CCIE Study: 2 Months Deep

In my first month of studying I blew through several subjects worth of Videos-on-Demand, labs, and note-taking; I then promptly forgot most of it. This was due to not keeping up with that information, and not reading enough. I would learn a new subject only to forget the details of the old subject. The CCIE exam is not forgiving, and forgotten knowledge has no place in that world.

I realized the problem once I downloaded Jedediah Casey’s excellent Anki flashcard deck. I took the cards for subjects I thought I knew and added them to my daily study routine. The first attempt on the cards was enough for me to realize that I hadn’t read deeply enough, nor had I retained what I did know well enough. Prior to that I thought I had conquered topics at a CCIE-level, only to find that I barely knew what I was doing. The cards I had created prior to using this deck were a joke.

So for the last month, I re-studied Spanning Tree, Ethernet, and Layer 2. I read almost every article in the Cisco documentation on the subjects. I read blogs on them, memorized flash cards, and made more extensive use of the debug command. I made my own labs. I even spent time improving my lab so that debug messages weren’t such a pain to use.

The Big Takeaway

Don’t get discouraged; the learning process is more complicated than most of us think it is.

Actually plan what you’re going to study. It’s important to identify what you need to study, and make it a priority. Nobody becomes a doctor without a structured study plan, and I’m sure nobody becomes a CCIE that way either.

DO NOT just randomly blaze through topics. Brian McGahan, the instructor at INE lists a method for studying that goes as follows:

  1. Gain a high-level knowledge
  2. Basic hands-on experience
  3. Gain expert-level knowledge
  4. Expert-level hands-on experience

I’m sure I’m paraphrasing that a little bit, but the fundamental idea is there — At some point or another, you need to increase the depth of your studies. I made the mistake of not reading all of the documentation on a subject, or not reading the configuration guide or the command references. Once you’ve done the basic hands-on experience you should leave no stone unturned in your pursuit of routing knowledge.

The effectiveness of flashcards can make or break your studying. My flashcards were trash. Make flashcards that will challenge you. These are what’s going to make you retain the information; anything that doesn’t challenge you here is going to let your knowledge atrophy.

Moving Forward

I’m coming to the end of the catching-up phase of using the flashcards, but I suspect I’ll be totally done with re-learning information by the end of the month. This month will be consumed with re-learning the rest of the layer 2 technologies (PVLAN, CDP/LLDP, with a special focus on PPP/HDLC) followed by re-learning RIP and EIGRP if I can get that far.

Back to flashcards, in order to get “up-to-snuff” on retaining information, I had to increase the daily limit on “new” flashcards to 30, which has lead to some truly brutal days of studying them.

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