A couple of tricks to help you pass the CCIE lab

There are no fool-proof tricks to help you pass the CCIE lab. You can increase your passing changes with a couple of tricks. These tricks will help you reduce your typing error rate, and speed you through any troubleshooting sections.

Location, Location, Location

I have now sat two lab exams and the one constant that took getting used to was the keyboard. The keyboard is fine for those of you well-practiced on a US layout. For those of us that do not use the US style, it makes getting the speed and accuracy much harder.

If you are not used to the US keyboard layout, do yourself a massive favor and get yourself one. I was forever hitting the backslash instead of the return. Now, I have invested in a proper US-style keyboard.  This gives me plenty of time to get used to the keyboard layout, which will make it easier when I come back to sit the lab again.

The kind of keyboard you are looking for is an ANSI 104 type, also known as “US international,” it has a tiny enter key. Best of all, they do not cost that much, around £10 for a Microsoft one. Take some tests online to check your error rate, while you get used to the new keyboard. Here is a test I tried (and scored badly on).

Troubleshooting tricks? Use the VIRAL method

The second of our tricks is to do with troubleshooting.

While I did have this planned in my head, I did panic a bit during my CCIE Security exam, so it went out of the window. If I had remembered to follow this, I think I would have got a much better score.

What is the VIRAL trick?

Write “VIRAL” on the sheet of paper. Open the topology diagrams. Look at the connection diagrams, find out what device goes into what port on the switch, refer to the topology diagrams.

What we need to do here is work out what little surprises are in store, and start to follow this method.

V is for VLANs

Compare the VLANs in the diagrams to the switch configuration. Is it in the correct VLAN? Is a VLAN assigned to the port? Does the switch have all the VLANs created on it? Is it running VTP? These are the questions you need to ask.

There will be in the region of 4-6 switches in the network. Check all of the VLANs and VLAN assignments.

I is for IP addresses

Double-check the IP addresses and subnet masks. Make sure you can ping the neighbor. While you might get a decent ping result if two devices are in different subnets (/16 vs. /24) this can affect IGP peering. So check for IP address anomalies!

R is routes

Static routes could be permitted. Check the question to find out, and also check the general instructions.  Do not be afraid to get your finger on the screen and trace the paths you think the traffic will take. It will help the picture of the network that is forming in your mind and help with the next part. Use your finger! 

Remember that:

just because you can see a route, you may not necessarily have reachabilityClick To Tweet. This is the difference between the control plane and the data plane. Make sure you ping everything!

A is for Access-lists

If you have any pre-configured access-lists in the lab, check them. Do not take it for granted that they are perfectly fine. Tricks like this are designed to trip you up on a later question. Say we have an access-list that permits NTP. Great! The NTP task sorted, but will that affect transit traffic? Will it prevent BGP peering or DHCP requests? DO NOT forget the default deny rule!

L is for look

While you do not want to resort to looking through the entire configuration for things that might be wrong, do run some quick checks. Look for “no,” look for “shutdown.” Commands enabled by default (such as “ip cef” will not show up in the config, but “no ip cef” will. Running a simple command such as “sh run | i no|shutdown” will let you find any command that starts with “no” or see that there are ports which might be shut down. You will still need to find out which ports, but the above command will allow you to narrow down possible issues. Look at the configuration, but not for too long.

Breath and count

Read all of the questions in each area before you start. Try and make a mental plan of any dependencies between the questions. Read the questions again when you start a section. Take a moment before rushing in. If you get stuck, take another moment. Do not get flustered. Close your eyes and count to ten. This gives you a chance to calm down and relax for a moment.

Timing is everything

If you do get well and truly stuck, move on. Do not spend too much time on a task. Try and work out roughly how many tasks there are, and how long each will take. Take a watch with you, a simple one, not an iWatch or anything like that. The proctor will probably take that away from you. A simple analog watch will do. Use this to track how long each question is taking. Do not be afraid to leave a question and move on. You may lose points on it, but at least you will be able to get the points from a question that you would otherwise have missed. Also, you may have a brain wave later on and can come back to it. You should be looking at ten minutes per task.

Do you have any tips and tricks for the CCIE lab exam? Let us know in the comments!


  1. Justin November 21, 2016
  2. max123 February 13, 2017
    • Stuart Fordham February 13, 2017
  3. Justin March 31, 2017