First off be sure to arrive at the lab at least 15 minutes early. I’ve done both arrived early and arrived late. I can tell you from personal experience that arriving early is the best option. When you arrive you will be waiting in the lobby until the proctor comes out to escort you into the lab. When you get into the lab the proctor will give you a quick introduction before starting. This introduction will cover the facilities (i.e. restrooms, break room, etc), the start and stop times and then the proctor will normally ask if anyone has any questions before starting. If you have any general questions I would recommend that you clear them up with the proctor now. For any questions related to the lab itself (i.e. do I need to ping myself over Frame Relay) I would recommend that you wait until you read over the lab before asking as most of these types of question will be answered in the lab itself. After this introduction the lab will officially start. You can now go to your assigned seat and start the lab.
Bring earplugs (the small disposable type) as the lab can in some locations be a little noisy (routers and switches buzzing, phones ringing from the voice racks, etc). Dress in layers (i.e. light jacket or sweater) so that you can remain comfortable. Leave your cellphone, pager and any other electronic devices at your hotel or in your rental car. If you do bring them with you to the lab they will have a place for you to store them. This also holds true for your luggage. If you are going to the airport after the lab you can bring your luggage to the lab and they will have a place for you to store it during the exam. You may want to bring a certain drink or snack. Officially the policy is that you can not bring anything into the lab but normally the proctors will allow you to bring a drink or snack in. If you are taking the lab in RTP the lunch will be catered. You will not have a big choice as to what to eat. This being the case you may want to bring your own lunch if you are a very picky eater or on a special diet. Personally I’ve found the food to be just fine but to be honest what’s for lunch in the lab is the least of my worries as it should be for you.
But before even stepping into the lab you should have a detailed plan. This plan should include what you are going to do when you first arrive. Below is my recommended plan as to what to do when you first arrive in the lab.
1 ) After taking your seat remove the lab and diagrams from the binder. You don’t want to be flipping through the binder all day. The pages themselves will be in plastic sheet covers. Do not remove the pages from the sheet covers. I normally make two stacks for the lab material. One for the pages I haven’t completed or am still working on and the other the pages I have completed.
2 ) The pencils (colored and regular) and pens that they supply will be on your desk. Pick out the ones you will be using and sharpen any if needed. Since they are supplying you with the colored pencils you may end up with different colors then you are used to. This being the case don’t use the same colors all the time and mix it up a little between labs. Now you may try to bring your own colored pencils into the lab and sometimes the proctor will allow them but the official policy is that you can’t bring them in. In that case just use whatever they are supplying and don’t worry about it. But if you feel you can’t pass the lab without your own “magical” set of colored pencils you may want to stop preparing for the lab now and just use your $1400 for a good psychiatrist
3 ) Draw out your own diagrams. Drawing out your own diagrams has two big advantages. First off, you can’t write on the diagrams they give you without being suspended from the lab for one year. By being able to write on your own diagram you can make lots of little notes when working through the lab. Secondly by drawing out the network it will help you learn the network and remember what the network looks like when reading the tasks without the need to repeatedly look back at the diagrams. I can’t tell you how many people I see during the mock lab classes make little simple mistakes like configuring a feature on the wrong device or on the wrong interface. Just one little mistake like this can be the difference between passing or failing.
4 ) Take a quick read over the entire lab to get a general idea of what you are going to be doing throughout the day. Don’t spend time trying to figure out the solution to each task but just get a feel for what they are looking for. You may also find that the order they give you the tasks in is not the ideal order in which you should do the task and you want to figure that out now. I see people in the mock lab workshop make the mistake of just starting with the first task without reading over the lab. By doing this they run into issues when a solution they implemented in an earlier task causes problems with a later task.
5 ) Now log onto your rack using the Windows XP PC provided. You will have shortcuts on the desktop to your devices. By just click on the SecureCRT shortcuts on the desktop you can connect either to the console of the access server or the individual lines. This is the same way we have our rental rack access setup. If you connect directly to the console of the access server you can then reverse telnet (i.e. R1, R2, etc) to the console of the devices. If you want to connect directly to the device’s consoles you can do so but be forewarned that you will need to have ten SecureCRT windows open. Newer versions of SecureCRT support the concept of tabs but the version of SecureCRT in the CCIE lab will not support tabs. This means that you shouldn’t use tabs during the last month or so before your lab date if you plan to connect to the devices directly. Personally I think that working with ten windows is awkward to say the least but it’s going to boil down to a personal preference.
6 ) Now that you are connected to the devices in your rack take a quick minute to ensure that the initial configurations loaded on them match the diagrams provided. To do this just compare the IP addressing on your devices with the ones on the diagram to ensure you have the correct initial configurations loaded. Although rare it does happen that someone either gets the wrong lab or initial configurations loaded.
7 ) Next open three Internet Explorer windows. The first one for the IOS 12.4 documentation, the second one for the 3550 documentation and finally the last one for the 3560 documentation. Do not expect to have a version of Internet Explorer that supports tabs. If the administrative privileges on the PC do not allow you to open multiple instances of Internet Explorer you can go to the one that you could open and then do “File->New Window”.
8 ) Using one of the scratch sheets of paper that they give you make a quick table with the following columns: Task, Point Value and Notes. Use this to document your progress as you do the lab. Also note on here when you complete each section. Include the number of points you achieved in the section, the total points you feel you have and the time you completed the section. Remember that time is not your friend in the lab so you need to make sure don’t loose track of it and you know exactly where you are in the lab at all times.
9 ) If you want to apply additional configuration (alias, logging synchronous, etc) create them in notepad now. Then paste them into the devices. A few I personally would recommend are below:
a) clock set (set the clock on all devices if they are not already set)
b) ensure the logging level for the console is set to debugging
c) logging buffered
d) ip tcp syn-wait 5
e) no ip domain-lookup
f) line con 0
history size 256
Personally I don’t use aliases other than the default ones in the IOS but its a personal preference.
Do not take more than 30 to 35 minutes to get to this point. You should be ready to start the lab now. In the next part I will cover getting up to full reachability in the lab exam.
About Brian Dennis, CCIE #2210:
Brian Dennis has been in the networking industry for more than 22 years, with a focus on Cisco networking for the past 16 years. Brian achieved his first CCIE in Routing & Switching in 1996, and is currently the only ten year CCIE that holds five CCIE certifications. Prior to working with INE, Brian taught and developed CCIE preparation courses for various well known training organizations. Brian not only brings his years of teaching experience to the classroom, but also years of real world enterprise and service provider experience.
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