Well, it’s been exactly a week since I took the lab exam. I’ve gone through a number of emotional states since that time. During my lowest point (about 5 hours into the lab) I was convinced that I had wasted countless hours of studying for something that I just was not cut out for. I initially thought that I failed the lab by quite a bit, but looking closer at the score report I can see that I was closer than I though (although it’s very difficult to calculate an exact score). As I’ve stated, I was well prepared for the lab and it was very much something that I could have passed. The reason for failure lies completely on my shoulders. Fortunately I have plenty of experience with failure. 🙂
I won’t be able to take the lab again until 2009. I need to build up more vacation time (I accrue PTO (personal time off) at a rate of one day every two weeks) as well as catch up on a pile of work – not to mention end-of-the-year changes.
I’m in the midst of putting together a training plan. I had initially decided to take two weeks off but I’m going to start studying again tonight. Initially I won’t be doing a lot of full-scale labs. I’m going to do a LOT of reading and plan to work though all of the new IE Volume I labs. In the past I had concentrated most of my study time on weekends because that was when I could set aside blocks of 8 – 12 hours for labs. I’ll eventually get back to doing full-scale labs on the weekend, but since a lot more of my time will be spent reading the Cisco documentation, I am going to commit to at least an hour of study each weeknight as well. I’ll also be reading as much documentation during the lulls at work. I would like to personally thank the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves for making sure that I am not tempted to waste any time on sports during this time.
Things I need to work on:
1) Documentation, documentation, documentation. I need to read as much of the Cisco documentation as is possible so that I can recognize keywords and descriptions that Cisco uses for each technology. I also need to familiarize myself better with the documentation for technologies that I know well. I was very aware of where everything is for technologies like multicast, but I never really familiarized myself with the OSFP or QoS (that cost me 3 points!) because I felt very comfortable with those technologies.
2) No weaknesses. I went into my first attmept very prepared, but there were some technologies that I felt that I was not 100% on and I will use the next 3 months to close the gaps on those.
3) Time management. I need to cut down on my time creating initial diagrams and reading the lab. I also need to be able to quickly implement a workaround and move on if I find that I am spending more than 15 minutes on a single task. I would estimate that the average task value on my lab was around 2.75 points. I am setting a target of finishing the lab within 6 hours with an initial read-through and diagram creation period of 40 minutes (hopefully less). (360-40)/(100/2.75) is about 9 minutes per task. If I have two hours left in the lab I can even make changes to the core (hopefully I don’t need to) if needed and have time to identify and fix any other tasks that may be affected by those changes.
4) Utilize the proctor. Anytime I hit a task that I am not sure how to configure or that I need more clarification, I am going to stop and create a list of questions to ask the proctor. I’ll try to formulate questions that can be answered simply (hopefully with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’) that also will not look like fishing expeditions.
5) No last minute review/cramming. Nuff said.
6) Emulate the testing environment on all practice exams. I plan to buy a bunch of plastic sleeves and binders. I’ll print out the labs and put them in the sleeves in the binders. During the lab I will not allow myself to write on the lab at all (a bad habit that I only tried to break one week before the lab).
Things that I though would be an issue but turned out not to be:
1) Telnet client. I thought that this would be a bigger issue than it turned out to be. I downloaded a copy of SecureCRT and did my last few practice labs using it. As long as highlighting text automatically copies it to the clipboard and right-clicking pastes it, I’m fine. I didn’t bother changing any of the defaults other than the colors during the lab.
2) Sleep. I had very little problem sleeping soundly before the lab. I was in the Navy and learned to sleep anywhere at anytime (my rack used to be 20 feet under the point that fighter jets landed on a carrier so I can sleep through anything). I made the mistake of waking up to review, but I had plenty of rest before the lab and was very alert.
3) Vacation on either side of the lab. This was the thing that I figured would lead to divorce. 🙂 I managed to push the lab out of my mind before my date. I did get a little nervous the day before and asked my wife to get back to the hotel and study the night before. After my failure I was still in good enough spirits that I enjoyed the rest of the vacation. I figured that I would be nervous and grumpy before the lab and despondent and grumpy after failing. I will note that I did put in the better part of 3 straight weeks of hardcore studying before embarking on this adventure so that may have contributed to my state of mind.
4) Noise in the lab. I forgot to include this in my lab review, but noise was not an issue for me. I brought in a pair of earplugs but never used them. In San Jose, the Voice candidates are located away from the other candidates. I remember hearing phones ringing, but there was not a lot of this and the sound was easy to ignore. The dull hum of equipment covered any keyboard or other noise from the other candidates. I was so locked into my own experience that I didn’t even notice anybody else. I did talk to myself at one point and hopefully I didn’t throw off any other candidates with my insane muttering. 🙂
5) Mean proctors. The proctor was very cool and approachable. I sensed that he was helping me as much as he could. I tried to phrase my inquiries as “yes or no” questions and started out each question by reading the part of the task that confused me followed by my interpretation of the task and THEN the question. As stated before, I am going to work on this process during my review.
Besides the obvious benifits of passing the exam on your first trip is this one: not being haunted by the questions that you missed. I’ve been obsessing about the three question run that sank me on the lab. This is worse than any damned ghost or demon. I don’t remember the details of most of the test but I can remember those three questions nearly word for word.
Well, enough typing. Time to get back to studying. After all of this I am still very confident that I can get my digits on my next attempt. I would like to once again thank all of you for your words of encouragement and well wishes. I would also like to thank IE for all of their support. Josh at IE was extremely helpful and I really appreciate all that they’ve done for me. Both Brians have reached out to me at different points and offered guidance. Now if I could just talk one of them into taking the lab for me. 🙂 I would also like to say how much respect and admiration I have for anyone with digits after their names. Until you actually sit the lab it’s hard to understand how mentally and psychologically difficult the test is. Hopefully I’ll be joining their ranks in January.