A Day in the Lab: Knowing What to Expect for Your CCIE ExamThe CCIE is one of the most prestigious and rewarding exams in the Cisco certification program portfolio.  Expert level certification holders account for only 2% of all Cisco certified professionals.  Making it into that top echelon requires dedication and commitment and the ability to pass the written exam as well as the practical lab exam.  One of the biggest concerns that many candidates face when attempting their first CCIE or CCDE practical exam is, “what will happen when I get to the lab?” On top of the preparation of studying for the exam and traveling to the lab site, the last thing a candidate needs is to be anxious about what they need to do when they get there.   In this blog, we are going to focus on tips examinees can utilize before, during, and after they test.

Preparing for the lab


Most candidates are usually nervous about going into the lab regardless of whether it’s their first time testing.  Preparing properly for the exam can help eliminate any unnecessary delays or anxiety.   If your selected lab location is outside of your home country, you must meet the country’s visa requirements to attend your lab exam. We strongly recommend that you research and understand the visa requirements prior to booking your lab exam and apply for any required visas at least 10 to 12 weeks before your lab date. If you are unable to obtain the required visa, you are still bound by the cancellation policies and must cancel your lab exam before the payment due date. To request a Visa Invite letter, you can find the Visa tab at the top of the lab scheduling tool.


Once you have obtained your visa, review the suggested hotels and local testing information to get a lay of the land. Research your hotel, the time required to get to the lab location as well as surrounding areas to make your stay more comfortable.   Some lab locations are within walking distance of the hotel.  It is important to plan your travel accommodations to the lab to ensure you arrive on time.  Some lab exams can start as early as 7:00 a.m. local time, and late arrivals do not get extra time.  If any candidate is more than 2 hours late to the exam, they will be unable to test, marked as a “no show” and forfeit the exam fees.


On the day of your lab exam, dress comfortably yet appropriately – business dress is not required.  The exam can last up to 8 hours, and you want to be comfortable for the duration.  If you have checked out of your hotel prior to your exam, consider leaving your luggage with the concierge.  Luggage isn’t allowed in the immediate testing area, but if space is available, Cisco is able to hold luggage.


At the Lab


Now that you’ve arrived at the testing site, what comes next?  Each candidate must present two forms  of ID such as a drivers license or passport.  Both types of identification must have the candidate's signature and one must be government-issued with a photo.  You will be able to store your personal items like wallets, purses and cell phones in the lockers, cubbies or other designated areas but nothing is allowed in the testing area, including outside reference materials.   Everything you need for the exam will be provided but the exam assumes you are knowledgeable of the more common protocols and technologies.


The breakdown of your day consists of a quick briefing on the expectations for your exam, a description of the lab materials and an overview of the proctor’s role during the exam.  Lunch will also be provided for you at each location.  The briefing and lunch break do not count against the time allotted for your exam.  You will be allowed to take additional breaks as often as you need but the clock does not stop during these breaks.


Some of the exams have sections based on configuration, diagnostics and/ or troubleshooting.  The Exam Topics list, also known as exam blueprints, is available for each exam of the individual tracks on the CCIE page of the Cisco Learning Network.


We want to ensure first time lab candidates have proper expectations of what the role of the proctor is during the exam.  Your proctor is there for your assistance.  They can help to clarify questions pertaining to the Exam Topics and what a question is asking.  They cannot, however, confirm whether you have configured something properly or incorrectly.  Candidates must view themselves as examinees, not as students with an instructor there available to inform them of how to complete an assignment. The expectation is that candidates come with a working knowledge and understanding of the skills required to complete the exam.


All lab exams are pre-configured and tested to prevent technical complications with the equipment or configuration.  In rare instances, however, technical complications may arise with the  hardware, software, or network-related issues; this is the time to immediately inform your proctor.   If a system is inoperable or you are unable to move forward with your exam, do not lose valuable time trying to fix it on your own.  If you do experience issues with the provided test equipment, do not spend more than 10 minutes troubleshooting the problem prior to reporting it to your lab exam proctor. As a best practice, we recommend saving your configurations frequently.  Once the proctor determines whether or not you can move forward with your exam, they will either extend the lab session with an equivalent amount of time lost, or if the anticipated time to resolve the problem is greater than two hours, you will be offered to reschedule your exam by opening a support case.


After the Exam

Once you have completed the lab, the onsite proctor will evaluate and score your exam.  Your lab scores will be available on your CCO profile within 48 hours.  Scores are presented as pass/fail.  If you receive a failing score, examine your score report.  It provides candidates with valuable information about the major topic areas where additional study and preparation may be needed.


Each person going into a CCIE level exam automatically places themselves into a rare group of engineers.  Whether or not you pass the first time or after your 3rd or 4th attempt, your pursuit of a CCIE certification will only help you grow in your technical career.  To move into that top 2% of Cisco certified professionals, preparation is key.   Your journey begins with knowing what to expect.  Be knowledgeable about your candidate rights and responsibilities and the lab policies, plan accordingly, and most of all, gain the experience necessary to obtain your certification and stay abreast of all the track specific requirements for your upcoming CCIE lab exam.  Good luck!