I just took and passed the CCIE R&S 5.1 Written Exam earlier today. There have been many mixed reviews about the CCIE R&S Written Exam in the past and I wanted to give my honest review of the exam as well as clear many of the concerns people have regarding the exam’s content.
First of all, you must realize this is an expert level exam. As such, you are expected to have a depth of knowledge about the topics on the exam. Second, the broad scope of the exam does add to the perceived difficulty of the exam because there are many more technologies that can be tested. This leads to my third point. Despite the above the only two things that are needed to do well on this exam is deep familiarity with the subject matter and the ability to reason between the given choices for an exam question.
Throughout my exam, my experience was that none of the questions were tricky or seemed intended to “trip you up” or “purposely fail you to make money”. All questions mapped to the blueprint so expect to see a decent distribution of questions from all topics. They were honest questions that presented a scenario and asked questions about the scenario. As long as you keep a level head and are able to think clearly through the scenarios presented, you should be able to determine the right choice.
This does not mean that the exam is just an “easy” exam. You have to be familiar and understand the reasons behind each topic on the blueprint at an expert level. It is not enough in some cases to just understand Cisco marketing information about a topic (such as DMVPN). You have to understand the architecture.
I’ve found that being familiar with the command line configurations for each technology helps immensely with gaining this deep knowledge. For example, if you know the MPLS L2 VPNs allow L2 connectivity between CE routers, if a question on the exam asks you about running a PE-CE routing protocol, you can reason the plausibility of such a configuration.
Start off with the “why” of the technology. Why does it exit? What does it do? Where would you use it? Learn and understand that with curiosity. Then proceed on to how it is solved. For eg. “What purpose does NHRP serve in DMVPN?” When you know that purpose, the next question is “How do the configuration commands fit in to serve that purpose” . Combine this type of thinking with experience on the command line and you are heading in the right direction for the exam.
It is also important not to overthink the questions and to remember the basic Cisco recommended configurations for the technologies presented in the exam. Also, Because it is a timed exam, preference should be given to moving from a question you do not know to one you potentially do know. Every second spent on a question you are not sure about reduces your likelihood for having enough time to answer the remaining questions on the exam.
In closing, as long as you get a good, deep understanding of the exam topics (either through reading or intense lab work) to the point where you are able to use good deductive reasoning, this exam should not present a problem at all. Again, stressing the reasoning part of the process. This exam is a reasoning exam.
Good luck in all of your studies!