Note: A complete study plan that utilizes all products in INE training program could be found here: How to Pass the CCIE R&S with INE's 4.0 Training Program
The two foundation products for self-paced CCIE R&S studies are the IEWB-RS VOL1 and VOL2 workbooks. Together, these two sum up to 4000 pages of hands-on CCIE lab practice content. CCIE R&S VOL1 has over 600 technology-focused scenarios, while CCIE R&S VOL2 has 20 full-scale mock lab scenarios that now started featuring independent troubleshooting sections and detailed breakdowns, linking you to VOL1 scenarios relevant to a particular task. With this amount of training content, it is no surprise that people are having issues getting enough study time to cover all the material. Typically, the available time slots are random, highly fragmented (e.g. interruptions) and often limited to four hours per day at best. Commonly, students may obtain larger time-slots on weekends, which requires sacrificing personal spare time. Such limitation in contiguous time slots results in people biasing their study habits toward the exclusive use of small VOL1 scenarios, while neglecting the full-scale labs from VOL2, typically trying only a few out of 20 labs. This results in the following issues:
- Working mainly through VOL1 in linear fashion, people tend to forget the information they learned earlier during the study process. Based on the logical grouping of VOL1 topics, these are typically advanced topics from L2/L3 and IGP/BGP technologies.
- Lacking time to practice VOL2 (full-scale 8 hour scenarios), students find themselves in a situation where they know how to configure and troubleshoot technologies individually, but cannot deal with the complexity of mixed, multi-technology full-scale scenarios.
In this publication we suggest an alternative approach for working with VOL1 and VOL2 products. This approach aims at faster learning and better memorization. The step by step process is outlined below in two different variations, called "Gentle Start" and "Kick Start". Before starting with the outlines, notice that in this publication, the terms "core" and "non-core" technologies are used extensively. The CCIE R&S "core" topics encompass Layer 2 Technologies (e.g. Ethernet, Frame-Relay, PPP), Layer 3 Technologies (IP/IPv6/IGP/BGP), MPLS VPN (MPLS/LDP/MP-BGP) whilte "non-Core" topics are Multicast, QoS, Security and Network Services. The main differentiator is that "core" technologies provide connectivity services, while non-core technologies provide additional functionality on top of the working network.
The necessary pre-requisite to scheduling a CCIE R&S lab is passing the CCIE R&S Written test. We highly recommend preparing and passing the written test before starting the lab exam preparation. Even though the exam blueprints share a lot in common, the written test concentrates on theoretical aspects, while the practical one is focused on configuration and troubleshooting skills. Therefore, it makes sense to spend about a month preparing and passing the written test, so that you can fully dedicate yourself to the practical exam studies. There is another helpful aspect - as soon as you pass the written, you can schedule a lab and have a clear "waypoint" to go to. This helps improving motivation and concentration. Optimum time interval to schedule a lab test - about six months after passing the written test, though your estimates may vary.
This variation offers clearly structured approach to learning and features "smooth" introduction. The unavoidable drawback is larger amount of study time required by this approach, which is approximately 6-7 months. You may choose this option if you have enough time before the lab exam and look toward more "predictable" performance. Make sure you estimate your time availability reasonably, and schedule your lab say a month after you project your training to be completed.
Ensure you have enough preliminary knowledge to try a VOL2 scenario. You need to pass the CCIE written exam and fully understand topics covered in the test. As for hands-on component, take a look at Appendix A for the "minimal" set of VOL1 scenarios that you may need to practice to boost your core technologies configuration skills. You may want to use the Advanced Technologies Class-on-Demand to build fundamental hands-on skills as well.
Select a day when you can allocate enough time to complete VOL2 Lab 1 sections "L2, L3, IPv6 and MPLS VPN" (the core sections). Do not spend time on Security, QoS and Network Services sections at this moment. Focusing on topics in this manner should take you about 4-5 hours to finish the "truncated" full-scale lab. Try completing as much core tasks as possible, but don't get stuck in the areas you are unfamiliar with. For scenarios you completely have no idea how to deal with, manually copy the solution from the solution guide into notepad and paste it into the respective devices. This approach, while looking cumbersome at first sight, has unique benefit of building up your visual and kinetic memory. However, keep in mind that your primary focuse is compiling a list of the individual technologies you need to practice.
Now some really good news - VOL2 labs are starting to feature references to VOL1 sections you need to practice to master a particular section of VOL2 lab. This is exactly the list of VOL1 labs that you would otherwise needed to compile on your own. Don't feel frustrated if you cannot understand the breakdowns in VOL2 at this moment. The VOL2 breakdowns are supposed to be a condensed explanation of the solution and not the detailed technology breakdowns in the newer versions of the product. You will circle back to VOL2 breakdowns once you're done with individual technology topics extracted from the selected full scale lab.
Practice VOL1 scenarios from the list you made at Step 2. It is important noticing that this process will take you across multiple sections of VOL1 (e.g. L2, L3, IPv6), so you'll be studying multiple different technologies separated by short time spans. While this could look complicated at first, such process has benefit of keeping your memory up to date with every core technology domain in VOL1. Compare this to the typical "linear" approach of working through VOL1. If you do not have enough time to do every scenario live on a rack, make sure at least that you understand all the breakdowns and retype the solutions to build visual/kinetic memory. You will most likely practice the technology live in the remaining VOL2 scenarios. When you're done with individual technologies, go back to the full-scale lab you practiced and read the solutions over again - this time making sure you understand the breakdowns.
Repeat Steps 2-3 for VOL2 Labs 2-10. Aim at completing this in about 1.5-2 months. This will build solid foundation in core technologies and give better feeling of the lab exam, without stressing you too much with details of non-core topics. Simply practicing the core technologies and mixing full-scale scenarios with individual topics has great overall educational effect.
Cycle through labs 1-10 once again, but this time do them in their entirety. Complete as much troubleshooting tickets as you can and identify the non-core topics that are unfamiliar to you and to practice them after the full-scale lab. However, this time do not spend too much time on hands-on for selected VOL1 scenarios. Rather, use them mainly as reading reference and source of configuration samples. Copy the code samples by hand, simply to better memorize the commands, but don't try completing them all, as this might be too much of the burden at the moment.
At this step, aim primarily at developing configuration speed in "core" topics and building up troubleshooting skills. It is worth mentioning again, that since you practice a mix of technologies at once, the forgetting curve effect will not be so noticeable as it would be in case of linear study approach. Depending on time available to you, this whole study cycle should take approximately 2-3 months.
Continue with Labs 11-20 and complete as much of these as you can, in the same manner you worked through Step 2: identify topics you are weak at and practice them afterwards using VOL1 + ATC as your main reference. Notice that this time you will have to allocate full 8 hour time-slots for every VOL2 lab and focus on completing all core scenarios and as much non-core topics as you can. This is no longer plain core-technology practice, but rather full-scale lab exercise. You should aim to be at the 6 months mark after completing this step.
Still have some time left? You should have already spent about 5-6 months on hands-on practice at this moment and built solid foundation for passing the lab exam. Take a look at the list of all VOL1 topics and skim over the technologies you think you are weak at. It would be great time to take a few graded mock labs (e.g. ML1-4) and see how you do there. If your scores are rather disappointing, you have about a month to correct the situation. If you are getting good scores in at least 3 labs, then practicing some scenarios from VOL3 or VOL4 is a perfect time filler before your lab exam, especially if you combine them with a handful of VOL2 labs. Just keep in mind that your last month should be dedicated to practicing as much full-scale labs as possible, developing speed and accuracy.
This is an option for people who has less time to prepare and can tolerate some "roughness" in the beginning. The main challenge of this approach is high level of stress and frustration associated with diving into technology topics with little prior experience/knowledge. Estimated time to complete this plan is about 4 months, as compared to 6-7 months of "gentle" start. Unlike more structured "gentle" start, however, obtaining predictable performance might be harder with "kick-start". We would suggest you not to book a lab exam until you spent at least a month familiarizing yourself with this approach.
Ensure you have knowledge of routing and switching technologies at least at the level of CCIE Written test blueprint. It is important that you pass the written test prior to starting the hands-on and do understand the theoretical basics mentioned there. Practicing the VOL1 lab list from Appendix A is advisable, but not highly necessary, unless you really lack configuration skills.
Dive into VOL2 Lab 1 and try completing it entirely. However, depending on your posture, you may not be able to configure most of the topics. Don't feel frustrated, it's just a rough start. If you don't understand the solution, simply type the it from the solution guide into notepad and paste it into devices. Run the verification commands to see if the solution works. For troubleshooting sections of VOL2, try spotting the issues, and if you can't , simply try memorizing the symptoms and mapping them to the problem. Sounds more like cramming, but this is what you get in the beginning.
As you done with the lab, build the list of VOL1 topics you need to deal with as per the results of this lab. Most likely the number of topics would be close to the number of tasks in the full-scale lab.
Proceed to completing the VOL1 labs you made based on the full-scale lab at Step 1. However, unlike with gentle start, don't aim at completing them all live on the racks. Rather, practice just the technologies you find most confusing and complicated. For other VOL1 scenarios, simply read over the breakdowns and "copy" the solutions to notepad to build the visual/kinetic memory. This is by far not the perfect approach, but it will save you a lot of time you would need to spend otherwise working on foundations. Your main goal at this stage is getting to understand the technologies you've been dealing with in the full-scale scenario you just have completed.
Repeat Steps 2-3 for Labs 1-10. This should take you about 2-3 months, and in the end you would have approximately 60-70% of the knowledge you need to pass the CCIE exam. You may not be completely solid at core topics yet, but you would surely do much better compared to the time you were just starting Lab 1.
Complete the remaining ten VOL2 labs. Use the same mode, spotting the topics you need to practice more, but aim at completing every lab as fast as you can. You should be done with these tens labs in another 2 months. After that, take at least one graded mock lab, approximately 3 weeks before your lab date and see if you have any weak spots. If you do, cycle back to the complete list of all VOL1 labs and see if there is anything you're missing. Practice them, and complete VOL2 Labs 1-5. This should give you a good refresher in core skills.
It is highly advisable to have some extra time for completing at least some of VOL3 and VOL4 scenarios. Those are “advanced” focused workbooks aiming at refining your core configuration and troubleshooting skills.
We suggest a training approach that is different from the classic “linear” model, where students complete ATC and VOL1 prior to starting VOL2 full-scale scenarios, focusing mainly on the first two products. The proposed approach has two main features:
- Interleaving full-scale (VOL2) and technology-focused (VOL1) scenarios, which results in faster content memorization and better retention.
- Instense use of "blind" typing for router configuration command memorizing, where student types configuration in the notepad prior to pasting it to the routers. This greatly helps building speed an accuracy in Cisco IOS device configuration.
The two workbooks (VOL1 and VOL2) form the core of this training approach, with other products (e.g. ATC, VOL3 and VOL4) being additional tools used either to build foundation or refine skills obtained with the core products.
List of "bootstrap" scenarios from VOL1:
Bridging & Switching: 1.1-1.15
IP Routing: 3.1-3.11
OSPF: 6.1-6.11, 6.21-6.31
BGP: 7.1-7.9, 7.16-7.26
IPv6: 9.1-9.5, 9.12-9.14, 9.17-9.20, 9.29-9.31
MPLS VPN: 14.1-14.7