It took me a while to realize this, but I discovered I couldn’t guarantee I would pass the exam based purely on my technical ability, business acumen, and experience. I have been fortunate enough to work in both service provider and enterprise fields in multiple disciplines, but the lab exam is intense, and it takes some strategy to guarantee success. Here are some pointers I learned from my journey that will help you:
There will be a four-hour countdown timer leading up to the lunch break, and another one after lunch. You have two scenarios in the morning and two in the afternoon. There are progress bars for each scenario showing you, as a percentage, how far through the scenario you are. Aim to allocate two hours for each scenario, but don’t get preoccupied by the time. It’s going to take approximately 15 minutes at the beginning of each scenario to read the background information and make any relevant notes that could affect your design decisions. Therefore, it might look like you are running behind initially. You could go over a little in your first scenario in the morning or after lunch if it is particularly challenging, but it’s a risky strategy.
You can highlight information in the background information/exhibits using different colors. This can be very useful to highlight specific constraints or information that will undoubtedly influence a design decision. Using different colors for different subject areas can be advantageous and speed up locating the information when required. Use the labs in this book to practice pulling out relevant information and have a scheme in mind if you plan to use the highlighter in the exam; maybe use blue for constraints, red for security requirements, or whatever allows you to go back and find relevant information efficiently.
You will be supplied with plastic sheets on which to make notes during the exam. If you don’t want to search through documents for valuable information, you may prefer to simply write down relevant facts and have them immediately at hand without searching through multiple documents and rereading highlighted text, for example. These notes can be hard to read though and put back into context, and they will take valuable time to actually write, so really try to limit the information you jot down here. The same is true for the notepad available within the desktop you are using.
As in many Cisco exams, you can’t go back in terms of questions (you can check exhibits and emails as often as you like, though). You may be presented with some information that states a customer made a specific design decision as a level set that may then influence an earlier decision you made. Don’t worry if the decision didn’t match your choice, as you may have made the right choice even if the customer went in another direction. Just carry on with the next question.
You will get bombarded with new information, such as exhibits and emails. This can be hard to keep track of, but you need to read this information, as it is crucial and will affect your design decision. Make sure you don’t have any exhibits minimized at the risk of not seeing the contents.
Stay connected to the scenario; it will shift in direction and technology, but you need to stay engaged and look at the bigger picture rather than answer each question in a solitary manner. Remember, it’s the same fictitious company going through a series of design challenges over a period of time.
If you feel you don’t have sufficient information to answer a question, you need to go back and look at your background information/exhibits. This is definitely not a guessing game; you are making informed decisions and not assumptions.
Best practice is useful, but there may be a reason why you would do something differently in the exam. Have best practice in mind, but don’t let it completely influence your design decision.
You may be asked to fill in tables with missing information. These can be quite daunting. Just make sure you only fill in columns that are actually required. The instructions should be quite clear.
You may be asked how you would implement a solution or migrate to a new one. If so, there will likely be multiple steps involved that you are required to place into a specific order. These can be seen as the hardest questions due to the number of variables, but typically there is only one way or a limited number of ways you can achieve the correct order, so practice in these labs and think about how you have delivered projects as part of your role. When you break it down to its simplest form, just be sure you don’t add a step that “breaks something before it makes something”!
There is a comment button, and all comments are read by the team. The clock is still ticking, though, so you need to decide how important your comment is going to be. Exams are very well written and verified, so it is very unlikely you will spot an error. However, if you are confident you have seen an issue, it’s worth making a quick comment.
Take a break between each scenario, unless you are seriously behind. You need to reset and tackle the next scenario as a completely new exam with a clear head.
Consider wearing noise suppressing headphones if your testing center has them available so you are not interrupted and can focus.
Russ White advises to focus on the “why” rather than “how.”
If you go into the exam and tackle it as a CCIE, you will be leaving as a CCIE.