a significant drop in attempt #2, which led me to this re-evaluation of my approach. I’m hoping to start to add more content to this site in order to document my study process, which will hopefully help to keep me accountable to myself. As far as I know after reading through all of the NDA stuff as well, disclosing these scoring reports doesn’t violate any NDA regarding the lab, but if anyone with Cisco or elsewhere believes it’s in violation, please let me know and I will remove it immediately.

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9 thoughts on “CCIE Lab Attempt #2: Time to change directions.

  1. Painful, I know. I went through the same thing in 2008 but passed eventually. Also the JNCIE-SP in 2014. It’s humbling to fail but then you figure out what works and what doesn’t and change how you study for the exam. I wrote a series of articles on the CCIE process on my blog and you might like my story of failing security back in 2008:

    http://www.subnetzero.info/2016/04/04/multiple-ccies-multiple-attempts/

    Good luck on your next attempt

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  2. Had the same happen on round 2. Thought I passed, but my scores were defaltiing. Don’t lose focus, you got it next time!

    David Winfree, CCIE #55949

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  3. I have some thoughts based on my own experiences. I passed my routing & switching lab in 2000 (way back when it was still two days) on the second attempt, and I think that set a little bit of a bad precedent for me. In my opinion, you could power your way through the two day lab without needing to have as much of a plan. This (again, IMHO) is not the case at all in the one day lab. My journey to passing the collaboration lab was a really long one (9 years, off and on). I experienced the same thing you have here which is that my scores were going down even though I felt like I was practicing for the lab quite a lot. What I realized (belatedly) was that I wasn’t preparing the right way. This way particularly true as it pertains to having a plan. What I felt got me over the hump was first realizing that it is a test, not an actual production network. That means you have to meet the requirements of the question, and there are no bonus points for operational efficiency that would matter in a production network. The other part is doing your lab practice in a more realistic way. I like listening to music in the office, but there is no music in the real lab (I didn’t just violate NDA there, did I?). Block out 8.5 hours for a lab attempt. Take a 30 minute break to eat in the middle, but stay with it all the way through. You will run into things that don’t go as planned. That is the one absolute guarantee I would give you. Your ability to pass the lab is contingent on your ability to recover from that, and not get rat-holed on something that ends up sucking up all your time. You really have to practice limiting yourself to some amount of time (~=15) beating on a problem, and then move on. My best strategy thought is to work on the tasks in reverse order of complexity for you. Little is more maddening than not having enough time to complete something you know cold because you beat your head against the wall on something you don’t know as well for too long. Once you get a plan for how to attack the lab, practice and refine it. Make notes after each attempt (real or practice) and honestly assess what went well, and what did not. As your plan becomes more ingrained, you pick up speed. As you pick up speed, you relax because you aren’t as overcome by the time pressure.
    I rambled on a bit more than I had intended, but I hope some of the hard lessons I learned are useful to you.

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    • Elliot, I appreciate your insight and this is very helpful for me. I’d incorporated some of those techniques in the past, but I’ll be using your suggestions especially the 8.5 hr practice lab session once I get to that stage.

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    • I’ve read through the NDA agreement several times, along with the Cisco Certification and Confidentiality Agreement located at https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en_us/training-events/downloads/certificationNDA.pdf several times and can’t find anywhere that indicates that sharing the score report as being against the NDA. However, I’m going to remove these links until I can get clarification from Cisco as to whether or not this is allowed. I will update the site shortly and once I receive clarification, I will update as well.

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    • I submitted a ticket with the Certification online support and they indicated the following:

      “Thank you for contacting the Cisco Certification and Communities Support Team. Allow me to assist you with your concern about posting your exam score report in your personal blog.

      After checking with our lab exam manager and security specialist, I was able to get an answer for your concern. They informed me that posting your lab exam result is not against the NDA, but they instructed me to inform you not to post your credentials.”

      I’m getting clarification as to what they mean by credentials, I’m guessing they mean your name and candidate ID, but just wanted to let you know.

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