CCIE Pursuit Blog

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.




  1. Regarding the experience requirement…why not take a note from (ISC)2 and its CISSP exam? You need to prove x amount of years in the industry AND have another certified individual sponsor you.

    Comment by Joe L — February 17, 2009 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

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

    What you don’t know is that Cisco is actually the darkside and Juniper is the Jedi’s 🙂

    Comment by nemith — February 17, 2009 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  3. Haha I always love your posts dude.

    Comment by Dana — February 17, 2009 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  4. I hear you on the work part.. its hard to put that time in these days with the decreasing number of workforce lol. When is your lab date?

    Comment by — February 17, 2009 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

  5. Here’s an idea. Move the lab back to a 2 day experience with the second day for troubleshooting problems introduced by the proctors. Seemed to me the precious digits did not rise as quickly then and there was less talk of “cheating” as well. Granted, people will wait longer to take the lab but that just means a bit more study time and there shouldn’t be a rush on this achievement anyway. This will never happen because…its all about the Benjamins.


    Comment by RW — February 18, 2009 @ 2:03 am | Reply

  6. Still it does not make any sense that I am required to PASS the questions otherwise I FAIL the entire exam and I do not get any point from it AND I lose 30 mins of lab time ? Come on CISCO can do better than that and we should be less suspicious.

    Comment by Giorgio P. — February 18, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  7. Dude , took my lab on 22nd jan, thought everything allright , was prrety happy after completion , whole night couldn’t sleep , thinking of if i dont make it this time what will happen , lose money , time , happiness and so on , dude i gotta tell , i feel like i m a home prisoner , bored like anything 🙂 just to become a R//S freak . it makes me more sick when i see confused policy , as black as their CLI , man why dont you be more black n white . at least let us know where we’re missing . any way , at 5 oclock in the morning all my hard work just vanished in a word FAIL ,i had no clue where i missed , it says , IGP 100% , s/B 63 %, IOS/F 100%,Q0s 75%,multicast 100%,security 63%,EGP 38%, man honestly this is not enough , deserve a full report, cause who knows somebody were drinking whole night and got privilege to grade ur lab , so whoever out there pls hv ur self sometime alone and think this is really hard earned money in this rescission .at least give an answer why u failed .

    any way , thanks to all senior folks, pls keep us updated ,

    Comment by ranj — February 18, 2009 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  8. >What you don’t know is that Cisco is actually the darkside and Juniper is the Jedi’s 🙂

    He does have a point…

    Comment by cciejourney — February 18, 2009 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  9. Hey, lets not argue…CCIE and JNCIE would both look very nice on your email sig;) And come on Cisco, step up and give us some real information to base our large cash expenditure decisions on.

    Comment by lowjo — February 18, 2009 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  10. Took my first attempt two days ago on tuesday. The questions were very straight forward, they are only open in the way you type what you want. I found them easy to answer. The proctor stated you can answer as little or as much as you want In the end only had to briefly think about one of them, but still got 0% for Core. So either i got one wrong or whoever did the marking, didnt like my wording.

    Comment by some anon dude — February 19, 2009 @ 5:25 am | Reply

  11. If you fail the general knowledge question section then you don’t deserve the status of being an Expert. How would it look to your customers if you were a CCIE and couldn’t speak intelligently on a general networking topic? Good luck, study hard.

    Comment by Doug E — February 19, 2009 @ 6:42 am | Reply

  12. @ Joe L
    The CISSP thing doesn’t work. The Department of Defense requires CISSP for working at a certain privilege level on military networks, and so people are just sponsoring each other and have been working for years in that industry, though staring at the wall. Then they cram for the CISSP but cannot manage security policies effectively, so the Army’s Information Assurance department is a joke

    Comment by Luis Garcia — February 19, 2009 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  13. @ cciepursuit

    I also forgot to mention, contrary to Ioan’s comments on lab total points, my lab didn’t add up to 100 points 😉

    Comment by some anon dude — February 20, 2009 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

  14. The open-ended written is a honeypot! They are waiting for it to leak then will charge and sue the bastards involved to high hell. Die dumpsters die!!!

    Comment by Mike — February 22, 2009 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  15. Hmm…. I thought those questions have to be answered orally so how come it looks like it’s not, like it’s some kind of test on computer you do?

    Comment by Peter — March 4, 2009 @ 3:33 am | Reply

  16. It’s not really that bad. If you fail the open-ended questions then you really shouldn’t be taking the lab. My advice is to be VERY descriptive and extrapolate on your answers. I may have messed that up today…still waiting on my score…

    Comment by Doug E — March 4, 2009 @ 8:56 pm | Reply


    You guys should read this. This whole thing is crazy.

    Comment by Andy — April 9, 2009 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

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