Ever since I sat my first CCIE lab I have changed my tone on written tests. I am a little cynical in that I feel that the majority of written tests are far too easy. Very high scores are achievable via process of elimination and educated guessing. That said it has been a long time since a written technical test made me feel like I was in the hot seat. I think the last time I felt under duress in a written test was my 70-291 exam on the way to MCSE 2003. In short, the CCDE written was on the top end of the hardest written tests I have taken. The other would be the CCIE Data Center written that I failed this year at Cisco Live (subject for another day but there are A LOT of UCS details I just was clueless about).
Shout out: I want to especially thank INE (www.ine.com) for allowing me to attend their first CCDE boot camp free of charge. It was an amazing course with some very smart people in attendance (several of whom have since passed the CCDE). Petr Lapukhov (@petrlapu) and Brian McGahan (@brianmcgahan) were excellent instructors as usual. This was easily the most enjoyable and informative class I have ever taken. Check out the customer testimonial videos for their CCDE boot camp for mine as well as other attendees comments. I highly recommend looking into INEs CCDE bootcamp: http://www.ine.com/instructor-led/ccde-bootcamps.htm.
The test taking experience
As I answered the last question with only a few minutes left & waiting for the score results I was thinking that there would be a good chance I would be going home to schedule the CCIE R&S written to re-cert before I went inactive in October. I was a bit surprised when I saw that I had passed but I was very surprised with my score which was far higher than I had expected.
I feel that the sheer volume of questions (I had 82) is what made the test itself difficult. In addition, the way in which questions and answers are presented is unique and I found this the most enjoyable part of the test. I felt that they test writers did a very good job of sticking to more black and white, technically correct or not technically correct answers, to go along with the design focused questions. I was worried that the test would have far more subjective material than it did and I would estimate that less than 20% of the questions were in any way really subjective. The vast majority had obviously right or wrong answers, assuming you knew the subject matter.
Mr. Ethan Banks blogged about his impressions of the CCDE and shared some similar sentiments about how this test is a refreshing changes:
“352-001 was easily the most enjoyable exam I’ve ever taken from Cisco. The entire thing was about design, concepts, problem solving, and weighing the pros and cons of a particular technology when applied to a given situation. I loved it. It’s the test I always wanted from Cisco, but never got in my entire history with CCNA, CCNP, CCSP and CCIE R&S. By question 5 of 352-001, I was actually grinning. There was no CLI. You either knew the key points of a particular acronym and could apply them to the situation presented, or you didn’t and couldn’t. The questions weren’t subtle or vague (at least, I didn’t think they were).”
When I saw that I had 82 questions to get through my plan of attack was a little different. I started by reading the question and attempting to answer the question as quickly as possible for the first 20 questions. I tried to move as quickly as possible through the first 20 to see if I could get a little bit ahead of schedule. I had to make several educated guesses, one or two total guesses and the rest either I could identify right away or via process of elimination the answer(s) were obvious. I stuck with my first gut instinct and once I had an answer that sounded reasonable I just clicked next.
I was able to clear the first 20 in about 20 minutes or so, so I was a little ahead of schedule but I was significantly worried at this point because I felt like there were easily 7 or 8 questions that I didn’t know the subject very well that I very likely could have answered wrong. So I slowed down for the next 20 questions or so and put more thought into them. I took time to analyze the question and answers and also took some time to ‘reverse-engineer’ the answers I gave to make sure it fit the question or problem statement.
At this point I had slowed down considerably and I had eaten up a good 30-40 minutes on the next 20 or so questions. I just remember thinking I was half way through the test and almost exactly half way through my time. I felt a little better about my answers but I still wasn’t doing as well as I would have liked. Since I was worried at this point as to whether I would pass or not I thought to myself I might as well take my time and try to get enough answers correct to pass. I kept watching the clock to make sure that when I got down to 1 minute per question remaining, that is when I would switch back into the mode of answering each question as quickly as possible, at least under one minute per.
I think I had about 18 questions left when I hit that moment and I did just that. I was a bit mentally fatigued at this point and I thought I was going to probably fail any way so I blitzed through the final 18 or so in about 10 minutes, giving me 6 or 7 minutes left when I wrapped up question 82.
After seeing my score report my assessment is that, all in all, the CCDE written is a well put together written test. The questions made sense and the answers were fairly obvious. I did make comments on at least half a dozen questions where the answers either seemed too subjective or in the case of a couple I felt that more answers than were indicated were valid responses. As with any written test, I think my score report was higher than my actual competency with the blueprint material. My personal assessment is that my current understanding of the topics is at least 20-30% lower than my score indicated.
The CCDE practical is said to be a mentally grueling exercise in which most candidates burn out half way through the test and just cannot remained focused.
Written preparation – Cisco Live 365
I didn’t want to study just enough to pass the CCDE written. My goal is to get a CCDE # so I kept my focus on long term studying for the CCDE lab itself. Over the past two years I have bounced back and forth between studying for the CCIE Security, CCIE Data Center and CCDE. Early on for CCDE prep I spent a fair amount of time just watching Cisco Live 365 presentations. I watched numerous presentations on various topics that I thought could relate to the test before I found Jeremy Filliben’s list that he keeps with his ‘must watch’ sessions. I watched and took notes on every one of these sessions he suggested:
“I’ll only list my ‘must watch’ sessions here.
- BRKRST-2042 Highly Available Wide Area Network Design
- BRKSEC-4054 DMVPN Deployment Model
- BRKRST-2335 IS-IS Network Design and Deployment
- BRKRST-2310 Deploying OSPF in a Large Scale Network
- BRKRST-2336 – EIGRP Deployment in Modern Networks
- BRKRST-3051 – Core Network Design: Minimizing Packet Loss with IGPs and MPLS”
Written preparation – RFCs and whitepapers
As noted above, I was also was fortunate enough to be able to take part in INEs first CCDE 3 day boot camp in Chicago. I took a lot of notes which I blogged about previously:
I studied and reviewed all of the RFCs and whitepapers that I had previously noted about in my blogs as well as a few others that I found very helpful:
MPLS traffic engineering – http://www.cisco.com/en/US/docs/ios/12_0s/feature/guide/TE_1208S.html
Written preparation – Videos
I also watched all of the free sample videos from INEs CCIE Service Provider Advanced Technologies Class v3.0:
I also watched these additional INE CCIE SP videos (via my all access-pass):
4 IS-IS Overview / Level 1 & Level 2 Routing Closed Caption 1h 06m
5 IS-IS Network Types / Path Selection & Route Leaking Closed Caption 0h 49m
6 IS-IS Route Leaking on IOS XR / IOS XR Routing Policy Language (RPL) Closed Caption 0h 32m
7 IS-IS IPv6 Routing / IS-IS Multi Topology
29 Carrier Supporting Carrier (CSC) MPLS L3VPN
Written preparation – Books
First and foremost I studied Russ White’s book “Optimal Routing Design” (http://www.amazon.com/Optimal-Routing-Networking-Technology-ebook/dp/B0014C42WU/ref=tmm_kin_title_0) from cover to cover. I also reviewed several key CCIE R&S study material books:
Routing TCP/IP volumes 1 & 2:
As well as MPLS and VPN Architectures volumes 1 and 2:
Upcoming CCDE practical preparation
My approach to getting my CCIE was sub-optimal. I tried to go from CCNP to CCIE R&S in a few months by drinking from a water hose and studying 20-40 hours a week. This time around I plan to spend the next six months setting aside 30 minutes to an hour per day to study CCDE specific material.
I am going to start by watching a few more Cisco Live presentations that I’ve run across that I think would be helpful. Then I will read all of the books on Jeremy Filliben’s reading list that I have not yet read through as well as going through as many of the books on Cisco’s practical reading book list (link below) as I have time for.
Whenever the 2014 lab dates are announced I plan to try to get a seat for the first available date in Chicago. Once I know when that date is, as the time for my practical becomes closer I will start to pick up my study regiment to 2 hours a day with 8 hour study sessions mixed in with increased frequency as the date for the practical approaches. I plan to use Jeremy’s self paced CCDE practical exam training during this time. My study will culminate in attending INEs CCDE boot camp again just prior to my practical date.
One of my biggest concerns is mental stamina. I experienced first hand the mental fatigue that comes with 8 hour labs. For all of my actually CCIE R&S attempts I had good study habits going into them and I didn’t suffer too greatly from the time pressure and mental fatigue but I know the feeling trying to churn through a full practice lab after some time off, it is very mentally exhausting. From what I have heard the CCDE is even more draining because it isn’t task oriented like CCIE labs, rather it involves a significant amount of reading and culling through the material for the relevant nuggets.
In any case, I want to be mentally prepared to be able to weather 8 hours of straight reading. If I was beginning to be mentally fatigued after 2 hours of the CCDE written, I can only imagine how I would feel after 8 hours of a much more difficult CCDE practical.
INE CCDE bootcamp: http://www.ine.com/instructor-led/ccde-bootcamps.htm
Ethan Banks – Impressions of CCDE Written 352-001: http://ethancbanks.com/2013/07/05/impressions-of-ccde-written-352-001/
CCDE Group Study: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/ccdegroupstudy
Jeremy Filliben – CCDE Study Resources: http://www.jeremyfilliben.com/2013/09/ccde-study-resources-update.html
Himawan Nugroho – How to Prepare for CCDE Practical Exam: http://www.himawan.nu/2013/07/how-to-prepare-for-ccde-practical-exam.html
Cisco Learning Network CCDE forums: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/ccde
Cisco CCDE practical reading booklist: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/docs/DOC-2462