An Honor It Has Been

In my previous post, we looked at some useful tactics that you can employ when tackling the CCIE R&S written exam and the Troubleshooting portion of the CCIE R&S lab exam. Here in this second part of my compilation of tactics, we’ll look at the Diagnostic and Configuration components of the lab exam.


Diagnostic Exam

  • Quickly glance over the different tickets, identify the format of the answer choices (multiple choice, point-and-click, drag-and-drop) and choose which item to start with, perhaps the one with the fewest number of answer choices. (An item with fewer choices is probably slightly easier than one with more choices.)
  • Work each ticket as a unique scenario. Most likely, the sub-questions that make up the ticket, and represent an opportunity to score, are very much related to each other.
  • Quickly review the available resources (including the question itself, answer choices, documents and other resources, and guidelines) to get an initial overview of what information is available to you and where it is located.
  • Carefully read the question and answer choices to understand exactly what you are being asked to do with the resources.
  • Identify and eliminate any absurd answer choices, if any; and, ideally, try to prioritize the remaining answer choices according to plausibility.
  • Use a logical troubleshooting methodology to understand the symptoms and identify the most likely causes based on the documentation and resources that have been provided.
  • Keeping in mind the specific question being asked, evaluate each possible solution (based on the plausible answer choices available to you) and build an analysis based on the evidence before you.
  • Correlate information from your documents in order to further confirm or infirm your hunches and isolate things down to the only possible solution. Remember that Diagnostic items always have only one possible solution!
  • Take care to avoid jumping to conclusions. Always use the documentation to objectively build your argument and confirm your solution.
  • Keep track of the time spent on each item and watch out for the warning message when time is almost expired. The countdown timer will also turn red when there are only 5 minutes left.
  • Use the navigation features in the web interface in order to minimize scrolling. A table of contents is always visible and will be dynamically updated depending on the context. Open topology diagrams in a separate pop-up window.


Configuration Exam

  • Quickly glance over all sections of the exam and try to identify the core items versus the stub ones; that is, try to identify the item interdependency.
  • Based on your assessment of how the items interrelate, determine the overall sequence of implementation that you will follow to configure the exam scenario.
  • Cherry-pick items according to your preferred approach (for example, according to score point value, the number of devices you need to configure, the number of requirements and clarity with which they are presented, etc.).
  • Work each item as a unit: carefully read all requirements and identify explicit versus implicit requirements. That is, some requirements are very clear in what they ask for while others might implicitly test knowledge of some option or functionality or feature without calling it explicitly but by providing a description of the outcome or by adding some constraints.
  • Keep track of your overall progress for each item, and your relative confidence with how you solved all the requirements. (You may use scratch paper or a Microsoft Windows notepad document for this purpose).
  • Keep an eye on the clock and manage your time. Set a mental timer “item max-time” as discussed in previous posts.
  • Anticipate the expected effect of your solution and plan the procedure to reliably verify and validate its outcome.
  • Remember to verify what is already preconfigured before jumping to configuration mode right away.
  • Keep in mind that it might be better to use a prohibited solution and lose points for one item only as compared to losing many more points for multiple dependent items downstream.
  • When designing your solution, try to find a smart configuration option that is much faster to implement compared to other tedious options, though both ways may be valid. For example, think about configuration scripts that can be quickly copied and pasted into multiple devices with minimal changes.
  • Implement your solution with a very systematic approach in order to minimize the possibility of forgetting to configure a required step, node, or interface. For example, it is very easy to miss a loopback interface or a stub vlan prefix into the routing protocol configuration but unfortunately this would be a very expensive mistake as discussed in previous posts... Attention to the details!
  • Verify that the expected outcome has been achieved and use appropriate show commands to validate the actual status of any variable or counter.
  • Save your configurations often, especially after having validated any solution. Note that it’s not mandatory to save a configuration to NVRAM, but it is highly recommended. The grading script is run right after you leave the examination center and devices are not reloaded before doing so.
  • Avoid large changes at the last minute. In addition, if you won’t have time to complete all items, consider going back and further verifying the work that is completed rather than moving forward with an item that you may not be able to complete or that may break previous solutions.
  • Keep in mind that a partial solution is not acceptable and doesn't entitle you to partial scoring! All requirements and guidelines must be met in order to collect the points for an item.
  • Use the tools that are available to you (Microsoft Windows Notepad, copy/paste, Cisco documentation, scratch paper and colored pens).
  • Know your way around Cisco documentation in advance and do not rely on it for handling core topics. Know at the outset where most features and protocols are documented.
  • Familiarize yourself with the web interface used in the exam. Both the Cisco Learning Labs ( ) and the Cisco CCIE Lab Builder ( ) use the same delivery engine as the lab exam, so they make for good practice with the interface.


I hope this is helpful. As always, please feel free to comment below.
Happy end of the year to everyone and happy studying!