What To Expect On The CCIE: Cisco's CCIE Exam Explained

What To Expect On The CCIE: Cisco’s CCIE Exam Explained

If you’re reading this then you’re considering taking on one of the biggest challenges in your Networking, Infrastructure or Security career, the CCIE exam. And the first step to any challenge is knowing what you’re up against. And the CCIE is one of the biggest challenges, not just in Cisco certifications, but in IT certifications worldwide.

The CCIE Exam Format

To earn your CCIE, you’ll need to pass two exams: A qualifying written exam, and a practical lab exam.

First up is the 2 hour written exam with around 100 multiple choice questions. The written exam can be taken in-person or online and is shared with the CCNP certification: So if you have gained your CCNP in the last three years, you won’t need to retake this written exam and instead can proceed straight to the Lab Exam. 

If you do need to complete the written exam, check out our in-depth guide on the shared CCNP and CCIE exam.

The second and more exhaustive CCIE exam is the Lab Exam: a gruelling 8 hour long, one-day exam. Unlike the written exam, the Lab exam must be taken in person. The Lab Exam consists of two modules, which you must pass both of, while also passing the exam as a whole (see below for more details).

Module 1: Design (3 hours)

Module 1 aims to test a candidate’s ability to create, analyse, validate and optimise network designs. Candidates will need to be able to:

  • Understand the capabilities of different technologies, solutions and services.
  • Take customer requirements and translate these into actionable solutions.
  • Assess readiness to support proposed solutions.

Module 1 will be scenario based, without access to devices. Candidates are given documentation to read and understand, before they answer web-based items.

Module 2: Deploy, Operate and Optimise (5 hours)

Module 2 test candidates ability to deploy, operate and optimise network solutions.


This section will involve building a network according to customer requirements and restrictions. This will include configuring, integrating and troubleshooting the implementation of technologies and solutions.

Operate and Optimise

The second section of this module will involve monitoring network health and performance, while configuring the network to improve its quality and reliability as well as diagnosing potential issues. 

This module is as close as it gets to the actual deployment and management of a network environment, and it’s this hands-on experience that makes a CCIE so valuable to employers.

Traditionally the lab exam was taken at one of 9 Cisco Locations found around the world (see their locations here); but in more recent years Cisco have employed mobile exam locations that change regularly (see their locations and schedule here). 

Even more recently Cisco trialled their BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Mobile Exams, allowing participants to bring their own hardware for the exam. Candidates must complete a hardware compatibility test as well as meet other requirements that can be found here.

CCIE Passing Score Explained

Knowing how the lab exam passing score helps you plan your strategy for passing the exam. 

You must pass both of the two sections of the lab exam (Design and Deploy) with a minimum score of something that looks like 55% – 65%. Even if you pass both individual sections you still need to achieve the overall passing score, which could be around 70% – 80%.

This does mean that if you perform exceptionally in one category, scoring 90% on Design for example, then you would only need to score 70% on the Deploy module to achieve the 80% overall passing score required. 

The numbers given above are all estimates, as Cisco has not and likely will never release the exact passing score for the individual sections and overall passing score. However these estimates are generally held to be somewhat accurate by the Cisco community, if not exact.

CCIE Exam Passing Score Explained

How Much Does the Cisco CCIE Exam Cost?

The CCIE Lab Exam costs £1300 when taken at one of Cisco’s headquarters. Taking the Lab Exam at a Cisco mobile centre costs £1500, or £1300 if you opt to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ to one of the mobile exam locations. And this price is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Immediately adding to this price is the travel expenses to reach a Cisco Lab for your exam: Not a small cost for those who need to travel a long distance to the few and far between Cisco Lab Locations.

When you factor in the cost of training materials, online training courses, as well as the hardware costs to practice labs: earning your CCIE certification can cost into the tens of thousands.

Then there is the other big cost: time. 

Preparing for your CCIE becomes a second full-time job for anywhere between six-months and two-years depending on your pre-existing level of knowledge and how fast you learn. It can mean saying goodbye to weekends, holidays and time with family and friends.

Here at Dynamic we’ve noticed an increasing trend in employers who offer certifications to attract talent, and with the gap between qualified IT professionals and the amount of jobs this trend is only likely to increase.

Tech skills gap report

To overcome this shortage of qualified and skilled IT professionals 56% of IT decision-makers say they’re planning to train existing staff. Meanwhile 15% planned to hire additional staff who possessed the skills their business needs. Upskilling seems to be the best of both worlds; more financially viable for employers while offering IT professionals valuable certifications and training.

If you are looking for a position that will support you to gain your CCIE certification or upskill in general, then get in touch with us here, to discuss finding you a position that will support your professional IT development.

Is the CCIE worth it in 2022?

We’ve established that the CCIE is expensive, in both financial terms and in time. But the CCIE certification shows you’re the best of the best when it comes to networks. Part of the appeal is their demand and difficulty to obtain. 

You are unlikely to find the CCIE on any lists of ‘Top-Paying Certifications’. With it being such a difficult and costly to earn certification, there just aren’t an overabundance of CCIE holders. This however, makes it all the more valuable.

Given all that, is the CCIE worth it in 2022?

CCIE Salary and Job Opportunities

Obtaining any new certification leads to an average salary increase of almost £10,000. But the CCIE isn’t just any certification. According to Payscale the average CCNP salary in the UK is £48,000 a year, and the average CCIE salary in the UK is £71,000 a year. This huge leap in salary demonstrates just how much of an impact earning your CCIE can have for you financially.

Here at Dynamic however, the salaries we see for certified professionals is much higher than Payscale predicts. We see salaries for CCNP holders around £55,000 – £60,000 a year as an average. Meanwhile salaries for CCIE holders start at around £80,000 but can reach much higher.

Of course this doesn’t take into account other compensable factors that can affect your salary. But certifications are worth so much because they are  indicators of your years of experience and the skills you have learned in your career.

54% of IT decision-makers were unable to fill one position, while 38% report having three or more positions unfulfilled. The main reason for this being that there simply aren’t enough qualified candidates in the market to meet the market demand. Meaning that now more than ever is a great time to be a highly certified IT professional.

BT Strikes - IT decision makers struggling to fill positionsThis gap in the market means that certified IT professionals have never had more leverage for salary increases, promotions, or in the interview process when searching for a new job. 

However, Mark Leary, Director of Network Analytics at IDC, argues that earning a CCIE may not be the most valuable certification you can earn. But instead, Mark argues that earning a second CCNP in a complimentary skill is a greater benefit to your career.

“A double major in networking and security is a very valuable thing” he says. “If you ask IT executives, someone who’s very good at both is more valuable to them than someone who is great at only one thing”.

Additional Benefits of Earning Your CCIE

But earning a CCIE isn’t just for the salary increase or the promotions you can earn. It also separates you from your peers and signifies you as an expert in your industry. 

Global Knowledge’s IT Skills and Salary Report showed that half (49%) of IT professionals that earned new IT certification saw improvements in the quality of their work. A third (32%) were more engaged with their work, and other common answers were increases in the speed of their work and making less mistakes in their work. 

Earning your CCIE tells your employers multiple positive attributes about you as an employee. You’re dedicated to your professional progression and you don’t shy away from hard work. It also provides future employers with concrete evidence that you have the knowledge to design and deploy network solutions. With all of these benefits to both you and your employer, it’s no surprise that 18% of respondents received a raise or promotion following gaining new certification. Or that 15% were starting a new job, or were actively planning to.

In Conclusion

It all depends on if you have the time and money to invest in one, and if it is the best thing for your career.

Becoming CCIE certified is as much about the skills you learn along the way as it is about the certification you earn. But you can make substantial, long-term financial gains by investing in your skills and in gaining a CCIE.

Earning your CCIE can open new doors for your career, and at Dynamic we see salaries 

upwards of £100,000 for CCIE certified professionals. Have a look here at the jobs we’re currently recruiting for that require a CCIE or a similar level of expertise, to see if these are the types of roles you want to explore.

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