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While I have been taking computer based exams for over 16 years, but the topic of ‘how-to best prepare for a CCXX exam’ still intrigues me to this day. In my opinion, we can break the question of “how-to best prepare for CCIE Written exam” into two sub-questions:

1. How-to best prepare for a computer based exam (generally)

2. How-to best prepare for CCIE Written exam

Let’s start with the “what” and “how” of preparing for an exam.

  • “What” portion is quiet comprehensively answered by Cisco in the form of CCIE V5 (400-101) curriculum. They have broken down each section into very detailed list of topics and have assigned approximate weights. As expected, layer 3 technologies is about half of the exam (40% to be exact!).
  • “How” portion is half learning and half the overall strategy that you put together in order to successfully “pass” the exam. I can’t stress the learning aspect any further than you already know, essentially there are no “shortcuts” there. You should prepare according to the published exam curriculum or syllabus and then assess, rather brutally honestly, as to how far you are from being learning it inside and out – this is for both learning the subject matter and passing the exam. However, for exams like CCIE Written, my advice would be to avoid over preparing esp around your strengths. You might say, are you serious?!, how would I know if I am over prepared. Well, that’s where practice quizzes come into picture as they can help you calibrate your learning progress and help you focus on your weaknesses rather quickly.
  • Part of strategizing for exam success is coming up with a plan around the format and rules of the game per se.

CCIE Exam format:

Well, the exam format is pretty much all over the web so hopefully I am not telling you something that you don’t already know.

You have to answer about 80-90 questions correctly which makes passing score somewhere in low 80s. You have 120 minutes (unless you’re in a non English native region where you get an extra 30 minutes), so for everyone in North America and Western Europe that’s about 1 minute or so per question!.

CCIE exam format is one of adaptive computer-based exams, so there are few things you need to understand about that:

  • To boot, there is no “back” button. So all answers are final once you click “Next” (sorry, no cool-off period, returns or exchanges – all sales are final!)
  • Adaptive means that “exam engine” adapts to how you are responding to questions (of course, within reason, as made possible by the underlying technology). This is why it is super crucial to work on your weaknesses, otherwise “exam engine” has the capability to both find those out (through your incorrect responses) and keep punching you until you’re KO!
  • There are lots of studies on how “adaptive exam engines” work, I am sure they all come in different sizes, shapes and forms. However, please make sure that you don’t fly through the first 25% of the exam. Pay close attention and try to get those right without wasting time which brings me to my last and final point. Cisco has recently revised the exam delivery method where questions are directly streamed to the test taker as opposed to showing a set of pre downloaded questions from a static pool. RIP brain dumps!
  • If there is a question that you either don’t understand or answer choices are all looking blurry (pun intended), then use a technique called “process of elimination”. Simply put, eliminate the answer choices that look downright wrong, after having done that usually you’d end up with two choices (50/50 chance). Just pick one and move on (and know that you have crap shot the best way possible!).

Type of questions:

It seems that there are at least about 5-6 different types of questions out there, namely:

  • Choose the best answer“, this just doesn’t mean you have to choose a “radio button” out of many. It really means that you’ve to select the “best or most appropriate answer as per Cisco” so keep your technical/geek bias in check and play by the rules(swallow your pride for a greater cause!). One of the gotchas there is to ensure that you go through all of the choices before selecting the perceived the “best” choice
  • Choose n out of m answers“, this is where you have to pick the said # of choices out of all of those given. Don’t worry, exam engine ensures that you select the asked # of choices, so it is literally “fool proof”!
  • Choose all that apply” this can get tricky as they don’t tell you the # of choices that you have to select so essentially it is “choose all those that make sense”. Please exercise your judgement rather carefully.
  • Drag and drop (using mouse), this is where you would align the correct “concept/term” and “details” pairs together in a row. Please avoid rushing through them and ensure that correct choices are dragged-n-dropped before moving on.
  • Simulation/Scenario based, this is where things get trickiest. All I can say is that you gotta pay attention and spend whatever time you have or need to pick the “most appropriate” or “best” answers. One silver lining is that once you get the hang of the given scenario or simulation, you can pretty much “take it all home” if you know what I mean!

I made a point above that I want to come back to one more time, that it is NOT what you believe the correct answer is during the exam based on your technical prowess (use forums to let it all out!). In the exam, it is the vendor who has put together the questions/answers and one who owns the exam (Cisco for CCIE Written exam). To be fair, and the other side of this proverbial coin, is that Cisco has documented very well everything on website (easily the best networking vendor website out there!). Please be sure to use these two resources extensively during your learning process. They will help you to nail down the “official” word on just about any exam topic.

To sum it all up, you have to do three things to successfully pass an exam like CCIE Written 400-101 V5, i.e.

  1. Learn (learn the subject matter with special focus on your weaknesses. Always have a specific target date and then work backwards to come up with a learning plan)
  2. Practice (using the practice quizzes find out your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Work on your weaknesses and become skilled at taking a timed adaptive computer test)
  3. Achieve (apply all the strategies that you either have learnt from others or have come up with. Your goal is to learn and also pass the CCIE Written exam in your first attempt. Spend those extra $400 somewhere else).

Be sure to read our “Everything to Ever Wanted to Know About CCIE and CCDE Written and Lab Exams Frequently Asked Questions Series of blog posts. You can access them as Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Good luck in your CCIE journey! Give CCIEin8Weeks a chance, we not only provide you study material but also a study plan that matches your learning goal– you won’t be disappointed!

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