CCIE Pursuit Blog

February 19, 2009

IPexpert: Free Graded Mock Lab – Plus Two Free Rack Rental Sessions

I checked my inbox today and found this great deal from IPexpert:

FREE CCIE R&S Graded Lab Assessment

Are you wondering if you are ready for the real lab exam? Here is the perfect opportunity to find out – FREE – while test-driving IPexpert’s training material and Proctor Labs’ online vRacks!

You will receive FREE access to electronic files for the following training components:

* Graded Assessment Mock Lab: You will receive a full-scale, 8-hour “Mock Lab” designed to deliver the true challenge of the actual CCIE lab exam. The configuration files are included, allowing you to compare your work to that of our instructors that created the industry-leading practice lab scenarios seen in our lab preparation workbooks.
* Proctor Guide: This is the detailed solution guide providing you with detailed written explanations for the Mock Lab taks.
* Video Tutorials: After you complete the Mock Lab, you will receive a detailed grading report, listing each section of the lab with your results. On that page, with the click of a button, you can watch videos of the instructor walking you through each section, step by step! You will be amazed by the level of detail as the instructor painstakingly walks through every task and solution involved in the lab. There is nearly 10 hours of video included for THIS FREE LAB SCENARIO (as well as every lab included in IPexpert’s lab mentoring kit)!

Online Rack Rental Sessions:

Included with this free offering, you will also receive:

* TWO Online Rack Sessions for you to test your skills using a full rack of the latest and greatest Cisco gear at Proctor Labs.
* Both sessions provided are 8 hours in length and can be scheduled back-to-back or at different times.
* At the end of each session, you will receive a detailed grading report breaking down every section of the lab.
* See exactly what you got right and compare your work to the Verified Labs™ grading engine to see what you got wrong and why.

CLICK HERE to get started!

If you click on the link above, you’ll go to a page where you can get access to the mock lab materials:

To get started, simply click the green “Buy Now” button below. You will see that the price remains at $0.00 through the checkout process. When your order is complete, you will have immediate access to the lab, solution guide and configuration files. You will get an email with two voucher codes for easy scheduling of your vRack sessions.

This is an amazing deal.  You’re basically getting the “$35 Mock Lab” that I reviewed here but for free…plus another 8 hours of rack time thrown in for free as well.  You’re getting $70 worth of free rack time, plus a graded mock lab.  I would strongly recommend this for candidates who are just dipping their toes into the CCIE waters to get a taste of a full-scale mock lab, as well as candidates on their final approach using a different vendor who want to be exposed to another vendor’s labs.


I received my vouchers for the two free rack sessions within 15 minutes of ordering.

February 17, 2009

Comments and Speculation on Open-ended Lab Questions

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 2:51 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I received quite a few excellent comments on my recent “Open-Ended Question Grading: All or Nothing” post.  Many were as confused, disappointed, and angered as I was about finding out that these questions were graded on an “all or nothing” basis…via a forum posting rather than from Cisco themselves. 

So they’ve marginalized the lab in the interest of as few as three open-ended questions? What’s the motivation there? Seems like Cisco is just trying to make the exam more difficult to pass without really improving its quality.
Comment by stretch

Regarding the “all or nothing” grading, I guess that I needed to read my email a bit closer.  The original email I received from Cisco contained this line:

Candidates will need to achieve a passing score on both the open-ended questions and the lab portion in order to pass the lab and become certified.

I initially read that to mean that the open-ended questions and the remainder of the lab were combined, and that you needed 80 point from that combined lab.  I should have read that as a Boolean AND and not an OR.  : -)

The “minimum number of correct responses” on the question portion translates to a “passing score” on that section.  The lesson to candidates is that you had better make damned sure that you get clarification on those questions before you submit an answer.  If you miss more that one of them then your next 7.5 hours will just amount to a $1,400 rack rental.

I’m still a little confused about the reason for the addition of these questions.  My take (and this is why this post has the word ‘speculation’ in it) is that this is a stop-gap to curtail cheating.  Cisco has stated that stopping cheating is simply a secondary effect of these questions[to be fair that quote was about the original verbal interview pilot in China].  The stated goal is to “increase the security and integrity of the CCIE R&S Lab exam” so stopping cheating definitely falls under that statement.  These new questions basically filter the candidates who are “worthy” of taking the CCIE lab.  As many candidates have stated that there is already such a filter in place: the CCIE written exam.

Better still why don’t they just make the written un-dumpable. Surely they can create a question bank comprising of the thousands of questions they must have given over the past X years and randomly generate a somewhat unique written exam for each candidate. I don’t know; have to say I’m getting seriously disillusioned with Cisco Certification.
Comment by Dean

I’ve also seen suggestions to add the open-ended questions to the written exam or to make them into their own exam (so there would be three discrete steps to your digits: written, open-ended questions, and then the lab).  Another suggestion is to enforce an experience policy on candidates:

If Cisco wants to make the certification even more valuable, then for god sake, make a requirement like  1 year CCNA + CCNP for 3 years before taking the ccie lab or something like that or years experience. Its not 4 questions before the lab that will make the cert special. For me this is a pure joke!!
Ricardo Martins

If the addition of the open-ended questions is meant to filter “worthy” candidates, then exactly how long does Cisco think that it will take for the “dumpers” to collect the open-ended questions?  If they can dump the 100 question written exam, then what’s going to stop them from dumping a 4-5 question exam?

Additionally by taking this course of action Cisco has essentially admitted that the CCIE is completely compromised and has been so for some time. As such one has to question the value of this certification as undoubtedly if the exam is this compromised there is nothing stopping cheaters from getting these questions in advance and preparing they’re answers before the lab. All these factors combined leads me to a one word conclusion – Juniper.
Comment by Dean

I’m not quite ready to go to the darkside (Juniper).  🙂

Let me restate: I am not opposed to the addition of the questions to the lab and I support additions that will protect the value of the certification.  BUT I really think that Cisco failed to adequately announce the details of this change.  PLUS I think that the fact that you now need to pass the questions before you have a shot at passing the lab exam, this should have constituted a lab “change” and the standard 6(ish) months of lead time should have been provided.  The folks who took their labs in early February really got the worst of this deal.

I noted in my last post that it appeared that the questions were worth 21 points of your grade.  A few folks noted that the bright side to this change was that if you could cruise through questions, then you only needed to get another 59 points to pass the exam.  You could really put yourself ahead of the game because you’d have 21 points in the first 30 minutes of the lab.

Personally I think that you’re misinterpeting the scores.
Open ended Questions are propably only worth about 10 points. They look like they are like 21 points but I think this is just because if you fail those, Cisco has put them into the system like they were 21 points. Otherwise the score is not consistent with the CCIE Score report. I mean that if the points for Open Ended are like 10 point’s and you have 100% for each section, that would mark as passed if they did not weight the scores. Now if you fail the the open ended part but configure 100% on all other section the score sheet will show it as fail by 21 points due rescaling.
Comment by GoingtoBrussels

I agree with GoingtoBrussels (again this is simply my speculation) and you’re not going to get 21 points for passing the questions.   We can’t share score reports as that’s an NDA violation, but other candidates have stated that there are 100 points of tasks on the lab exam:

Also….100 points on lab…not 79

The proctor did not told us how many points has each question.
The points from  this questions is not added to the points of the lab exam.
There were 100 points from lab tasks.

Ioan Branet
CCIE #23474

Of course this now means that your time to complete the lab exam can drop from a full 8 hours to 7.5 hours (depending on how much of the allotted 30 minutes you require to answer the open-ended questions).

From the same thread:

There was not any interview with the proctor , just open-ended questions on the computer and you should answer to them in order to pass.
The questions are graded after the lab by a script probably. [NOTE: this contradicts Cisco who states that they will be manually graded – but he did say ‘probably’]
You should be very carefull to check the answer because is possible to fill  the answer and after you go to next question you can be surprised to not have the answer filled in .
You should go back and recheck  every answer one more time  before going to the lab section.
If you put ” or : or ‘ in the answer section  you will receive an error so you should be carefull 🙂
Ioan Branet
CCIE #23474

This is the last that I’ll probably write/gripe about the newly added questions.  I’ll just need to make sure that I’m up to snuff on theory going into the lab exam.  This shouldn’t be too hard as most of the training I’ve used for my CCIE preparation has repeatedly referenced the theory and not just “here’s how to configure a task like x”.  I’m pretty swamped at work this month so I’m not able to lab much.  I’ll just use my bits and pieces of downtime to reread Routing TCP/IP so that I’m sharp on my theory.

Just a random thought: I wonder if it’s now a better strategy to study for your written and lab exam concurrently.  Once you feel you’re prepared for the both the written and the lab exam, take and pass your written, then book your lab exam soon after so that you don’t forget your theory for the lab. 

I’ll leave you with a bit of gallows humor from mgeorge on

Practice Lab & Materials: $5,000-$10,000
Lab Price: $1400
Airfare: $350
Rent-a-car: $250
Alcohol at the local bar: Don’t remember
Failing the CCIE R&S lab because 2 of the 5 questions you’d typically use Google for… Priceless

For every other certification in life; there’s Mastercard, which does not work due to the credit crisis.


February 16, 2009

CCIE Candidate Blog: Congratulations to Carl Burkland

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t know whats in the water over at, but send some my way.  🙂  Carl Burkland recently passed his CCIE Routing and Switching lab on his first attempt.  He has posted his story here. Lots of good training advice and a nice recap of the lab day.

Congratulations to Carl – who is taking a ‘breather’ and then starting on the Service Provider track.

February 11, 2009

Open-Ended Question Grading: All or Nothing

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 3:28 pm
Tags: , , , ,

In a discussion on the Cisco Networking Professionals Connection a candidate recently failed his lab.  He received a 0% grade on the new “open-ended question” portion of the lab even though he was sure that he got at least 2 of the 4 questions correct.  If he got two of the four questions correct then he should have received a 50% mark in that category, right?  Well, it turns out that this is NOT the case:

Replied by: lohaver – Marketing Programs Manager, CISCO SYSTEMS – Feb 10, 2009, 4:30pm PST

Hello Nuno,

I work on the CCIE team. The short answer section is graded on an “all or nothing” basis. If you answer the minimum number correct you will get 100%. If you don’t achieve the minimum, your score shows as 0%. It is indeed possible that you answered two questions correctly.

Lora O’Haver
Learning @Cisco

What the fuck???  Honestly, WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?  What is the “minimum number correct”?  I would have to assume that in this case it’s three.  Lora states that he could have correctly answered two and still not passed the section.  If it were four then she would (well, ‘should’) have said that you need to answer all of the questions correctly.  This “minimum number” gets more interesting in that some candidates have received 4 questions while others have received 5 questions.

This gets even more interesting.  From the responses on this thread it looks like the questions are worth a total of 21 points and the remainder of the lab is worth 79 points.  That means that you need to pass the question portion of the lab in order to pass the entire lab as the passing grade is 80 points and the most that you can score on the lab portion is 79 points.

I’ve fully supported the addition of the questions to the lab, but this new scoring “revelation” pisses me off.  IF the questions are worth 21 points towards your total score and they are graded on an “all or nothing” method based on meeting some undisclosed “minimum number of correct responses” then this is more than just a minor addition to the lab and Cisco really owes it to the candidates forking over $1400 to explain this better.  This “all or nothing” scoring is especially important for candidates to be aware of because if they aren’t aware of it, then they may be likely to request a reread of their exam.  If you get a 0% on a section that you are sure that you had at least half of the questions correct, then you’re most likely going to assume that the lab was graded incorrectly and request a reread ($250).

February 10, 2009

Internetwork Expert: New Poly Labs Rolled Out – Seminar Tomorrow

Internetwork Expert recently rolled out their new Poly Labs.  I had a chance to do some beta testing with these labs (not as much as I would have liked due to my schedule) and they are going to be a great addition for CCIE candidates.  Basically, you choose your knowledge level for each major section and then the testing engine will generate a random lab based on your abilities.  You take the lab and the testing engine automatically grades your lab.  Your ability per each section will then be updated based on the results of your lab.  This will show you your weakness and – presumably – after taking enough Poly Labs you will get a good idea of whether or not your ready to take the lab.

The cost is $25 per Poly Lab.  This cost does not include rack rental which will add anywhere from $8 – $60 to the cost (depending on whether you rent one or two 5.5 hour sessions and what the dynamic rental price is at).

[NOTE: It looks like IE has limited the cost to a max of $55 for a Poly Lab and two rack sessions]

Internetwork Expert will be hosting an online seminar tomorrow with more details.

February 9, 2009

GroupStudy: First Feedback On New CCIE Lab Open-Ended Questions

Jason on Groupstudy recently passed his CCIE lab in RTP.  He is the first candidate that I have read about who has given feedback on the new open-ended question portion of the (Routing and Switching) lab:

I was actually trying to avoid talking about the Open Ended question, because I don’t know what the NDA even allows me to discuss or not discuss about them and even though I just had them I still don’t know much about how they are used in the testing process.  I will say that personally the questions were not difficult, but I’m sure that there’s is a very huge pool of them so in my opinion there’s no telling what a person may get.  I still don’t even know how they’re graded or how that grade, if it exists, affects your overall lab results.  Maybe they’re being vague about things on purpose…I don’t know.  They are, just as their name implies, open-ended. No multiple choice…no interviews…just questions that you read and provide a typed response to.  I agree with Cisco’s statement, that CCIE candidates *should *be able to answer them without much difficulty, but what if someone just so happens to get the handful of questions that they hadn’t prepared for as much as they should have even though they may have spent a year or more studying / testing / labbing?   I’m sure something needs to be done if there are integrity problems with the lab material, but I just don’t know that these open ended questions is the solution they’re looking for.

You will NOT be able to reference the Cisco documentation during the open-ended question portion of the lab.  Since Jason passed his lab (congratulation by the way) he did not receive a scoring report (well…the best type of scoring report, the one that just says ‘Pass’):

No, there are no references allowed for the questions.   They never clarified about the points or weights for the questions.  They really didn’t provide any information about that part of it at all.  I wish I knew. Although the questions are “open-ended”, everyone should be prepared to answer very specific questions.  I think that’s about all I can say.

Another candidate’s comment indicated that you needn’t worry about composing an essay response for each question:

Don’t stress about the questions. They are short answer questions for one question I answered with 2 words.

I encourage you to read the entire thread but here are the major points about the new questions:

  • You’re given the questions at your workstation and you answer them on your PC (not an oral interview).
  • You can ask the proctor for clarification on the questions.
  • You are given up to 30 minutes to answer the questions, but as soon as you finish them you can begin the lab.
  • You are not granted additional time for these questions.  If it takes you the maximum 30 minutes to complete them, then you will only have 7.5 hours for your lab.

Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion and angst about this new addition to the lab.

February 6, 2009

Where Is The ‘neighbor allowas-in’ Command in the 12.4 Documentation?

I was doing a lab last night that required that you allow prefixes into a BGP AS that had that AS number in the AS-path.  Normally, BGP would drop these advertisements, but I knew that there was a command to allow the local AS in.  I also knew that it was configured as a ‘neighbor’ command.

Weird….I figured that this was something like ‘neighbor allow as’ but I couldn’t find that command in the BGP command reference:

neighbor activate
neighbor advertise-map
neighbor advertisement-interval
neighbor capability orf prefix-list
neighbor default-originate
neighbor description
neighbor disable-connected-check

But there it was on the CLI:

Rack1R3(config-router)#neigh ?
activate                 Enable the Address Family for this Neighbor
advertise-map            specify route-map for conditional advertisement
advertisement-interval   Minimum interval between sending BGP routing updates
allowas-in               Accept as-path with my AS present in it

That’s strange.  I went to the 12.4 Master Command List and it’s there…under:

Cisco IOS Multiprotocol Label Switching Command Reference
neighbor allowas-in

I find it odd that it was not under the BGP command reference, but it’s not a big deal as the name of the command pretty much sums up what it does.  The only (optional)argument that the command takes is the number of times that the local AS can appear in the path.

February 5, 2009

IPexpert: New Training Company Formed – NOT Offering Cisco 360 Training

IPexpert announced today that they will be creating a new ‘sister company’ (IPexpert Training) to begin training for ‘lower level’ certifications such as CCxP and others.  This consistent with their already announced push into this market (earlier announced as IPexpert University).  Internetwork Expert has announced a similar push.  My speculation is that this is a way of increasing market-share borne out of goals of expansion – or simply to contend with the loss of Cisco training due to the Cisco 360 program.

Thankfully, this announcement will not affect the current CCIE training that IPexpert offers.  They have also announced that they will NOT be offering the Cisco 360 CCIE training program – an idea that they seemed to be considering earlier.

* The IPexpert CCIE Team will not be participating in this initiative.  We have created a 2nd “sister company” to leverage the IPexpert brand, however – our CCIE Lab efforts will not be diluted and our CCIE Instructors will remain focused on CCIE Lab training, product development and support. The IPexpert Training developers and instructors are different individuals who have already proven themselves in this different (lower-level) market.

* There will be different websites, different communities and different “legal companies”.  However, the management team and sales team will remain the same – giving you sales reps that understand technology and management that understands how to deliver a phenomenal product and ensure a successful delivery with a high customer satisfaction rating.

* These classes will *NOT* be Cisco authorized and neither business unit will endorse or offer the Cisco 360 CCIE Lab offering.  After understanding the 360 program, products and Cisco’s initiative – I have made the decision that the current CCIE Lab offerings we have (already shipping) are much more mature, proven, more up-to-date and more cost-effective for our clients.

As long as the CCIE training will not suffer, I think that this is a great opportunity for students coming up through the Cisco certification ranks, especially those with their eyes on a future run at the CCIE.  The downside is that there may not be a lot of space in this new market space with the economic downturn and a number of already established training vendors competing in that space.  If IPexpert (and IE) port some of their training method and principles (lots of hands-on lab work, class-on-demand videos, integrated workbooks, communities and forums) then they should be very successful.  The good news for CCIE candidates is that there will continue to be multiple CCIE-level vendors competing for your training dollars…and that will only drive more innovation and improvement over the long run.

February 3, 2009

GroupStudy: Great CCIE Study Strategy

This recent posting to the GroupStudy mailing list contains a lot of great suggestions for CCIE candidates who are crafting/refining their study strategy:

1st) Do practice labs! It’s that easy, do as many as you can from a reputable vendor. I’m not here to prop one vendor over another…just find 1 (more if possible) that has a proven track record and do their labs. *The key is not so much the material but how you study it! Do the labs just like you’re are going to do the real lab! Meaning…in the real lab you don’t get to see the questions or the topology before hand, you don’t get to go to a proctor guide or google when you get stuck, you have 8 hours. So, when you have a lab manual, schedule your 8 to 10 hours, don’t look at any of the material before hand…then just sit there for 8 hours straight, beating your head against the wall, using only the doc cd. When you start, don’t touch a router until you have read through the whole lab, written down your “blue print” and point values and have a plan for the lab. Then go at it, if you get stuck or stumped, don’t look up the answer! Track your points and save your configs (maybe a show ip route or ip bgp or what ever is relevant as well) to your PC for grading yourself later.

When you have finished (either right after if you’re that impatient) or the next day go through the lab and grade it, be honest with yourself, and find out what you missed, then study it, learn it and understand it. (Those are your “off” days). Then, schedule your next Lab session and do it again!

At first you’ll get owned, feel like crap and wonder what in the hell you are doing. Probably will take you more than 10 hours to get through the labs, but do it all. After the first 5 to 10 you’ll get to where you can finish them in 8 hours, hopefully even sooner after 15 or 20 (the assumption is the labs get progressively harder but you are getting even faster). *part of completing a lab, is going back through the questions and verifying each task…without fail you will find at least one thing you did wrong or missed…that means you need to calculate that into your 8 hours. Get in the habit though

2nd) Once you have done 5 or 10 labs, if you are in a position, do a graded mock lab or… 7. See how you do. I wouldn’t worry so much about the score or “explanations” after the fact, but more of “did I come up with A solution for every section?” “Did I finish it in time?” “How was my time management?” “How well did I think on my feet?” (While I did not pass one of my mock labs, I always completed them, came up with solutions and learned how important it is to notice the little details) Use the mock labs to evaluate your testing strategy.

In all I did over 30 full labs (including my mock labs)…so sitting down for 8 hours in the real lab was nothing for me, I had been doing it 2 to 3 times a week for months. That kind of experience is crucial for success in the real lab. What’s more, I finish my lab (had a solution in place for each question) in 5 and a half hours and was able to spend the next 2 hours going back over each question. I easily earned between 15 to 25 points that way. Having that extra time allowed me to re-read scenarios, pick up on key-words, verify syntax et…You need to be able to get through the lab quickly…if you have done 20+ “labs” all ready, the real lab isn’t nearly as daunting in terms of time or manageability.

The point is this, you can’t do practice labs one way and think that you’ll do the real lab another. The real lab should be 2nd nature in terms of your initial read through and assessment, your time management and troubleshooting of individual scenarios, and your re-read and verification at the end.

I hope this has been helpful. Doing simple math 8 hours X 2 or 3 times a week = a lot of time and that doesn’t include the “off” days where you need to “grade” your self, study weak areas, practice configs, and browse the doc cd. It’s a huge investment of time, but if you’re going to do it, do it right and don’t “cheat” yourself.

Create a free website or blog at