How to Study For The CCIE Certification: From A Double CCIE Holder

How to Study For The CCIE Certification

Studying for your CCIE is no small task. The CCIE is one of the most highly accredited and prestigious certifications for an IT professional working with Cisco systems. 

The first step to preparing yourself for your CCIE journey is to prepare yourself for the CCIE exam format. Knowing what you’re up against is half the battle. So before you make the decision to attempt the CCIE, we advise reading our guide on preparing yourself for the CCIE, and understanding the CCIE exam format. It’s crucial to understand what this means in terms of costs: Both financially, and in the time and energy you’ll have to dedicate to studying for the exam. 

The next step is doing the research, to figure out how best you can spend your time studying for the exam. After all, it’s a long and arduous process, and you want to make sure you’re using your time as effectively as possible.

So we’ve spoken to Simon Birtles, Network Lead Architect with over 20+ years of experience working in the IT industry and holder of not just one, but two CCIEs. We asked him for his advice on how to prepare for the CCIE lab exam.


How Long Does It Take To Become a CCIE?

Taking the CCIE exam requires no formal prerequisites; such as years worked in the industry or prior qualifications. 

However, it is almost universally advised to gain your CCNP certification before earning your CCIE, as the written exam for the CCIE is the same written exam you must pass for the CCNP.

Cisco themselves advise having “five to seven years of experience with designing, deploying, operating and optimising enterprise networking technologies and solutions…”: Although we’ve seen recommendations higher, such as “seven to 10 years of industry experience”. 

These minimum requirements are advised due to the exam’s difficulty, and the amount of experience and expertise you will need to stand a chance in the CCIE lab exam. Because the CCIE is not just a test of your knowledge; it’s a test of your speed. With the limited time constraints of the exam, you need to be an expert who knows their IT speciality and the Cisco systems like the back of your hand.

One of the most commonly asked questions around the CCIE is: “How long should you prepare for your CCIE?”. 

Studying for the CCIE lab exam can take anywhere between six-months to two-years or longer, depending on how fast you learn and how much time you have to dedicate to studying. There’s no correct way to study for the CCIE, it all comes down to your situation. Simon Birtles advises not to “Listen or engage in conversation about how hard or easy the lab is, everyone is different and learns in different ways”.

Unsurprisingly, the longer you’ve worked in your area of network and infrastructure and the more experience you have, the less time you’ll need to spend studying.


How To Study For Your CCIE: From a CCIE Certified Professional

There’s no right way to study for the CCIE exam: It’s down to whatever works for you and how you best learn. However there are some things you should do to prepare yourself and some things that you should avoid.

Here’s Simon Birtles first hand advice on what he found most important for studying for his CIE exams:

“Read all of the CCO configuration guides and command references. You won’t remember everything, but when you’re stuck with a problem you’ll know where to find the info quickly in the CCO documentation in the lab – remember, there is no google in there!”

At its core, the lab exam is all about speed. The better you know the configuration guides and command references the less time you’ll waste in the exam.

“Configure every feature even if it’s a small thing like NTP, logging or local accounts. 

Configure the feature in every possible way with every possible configuration parameter combination, check its working through Data Plane and also using every show command and knowing the output and what to expect. 

Purposely break the configuration and again go through every relevant show command and understand what the output is telling you, including log output.”

When you study for the CCIE exam you’re not studying to pass an exam, you’re proving to the world that you’re an expert in your chosen field. Some sections of the CCIE lab exam are relatively simple, and some are incredibly complicated with multiple correct answers but one best solution: The more practised you are at every aspect of configuration, the quicker you will be able to recognise where a problem is or where your mistakes are.

“Write up a bunch of 8 hour lab scenarios to configure yourself. Don’t think too much about how you would implement, leave that thinking to lab implementation time. Set aside an uninterrupted 8 hour slot and focus on completing the lab scenario in that time. This is your opportunity to build up lab skills, i.e. knowing where you can copy and paste from one configuration to another via notepad with adjustments.”

The best thing you can do is practice the exam format over and over until the knowledge becomes ingrained. Becoming accustomed to the format of the exam is essential, and the more scenarios you practice, the more familiar the actual lab will be. 


5 Tips For Studying For Your CCIE Certification

But Simon’s not done there. Here are Simon’s five most important tips on how best to study for the CCIE lab exam:

  1. “Don’t go on to forums looking for tricks, tips, hacks or inside info to make the exam easier: Use your time working on the lab, building up speed and real knowledge.
  2. Don’t listen or engage in conversation about how hard or easy the lab is, everyone is different and learns in different ways.
  3. The next however many months of your life will be reading, labs, reading, labs and repeat: So prepare yourself and your families for this.
  4. Do the practice labs at different times of the day or night. Be prepared to do the lab even when you’re tired, you don’t know how you will feel on the day (I was starting some practice labs at 3am after a few hours sleep).
  5. Keep calm and relax: Even on the lab day, it’s only a lab and you can go back and redo it if need be.”


CCIE Difficulty: How Difficult is the CCIE Exam?

The CCIE lab exam is notoriously difficult. It typically takes around 2 – 3 attempts to pass the lab exam, although some state the average to be closer to 4. And while it’s certainly not impossible, it’s unlikely you will pass the lab exam on your first attempt. But every attempt and failure is one step closer to earning your CCIE, as you become more comfortable with the format of the exam.

So while you should enter each lab exam attempt prepared to pass, it’s also an invaluable experience that will better prepare you for the next attempt.


How Many People Hold A CCIE in the World?

“A shockingly complex answer to a seemingly simple question”, as Cisco themselves don’t reveal how many CCIE holders there are in the world. 

The heads over at CBT Nugget did their best to figure it out back in 2019, and their answer came out to be around 60,000. 

However, this number was based on the assigned CCIE number received when they passed. This means their answer only gives the answer of how many people have ever held a CCIE up until that point, and doesn’t take into account how many people let their CCIE’s lapse. 

The real number could be much higher, as some time has passed since CBT Nuggets did these calculations and around 8,000 people take the CCIE lab exam every year

For a more detailed explanation of how they arrived at this conclusion, check out the video below. 

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