CCIE Pursuit Blog

March 10, 2009

Cisco’s Official Grading Policy for Open Ended CCIE Questions + Example Questions

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 11:11 am
Tags: , , , ,

Cisco has released their ‘official’ grading policy concerning the new open ended CCIE questions. [HT: Realpro27 on IEOC forum].  Here’s the skinny:

The Core Knowledge section will consist of four short-answer questions that will be delivered via computer.  Candidates will have up to 30 minutes to type their answers to these questions.  Once you have submitted your answers (which will typically require a response of five words or less), you may begin your CCIE lab.  You will not be allotted extra time to finish the lab.  You cannot return to the Core Knowledge section after you submit your answers.  The short-answer questions will be manually graded (spelling and grammar will not be penalized).  The Core Knowledge section is scored as Pass/Fail.  If you correctly answer at least three of these questions, then you will pass the Core Knowledge section and will see 100% on your score report.  If you miss two or more questions, then you will fail the Core Knowledge section and see a 0% on your score report.  If you fail the Core Knowledge section, then you fail the entire lab exam.  If you pass the Core Knowledge section then you will still need to score 80 points on your lab exam to achieve CCIE status.  You cannot ask for a reread of the Core Knowledge section specifically, but it will be re-graded if you request a lab re-read.

What is changing on the CCIE Lab Exam?

To maintain exam security and the integrity of the CCIE R&S Lab exam, a Core Knowledge section consisting of four and [sic] computer-delivered short-answer questions is being added to the lab exam in all global lab locations. Candidates will be required to type out their answers, which typically require five words or less. No changes are being made to the lab exam blueprint or to the length of the lab exam. This new section covers core concepts and can be answered easily and quickly by well-prepared CCIE candidates. When candidates complete the Core Knowledge section, they may move immediately to the lab configuration portion of the exam.

How many short-answer questions will be asked?

Candidates will be given a maximum of 30 minutes to answer the four questions in the Core Knowledge section.

Note: Candidates will not be allowed to go back and change their answers in the Core Knowledge section later in the exam.

How many short-answer questions must I correctly answer to pass the short-answer (Core Knowledge) section?

You must at least answer 3 out of 4 questions to pass the section.

Do the short-answer questions affect my overall exam score?

Candidates must pass the Core Knowledge section containing the short-answer questions and the Lab Exam section to achieve CCIE certification. However, the Core Knowledge section is scored as Pass/Fail and the percentage of correct responses does not affect the candidates overall percent score.

A candidate must answer at least three of the four short-answer questions correctly to pass the Core Knowledge section, which will be indicated with a 100% mark on the score report. If a candidate answers fewer than three correctly, the Core Knowledge section will be marked 0%, indicating a Fail. A 0% does not necessarily indicate the candidate answered all the questions incorrectly and the zero does not get averaged into the overall score. Candidates should be aware that it is possible to pass the configuration and troubleshooting parts of the exam but fail the Core Knowledge section and therefore not earn CCIE certification.

Note: To protect the integrity of the exam, we cannot disclose how many short-answers you correctly or incorrectly answered.

For Short-Answer Question Examples, please visit the Instant Answer “CCIE Lab: Short Answer Question Examples

You can surf over here and download a PDF with some examples of the type of questions you can expect in the Core Knowledge section.  Since there are only two questions (currently) in the PDF, I’ll just post them here to save you the CPU cycles:

OSPF Topology

OSPF Topology

1) Refer to the diagram above. On which routers can you enable summarization in OSPF?

Highlight for answer: Any ABR router.

2. What protocol do the following statements describe?
Integral to IPv6
Every node that implements IPv6 must fully implement this protocol.
Many IPv6 functions utilize this protocol e.g. MTU path discovery, and neighbor discovery, etc.

Highlight for answer: ICMPv6

If I got those two questions, then I would have blown my one incorrect answer on question 2.  I also would have probably asked for clarification on question 1 as well as writing a blurb about “assuming that none of these routers are ASBRs”.

You can see from the examples that you’re either going to know the answer or not.  You can also see that this questions will not likely be limited to “core” subjects (IGPs, switching, BGP) only.  This is good to know.  I haven’t spent much time on IPv6 theory because it’s not a core topic, and the IPv6 implementation on the lab is pretty basic.  I know how to make it work, but I haven’t memorized the theory.  It looks like that will need to change.  🙂

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting “Open Ended Question of the Day” posts lately.  I’ve started my final pass through the Cisco Documentation (reading all of the configuration guides for the core topics) and formed some open ended questions from that material.  I have to hand it to Cisco, it’s difficult to create good, open ended questions from the material without simply asking for a candidate to answer with a configuration command.

Internetwork Expert has begun work on a Core Technology Simulation Product and you can sample four questions from that product here. I got 3 out of 4, but – once again – missed the IPv6 question. 😦

Thank you to Cisco for providing more clarification on the grading and composition of the new Core Knowledge section of the CCIE lab.



  1. Good gravy… it is just getting way too easy to fail the CCIE. Even if you know the answer to 90% of the test questions, the chance that you get 2 that you don’t know is about 5.2%. If you only know 80% of the answers, your chance of getting 2 that you don’t know jumps to 18.1%.

    I believe my math is right on that. Any mathematicians out there who know their probabilities well?

    Comment by Jeff Rensink — March 10, 2009 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  2. well, those questions were not that hard. I got Question 1 right, but was wrong on question 2…thought it was ‘ipv6 enable’

    I am a CCNA. If you know what your doing. These questions are not difficult. Don’t sweat it if you study the correct way. I need to learn IPv6 better.

    Comment by Vern — March 10, 2009 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

  3. “If you pass the Core Knowledge section then you will still need to score 80 points on your lab exam to achieve CCIE status.”

    The above statement is ONLY true if the TOTAL point value of the lab has not been adjusted from 100 points. My interpretation of this is that the total point is still 100 and that you need 80% or 80 points to pass the lab portion. However, we have heard that some labs got the total points reduced. This could mean that the number of tasks are still the same, but the point value per tasks got reduced.

    Even though we got some clarification from Cisco, but it is still clear as mud!

    My theorycraft on this whole thing is that the test just got a bit easier. How? Well, the open-ended questions give you 21 points and the cool thing about it is you only need to get 75% of it correct, i.e. 3 out of 4. You can get that in 30 mins or less! From a point/time perspective, that number is just insanely good! Now with 21 points in the pocket, there are 79 points lelf. You need only 59 out of that 79 to go with your 21 points to get 80 points out of total 100. And 59/79 is nearly 75%. So now the lab just goes from 80% passing mark to 75% passing mark.

    Comment by Dragons & Faeries — March 10, 2009 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

  4. I got 3/4 and yes IPV6 theory was the problem

    Comment by Khaled — March 11, 2009 @ 3:31 am | Reply

  5. The problem isn’t really studying the correct way. Like I said, even if you know 90% of the answers, you still have about a 1 out of 20 chance of getting 2 questions that you don’t know. If you know less than 90%, your failure rate will jump dramatically. The issue is the result of using such a small number of questions. If they increased the number of questions asked, the odds of adequately prepared candidates failing due to “unlucky” question selection goes down significantly.

    The problem really comes down to Cisco implementing a method of weeding out the cheaters that carries with it too high of a risk of preventing legit candidates from passing. Yeah, they can just retake the lab and most likely pass the next time. But I think it’s hurting the certification.

    Comment by jrensink78 — March 11, 2009 @ 7:44 am | Reply

  6. @Dragons & Faeries – Love the name. 🙂 You’re right about the lab being easier if the number of tasks/points is reduced due to the addition of the Core Knowledge questions. I had read a few reports (and recounted them on this blog) about candidates whose lab consisted of 79 points. Most of the recent feedback is that the lab portion still contains 100 points total. I think that the ’79 points’ bit was due to the pass/fail grading of the Core Knowledge section. If you fail the Core Knowledge portion then the score report will show 0%. Although my score report (pre-Core Knowledge era) did not show point totals (only percentages), some candidates reported that they saw that the Core Knowledge was worth 21 points. This sounds like a systems/software issue with the score report. I think that it showed as 21 points because that jives with the pass/fail grading and the fact that you need to pass the Core Knowledge portion to be able to pass the entire lab.

    But you’re right, this has not been clarified by Cisco, even this statement is vague:

    “No changes are being made to the lab exam blueprint or to the length of the lab exam.”

    Are they referring to the length in time or the length in content (number of tasks and/or point values)?

    Comment by cciepursuit — March 11, 2009 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  7. @ jrensink78 – I agree. That’s one of the inherent problems with having a test with few questions drawn from a large pool. You could very easily know the vast majority of the study material and get served two questions that you don’t know/misinterpret. The more questions in the test, the closer you’ll get to your true level of knowledge about the material. Of course, we already have a qualifying test for the CCIE lab that does exactly that….the CCIE written exam. 🙂

    Comment by cciepursuit — March 11, 2009 @ 9:49 am | Reply

  8. I got 3/4 as well, also missing the IPv6 question. I got the OSPF question correct even though it marked me wrong for writing “Router C will receive an OSPF external type-2 LSA for the prefix” ….which of course is right

    Comment by Joe A — March 11, 2009 @ 9:59 am | Reply

  9. I think lab portion still being 80 points. The written portion is only to determine if you do not pass even if you got 80 points in the practical portion. Cisco said: “However, the Core Knowledge section is scored as Pass/Fail and the percentage of correct responses does not affect the candidates overall percent score”

    Comment by lukas — March 11, 2009 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  10. I took the new test in February, and have taken the previous version in December of last year. I should have passed in December, and wouldn’t have had to deal with these questions. I simply blew it due to nerves. Tightened my configuration down, and tried again. The second time in February, I didn’t pass the Core Knowledge section of the test, but aced the lab itself. FAIL. BTW, for those who think it is easier there are several points here. One, the amount of configuration needed for a measly 2 point question just increased, stuff like redistribution is now included (no points awarded), etc… Two, it can’t be easier, because preliminary word has the pass rate SIGNIFICANTLY reduced.

    I figure we’ll see what happens next time. People who took the CCIE written a year plus ago (like myself) are finding that the test is not as “easy” here as some claim. True you only need 79 pts in configuration, but it is a LOT harder to obtain those points. This next time, I expect to lose something in the configuration because I’ve spent so much time going over written material and less on actual configuration.

    Comment by Busted — March 11, 2009 @ 4:13 pm | Reply

  11. Hi, I just returned from my first attempt RS Lab on RTP.
    Regarding the open-ended questions some of them were too open-ended to be qualified as short answer, and others were too closed.
    4 questions, 30 mins max to answer, and 7.5 hours (actually 7 without the lunch break)for the lab portion.
    Scored pretty good on the lab section, about 80% total on average. But those open-ended core knowledge section just sucked!
    I’m a CCNP and the quetions I got were directed for a CCNA level. I’m pretty sure I answered 4 out of 4, but as you can guess the score report for the core section was 0%, probably the best case is that I failed 2 of 4.
    In my opinion i’m possitive about the addition of these questions, however i’m not clear how’s the Cisco Certification team goin to cut out the braindumpers with that grading policy.
    I mean, the answers to the questions were totally subjective (as they already qualified them as OPEN ENDED), really this is making me think that 1. they don’t want more people to be certified, 2. looking for an excuse to make the exam 250 more expensive (i was surely thinking about a regrade, but eh,…whatever).
    Don’t missuderstand me. The exam has not got harder because of these quetions, but thats the whole point. Open ended questions, not by themself but more on the grading policy, has nothing to do with experience, practice and preparation for the lab exam. Still don’t understand the whole point of the questions if they are going to be graded on an all on nothing basis, roughly 21 points of your exam dependend on 2 questions.

    Comment by Carlos — March 12, 2009 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  12. The answer for the IE sample questions:
    is obviuosly wrong because the site-local is not /16 but /10 bit long mask.:)


    Comment by franc_maurer — March 22, 2009 @ 9:25 am | Reply

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