Many people studying for CCIE are looking for a solution to better memorize and retain the new information. The biggest enemy of good memory is the fact that speed of forgetting is directly proportional to the amount of information learned. One can actually start off this and write a simple ordinary differential equation that models the forgetting process:

dY(t)/dt = V – aY(t)

where Y(t) is the amount of information memorized at moment t and V is the speed of the new information being memorized. The component -aY(t) demonstrates the forgetting effect described above (speed of the forgetting is directly proportional to the amount of information learned). Integrating the equation we easily obtain:

Y(t) = V/a+const*exp(-at)

What it basically says, is that the amount of information that we memorize is proportional to the speed of learning! The exponentially decaying component does not play any major role as the time passes, and thus your know as much as you learn. As soon as you stop learning new information (or repeating the old info), your knowledge volume will decay with the speed of exponent. Not the best news in our already uneasy world!

This model, however is too simple to be valid. However, it demonstrates one important fact – unless you actively learn, you forget. The solution for the equation exhibits the well-know Ebbinghaus curve effect (Forgetting Curve), which has been known for over than century. Two methods can help you overcome the forgetting effect, and they are active learning and spaced repetitions. Let’s start with…

Active learning has many forms. The most basic involves transforming knowledge in the series of questions that could be answered in a short manner. For the demostration, look at the following blog post:

MSTP Tutorial Part I

Read every paragraph, and come up with a few questions for each.

Q: What is the major drawback of the mono spanning tree?
A: Impossible to engineer traffic flow for different VLANs

Q: What is the major drawback of PVST?
A: Does not scale with the number of VLANs

Q: What was the main idea of MISTP?
A: Decoupling STP instances from VLANs.

Q: How did the original MISTP instance convey STP information?
A: Every instance has its own BPDU sent on every link.

Q: How was the VLAN to instance mapping information distributed in MISTP?
A: Manually on every switch, no automatic protocol.

Q: What is the general rule to avoid MISTP inconsistencies?
A: If VLAN is filtered on the link, make sure the respective instance is not forwarding here.

And so on. The first time you will probably read over a body of knowledge without any questions. Take another pass, and this time write down your questions. Try doing it so that the answers are short and easy to remember. Do not mix multiple concepts in the same question. Your first pass will probably result in many questions and it should be the most intense one. However, as time passes and you return to the material for repetition, you will probably condense the amount of questions. It’s a good idea save any images and figures, as they are good anchors for your visual memory. Of course, the “asking questions” procedure could be applied to any material, for example CCIE technology-focused practice labs. You can use IOS code samples as answers to questions like: “How would you configure GDOI profile?” Do not forget to type in the code samples, don’t simply copy-paste them. This approach might look simplified and indeed, there exist other, more complicated, methods of active reading, such as SQ3R. All active reading methods require intense concentration and practice, but the result surely worth it. Now, to the next stage:

Spaced Repetitions

While active reading greatly helps in learning, you still need repetitions to keep your knowledge fresh. There has been some research done on the optimal repetition intervals, and you can find it on the Internet. Personally, I prefer using the algorithms developed for SupeMemo application. I highly recommend anyone reading the following article: Using Supermemo method without a computer. There is a table there, suggesting the optimal repetition intervals – in 4, 7, 12, 20 days and in a month. The list continues into the scales of years, but for the purpose of exam preparation you may stop at 20 days or a month. When repeating, abridge the number of questions, condense the information and retain only the key concepts. Focusing on core facts will reduce the information load but still help you remember. If you’re practicing IOS configurations, make sure you type in your configurations using the “notepad” copy & paste method during 2nd and 3rd repetitions. You may not even use the actual routers when doing 3rd and further repetitions. Starting with 4th repetition, just skim over and make sure you clearly recall the core concepts. If you find this routine too time consuming, you may leave just 3 spaced repetitions.

The link provided above would give you recommendations on proper training schedule. You may want to optimize it using some modern calendar software (or even getting the free/commercial versions of SuperMemo software). For instance, you may use Google Calendar service as your organizer (what is cool is that you may share your calendars with friends and see how all of you progress). Suppose that you are working with ours IEWB-RS VOL1 (technology focused labs). Choose the amount of material you can easily practice every day, without putting too much stress on yourself. For example, today you spent some time practicing IEWB-RS VOL1 Labs 13.1-13.5 (Section IP Services) using the active learning approach. As a result, you ended with a series of condensed questions & answers for every lab. After that, you add notes to your calendar to repeat the same labs in 4, 7 and 12 days. Therefore, you get some work scheduled already. Keep in mind that repetitions took less time than the full-blown practice. Thus you may easily combine 3rd and 4th repetition with practicing another five labs, e.g. 13.6-13.10. It is not mandatory to practice all labs from the same section. You may “interleave” QoS and IP Services focused labs, or even combine the full-scale labs from IEWB-RS VOL2 with technology focused labs from VOL1, provided that you already have good technology coverage.

A few tips on working with our VOL2 labs. There are total of 20 labs, and you may spend quite some time working through all of them, as every single lab might take about 8-16 hours. You may use the following guidelines:

a) Do not start working with VOL2 labs unless you’re confident with most technologies from VOL1. This is important, as VOL2 is not designed to be an “easy reading”
b) Mark the tasks that you found hard on your initial attempt. During your second repetition, work though the core section of the labs (Switching, IGP and BGP) plus the marked non-core tasks.
c) During your third repetition, skim over the lab texts and solutions, focusing on the tasks that you marked as “hard”. It might not benefit you to repeat more than three times, but if you got a lot of free time, you can do even four repetitions.

During your final stage of preparations, you will probably find yourself repeating the condensed information from VOL1/VOL2 labs. Before attempting the lab exam, you may want to take at least one or two Mock Labs to gauge your readiness. The Mock Labs are not designed to be “repeated” – you should probably schedule a new lab every time to get more unbiased result. However, if you want a testing tool that adjusts to your level of readiness plus changes every time – you may want to try out Polymorphic Assessment Lab, which automatically generates different labs on the same physical topology.

Now, the final part: if you want to retain the knowledge learned, keep repeating the information on monthly and yearly basis. This may end up in a life-long schedule, as you will keep adding new information to your calendar of repetitions. The process worth itself as the active learning methodology and optimally spaced repetitions are proven to be an extremely effective learning tool.

Petr Lapukhov's career in IT begain in 1988 with a focus on computer programming, and progressed into networking with his first exposure to Novell NetWare in 1991. Initially involved with Kazan State University's campus network support and UNIX system administration, he went through the path of becoming a networking consultant, taking part in many network deployment projects. Petr currently has over 12 years of experience working in the Cisco networking field, and is the only person in the world to have obtained four CCIEs in under two years, passing each on his first attempt. Petr is an exceptional case in that he has been working with all of the technologies covered in his four CCIE tracks (R&S, Security, SP, and Voice) on a daily basis for many years. When not actively teaching classes, developing self-paced products, studying for the CCDE Practical & the CCIE Storage Lab Exam, and completing his PhD in Applied Mathematics.

### 48 Responses to “How to study for your CCIE”

1. Nizami says:

damm.. your formula reminded me my university days:
b
Integral S dx2, where x–>infinity.. something
a

like that

i don’t think that the less you know will be the key to your success. You just need to properly balance your knowledge,not to overstudy,have usual breaks,test in real scenario if possible.

2. Well, you know what they say – the less you know, the better you sleep! However, this is not the key idea of the post You probably need to read over the remaining part.

Really awesome post!

4. Dragons & Faeries says:

I used to have nightmares about Laplace transform and your mentioning of differential equation is not helping much…lol!

Are you heading State side soon to do some bootcamps? Or the Brian’s have you locked up some where in Siberia working on those Workbooks? ;-(

5. B says:

Thank you for the post.. I find immediate value in repetition myself, and I’ve combined a number of labs that I’ve gone through several times over, really dissecting certain scenarios, and doing “another solution” to the same problem with a different set of engineering lines.. going through my verification procedures an such.. In short, repetition helps.. But question regarding the Mocks, you mention that those are not meant to be repeated.. Why is that.. I mean I have repeated the ones I’ve done similarly to what I’ve done with VolII.. is this not a good practice.

Thank again.

• The mock test is supposed to be a “surprise” to you Sure thing you may take different mock labs one after one. However, repeating the same lab again would give you more biased results, as most of the tasks will be familiar again. You may take “similar” labs that vary in details – like our polymorphyic lab assessment – which is good to test yourself on the same topology with different “preconditions”.

“but if you got a lot of free time, you can do even four repetitions”… hm…

It seems you advise to spend something about 1000 lab hours for exam preparation.

• Well, firstly, the time to be spent on every next repetetion decreases almost exponentially, provided that you properly condense the information. Next, you may go take your lab exam at any time The schedule is designed to work for years, helping you retain your knowledge.

Depending on your level of readiness it might take from 3 to 12 months to prepare for your first CCIE. Every next one woud take less time. Up until last year I was using “unorganized” repetitions to refresh my memory (i was simply developing workbooks for different tracks Now that was time consuming!

7. Joshua Walton says:

I highly recommend the following book:

Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement

http://www.amazon.com/Building-Expertise-Cognitive-Performance-Improvement/dp/0787988448

8. Jeriel Atienza says:

Hi Petr, very informative post.

Your study approach is excellent. At this time i am one month from my lab, what is your advice? Thanks

• Well, this probably means you have no chances to move your exam date Thus, the best thing you can do is practice speed and accuracy in core topics. If you want, take a few mock lab exams to spot your weak areas. By the end of the month you should be able to configure core labs topics (Switching, IGP, BGP) in 3 or even better 2 hours. Make sure you are good at analyzing the lab exams, making diagrams etc. Last few days before the exam, take a break and relax. Make sure you are not getting behind your sleep during the last month!

9. Burhan says:

Excellent Post man…..you remind us the old school days

10. Calin says:

Hi there and nice post!

One of the biggest issue (at least in my case) is the lost of motivation. I know, I know…it’s nice to be a proud member of CCIE group (and to hold the knowledge of a CCIE holder)! But for me is a like a long long war, when suddenly in the middle you are awake and say “hey, for what I’m fighting here?”. Compared with CCNP, CCIP where you learn 2-3 months, take an exam (get an impulse if you pass…or be more motivated if not)…CCIE take you much more longer time to prepare and somewhere on this path you might have some fall points in which you cannot remember what have you read in your first month of preparation.
Maybe you understand me…maybe not, anyway it’s my personal opinion.

Good luck to all!

11. Joshua Walton says:

Calin,

I know EXACTLY what you mean.

12. bgp says:

in other word,

there is no free lunch
if you want something, you got to pay it

13. GFC says:

I am glad that i read this post, i am reading too many things, lots of information and i’m sure this will help me a lot.

best regards

14. NTllect says:

Petr, what do you think, only technical studys conserve technical knowledge(in our example networking stuff) or any other learning(for example foreign languages) too?

• Well, in general, only the things you are actively “using” remains clearly memorized. This is why repeating or everyday practice (e.g. with the foreign language) is crucial to achieve good memorizing.
However, I didn’t mention another “dimension” of knowledge mining – the law of diminishing marginal returns. Simply put, the utility function of the same “type” or knowledge is concave, and thus,
the more you know about something, the less increment in utility you obtain with every new thing learned. This is why diversifying your knowledge proves to be more useful then simply getting
“too much” specialized in one area. For example, getting 2 CCIEs might be good enough; However, 3rd CCIE does not worth as much as getting say RHCE or CISSP or learning a foreign language.

However, with respect to the process of building better memory, properly organized spaced repetitions and active knowledge extraction has proven to yield incredible results!

15. NTllect says:

different vendors’ certifications have positive effect from the career standpoint

16. Hamood says:

Petr, you are treasure.

17. Sanjeev says:

Hi Petr,
Thank you for the great post. I have a question.

We would use Active Reading for a particular technology, for example reading about FR. Would you apply the Spaced Repetitions also for the technology? Or would we just use the Spaced Repetitions for labs in the various workbooks?

Sanjeev.

• You may apply spaced repetitions to any content (be it technology documentation or practice lab) that you want to retain in your memory. Every next repetition should contain more condensed set of information than the previous one.

18. Sepiraph says:

Hermann Ebbinghaus

19. Sepiraph says:

I should add that my way of understanding and learning is the answer to this question – “What is the key/solution to comprehend mass amount of information?”

20. Sepiraph says:

Messed up my 1st post, should’ve read:

Interesting post, I went on wikipedia and learned a lot about Hermann Ebbinghaus, Forgetting Curive and spacing effect (the last of which I noticed on an intuitive level). I should go back to my study of networking.

21. [...] this article in internetworkexpert website and thought of sharing it . you can find the same @ How to study for your CCIE – CCIE Blog may be most of you have seen this but may benefit others for their reading stuff its really good [...]

22. Dany says:

Great work Petr
But if one is using Supermemo method it will take a lot of time to be spent over databook not in terms of repeatation but at the time when one is creating its own databook.
Here ppl use to catch the CCIE number with a planning of 6 months so it hink by it one has to work for arround an year or more for CCIE although there is no chance to forget the knowledge retain by this exercice

23. [...] the information. I’ve been trying something similar to the spaced repetition method outlined over here on the Internetwork Expert CCIE [...]

24. Nick G says:

The more you know, the more you realize you DON’T Know.

nuff said!

25. [...] was reading this post by 4x CCIE, Peter Lapukhov about a learning technique he uses during CCIE preparation. It helps you [...]

26. Hi Petr,

First off I want to say that I enjoy your blog posts and am inspired by your multiple CCIE’s.

I am going for my 2nd CCIE in Voice, and was thinking of applying your Supermemo learning technique.

I was hoping you could clarify some things:

1. During your reading exercises, do you formulate questions that have short and simple answers, or are they long and complex?
For example, would this be a good question to ask, or is it too open-ended?:
What are the benefits of a link state routing protocols versus distance vector routing protocol?

2. Would it make sense to ask yourself questions related to configuration examples such as:
What are the configuration commands required to enable bgp peering between router x and y and advertise these networks?

3. When preparing for the lab, do you repeat the same practice labs over and over again, and if so, do you use the the same repetition

4. Do you use the Supermemo application on the computer or do you write it down on paper? I prefer reading and writing on paper.

Thanks very much!
Regards,
Gregory Gombas
CCIE# 19649 – Only R+S for now

27. rayes says:

hai, your learning methodology seems nice,

I have a doubt, do we really need to learn all the rubbish theory sections for a ccie preparations or learn the technology and its usage is enough for it..?

28. [...] I was re-reading this book recently, I decided I would provide students with my list of Active Reading questions I developed. I would recommend you feed these into your SuperMemo app, or use one of the [...]

29. [...] form that is required for Voice over IP transmission through the converged network?” These active reading questions tell the story – enjoy! Me Singing in the [...]

30. [...] How to study for your CCIE [...]

31. [...] How to Study For Your CCIE [...]

32. Tarek says:

Hi Petr,

I was looking for a method to help remember the vast amount of information and saw your blog, I had one question, you mentioned “However, as time passes and you return to the material for repetition, you will probably condense the amount of questions”

Why would you condense the information, wouldnt you want to remember all the question/answers? Or do you mean initially you may try and remember the detailed questions and answers and then condense say 5 questions into 1, and remembering the answer to one will refresh your memory for all 5? i.e u answer all 5 that way.

If possible could you give an example of the condensation technique as that is the only part which has me confused.

Many thanks again for such an informative blog post.

Rgrds
Tarek.

33. Joseph says:

Hi Peter,

Is mind pegging (method of loci) an effective method for retaining informations in CCIE?

34. pacman says:

Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you Nonetheless I’m experiencing difficulty with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

35. [...] How to study – o strategie folositoare pentru toate disciplinele [...]

36. [...] How to study for your CCIE [...]

38. [...] 1.  Retain old and new information (http://blog.ine.com/2009/03/22/how-to-study/) [...]

39. [...] and videos at the same time. Only reading the material doesn’t stick. Petr Lapukhov wrote a blog post on how to study for the CCIE exam. and repetition was mentioned there and I agree. I remember when [...]

40. [...] également ces deux articles “How to Pass the Routing & Switching CCIE Lab Exam” et “How to study for your CCIE” écrits respectivement par Brian DENNIS et Petr Lapukhov. Je m’en suis inspiré pour [...]

41. Duncan says:

Really useful post. Thanks. I’ll start using this for my CCNP study, may as well get into good habits.

42. [...] How to study for your CCIE by Pert Lapukhov [...]