You studied for the CCDE practical exam and now you are curious about what the exam and testing center will actually look and feel like on the exam day. You’ve heard stories about it, most likely from someone who never took it picturing the exam experience more dauntingly than it really is. Beware of rumors! In this blog I’ll walk you through from the moment you register to take the exam until when you’re sitting in front of the test PC on the test room of a Pearson Professional Center (PPC) so you’re in the know.
Register at least 45 days in advance
The CCDE practical exam is delivered 4 times a year on select dates at select PPCs. There are around 300 PPCs worldwide, most of them in the US. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of scheduling your desired CCDE practical exam date with no less than 45 days to the exam day, since all PPCs extend their hours of operation to accommodate the 9-hour CCDE practical exam (8 hours’ exam + 1 hour for mandatory lunch) up until the 45-day mark. Please observe that at any time seats are limited and you will compete with other vendors’ exams administered the same day at the chosen PPC. After the 45-day mark, the PPCs will revert back to their regular hours of operation and you will only be able to schedule with PPCs that already work 9+ hours a day (most of them in the US) OR on the PPCs which already have at least 1 CCDE candidate scheduled – in other words, outside of your control. You can schedule up until the day before the exam day, and only on these PPCs. You can cancel your CCDE practical exam with full refund up until 30 days to the exam, but after that you’ll be forfeit the full fee.
If you have to travel to another country to take the exam, find out what travel documents you need, including the need for a Visa and which specific kind of Visa. If you do require a Visa, allow at least 12 weeks for the paperwork to go through, or whatever timelines are provided to you by the consulate or embassy of the country you will be visiting. If an invite letter is required, open a case with Certification & Communities Online Support to request one (see links below) and allow some extra time.
As much as possible, book your travel such that any delays won’t impact your start time at the PPC. Unpredicted technical issues could possibly extend your exam hours so schedule a later leave time that evening or better yet the day after the exam day.
What to take with you to the PPC on the exam day
All you need are two forms of government issued identification with photo for the admission process. No beverages or snacks of any kind are provided so it is recommended to bring bottled water and some money for lunch and parking. Remember that your name on these two forms of identification and on the exam must match exactly. Avoid taking anything else with you as for security reasons they won’t be allowed in the exam room. Wear a light jacket and comfortable clothes.
Getting to the PPC
Whether you live close to the PPC or you’re travelling, make sure to allow ample time to get there on the exam day, do the check-in process and unwind before the exam starts. You surely don’t need to have a stressful kick start, which could ruin your exam strategy because of an unpredictable delay. Some people even drive to the PPC location the day before to ensure they won’t get lost, especially when unfamiliar with the location. If your travel arrangements permit, do the same.
The PPC environment
The admission process starts with the test administrator providing you with the test rules for you to read and get familiarized with. You’ll be then asked to provide the two government issued forms of identification with photo, sign your name on a digital signature pad, have your digital fingerprint and palm vein scanned, and your digital photo taken. At this time you’ll get a key to the storage locker to store all of your belongings. Please observe that any items you store and plan on using during the day (medicine, bottle of water, snacks) will be fully inspected by the test administrator upon removal from the locker. The proctor will admit you into the exam room and will launch your exam. There’s a scheduled 1-hour lunch break right after you finish the second scenario or the 4-hour morning count down timer runs out. If you smoke, you’ll be able to do so only during the lunch break, as candidates are not permitted to leave the building at any time during the exam except during the 1-hour lunch break. You may take unscheduled breaks. If you request an unscheduled break, for example to go to the restroom during the exam, the exam is put in break mode but the clock does not stop running. Upon return, you have to show your ID and will be inspected again before being admitted into the testing room. Take a virtual tour of the PPC and watch the YouTube video of the check-in, admission and testing process – links shown below for more details.
The exam look&feel
As the CCDE practical exam is launched, you’ll see the Initial screen, followed by the Exam Information Welcome, the Copyright, Minor, and NDA screens. Once NDA is accepted, the Introduction screen for the first morning scenario displays. It will include high level information about the scenario about to begin and mainly how to interact with the user interface:
Accessing the Introduction and the Documents at the onset of each scenario
If you need to consult the Introduction screen for help on how to interact with the user interface, click on Introduction. At the onset of each scenario you will be presented with some exhibits. These exhibits are scenario-dependent and will be available throughout each scenario. Once the scenario finishes, a new set of exhibits will be presented. Do NOT start answering questions without reading all of the available exhibits, which can be accessed by clicking on Documents.
You must respond to each question completely and click on Next to move to the next question. If the question doesn’t fit the screen vertically, you must scroll all the way down to move to the next question. Each question is presented sequentially. Once you click on Next, you cannot go back.
New exhibits received along the scenario
Throughout the scenario, new exhibits will be presented and when it happens a screen alerting you with the message below will be displayed:
Once you click on Next on that screen, the Documents button will display a yellow star with a green plus sign like the one shown below. Click on Documents normally and the new documents will also be signalized with the same symbol.
Managing your time
There will be two 4-hour countdown timers, the “before lunch” one and the “after lunch” one. There will be also four Section Progress (aka progress bars), one for each scenario. In the example above, 90 minutes have elapsed (75% of the time on the first scenario) and I completed 70% of the scenario give or take, indicating that I am running a little behind. Observe that the first question, given the amount of documents to read and understand, take much longer than the other questions of the scenario, but you should catch up as the scenario progresses. Try to allocate two hours for each scenario.
Keeping up with the scenario context
Nick Russo on his blog has walked us through different strategies on the use of Notes and Highlight. Whatever your strategy is, observe that both are persistent throughout each scenario and will serve as a reference to yourself.
Comment is a question-related feature and does not persist across the scenario. All comments on each question and from all candidates taking the exam will be compiled together and reported to me. A word on Comment etiquette: I read all comments, so please use the Comment feature sparingly and only to report what you think is wrong about the question and if possible a recommendation to get it sorted out. Options on the questions are randomized so please inform the option text vs. option A for example when you want to report something about an option.
The exam results
Once you respond to the last question on the exam, you’ll see the Copyright screen and your printed score receipt will be provided by the PPC as you leave. The actual score report (pass/fail results) will be provided via regular mail after 10 to 12 weeks, time to perform analysis which will ensure the validity of the scores so they accurately represent a candidate's true level of knowledge and skills as measured by the exam.
I hope this blog demystified the PPC environment and the CCDE practical exam look&feel, and how to effectively interpret the user interface to reduce the anxiety and help you be successful at the CCDE practical exam!
Is there a topic you want to hear about on my upcoming blogs? Add it to the comments field!
Elaine Lopes is the CCDE and CCAr Certifications Program Manager and Team Lead for the CCIE program team, and she’s passionate about how lives can change for the better through education and certification.
Here are a few additional ways for us to engage and keep the conversation going:
- Cisco Learning Network CCDE Study Group
- Connect on Twitter too
- CCDE study materials for the Written and Practical exams
- Related Unleashing CCDE blogs: Myth Busters and the CCDE Practical Exam Question Types, Constructing your CCDE Practical Exam Strategy Part 1 with Nick Russo
- Related links: Pearson Professional Center Tour - YouTube, Pearson Professional Center Gallery of Photos, Certification & Communities Online Support, Earned It! videos