In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series, we examined Time Management in the scope of the CCIE R&S exam. Those parts dealt with the Core Knowledge and Troubleshooting sections. To review, the Core Knowledge section was a bit strange in that Time Management was not much of a concern at all. In fact, the advice was to be sure not to rush through the four short-answer questions. In contrast, for the Troubleshooting section, Time Management is most critical. In a worst case scenario, a candidate may face 12 Trouble Tickets, with only 2 hours to complete them. That is an average of 10 minutes per Trouble Ticket. Careful Time Management in that situation is obviously critical.
What about the third section of the CCIE R&S exam; the Configuration section? Well, Time Management ends up being very important in this section as well. Students are permitted to take 5.5 hours to configure the assigned tasks and achieve 80% of the given points in order to pass this section. You can actually have more than 5.5 hours for this section if you finish the Troubleshooting section early, but that has been nearly impossible for most candidates to do up to this point.
You might remember that for the Troubleshooting section I recommended you build a tracker as you assess each Trouble Ticket and record observations on the task and track your time carefully for each challenge. For the Configuration section I like to recommend a slightly different approach.
I like to begin with Layer 2 (either Frame Relay or the Catalyst switch infrastructure) and only record on a tracker those tasks or subtasks that I am skipping. I record and temporarily skip tasks that do not effect reachability in the scenario, AND that I do not immediately know how to configure. Notice I said this might be a subtask. For example, let us say that I get a 4 point OSPF task once I get to the IGP section. The task consists of 3 subtasks. The first subtask has me build an OSPF domain that consists of three areas. The second subtask has me repair the design using a virtual link, and create a special area type. Finally, the third subtask has me implement some form of OSPF optimization. If I am unsure of what exact optimization feature the exam requires, I immediately skip this task and move on to more core tasks. Notice here I define something as core only if it effects reachability, and therefore, could cause point loss in other areas. My entry in the tracker might look something like this:
Task 3.1 OSPF Optimization 4 Points Medium (DOC-CD)
Notice I indicate just how hard I think solving the subtask is going to be for me. Perhaps, all I will need to do is a very quick check in the DOC-CD, and the application of a command or two on all the devices. I might score this as medium difficulty.
I am going to progress through all configuration tasks like this. Moving very quickly through all the tasks I must solve (core reachability), then all the non-core tasks that I know how to do without research, then finally start working on those tasks that I skipped.
One of the excellent benefits of this approach is that you really acquire points quickly in the first three quarters of the overall 5.5 hours of the Configuration section. You also build tremendous confidence. Once you get to the items that you had to skip, you also know exactly how much time is left on the clock, and you can determine exactly how much time you can dedicate to each. It is so much easier to think clearly and calmly about a problem when you know exactly how much time you can afford to spend in the endeavor.
As we present more and more strategies that can be employed in the Version 4 CCIE R&S exam, be sure to remember this: my exact strategy might not be the best strategy for you. I suggest you listen to my recommendations, try some or all of the techniques, and then develop your own approach that is perfect for you. Once you have developed your own strategy and refined it, practice your full CCIE labs using your personal strategy and never deviate from it (unless you discover some major flaws in the approach).
Until next time, have fun in your lab studies, and be sure to spend some TIME thinking about the very subject of TIME in this new and challenging lab exam!