I’s and T’s and Crosses and Dots

My name is Tom, and I’m careless.

Yep, I admit it freely.  I’m the kind of person that rushes through things and gets the majority of the work done.  Often I leave a few things undone with the hope that I’ll go back later and fix them.  For me, the result is the key.  Sometimes it works out in my favor, sometimes it doesn’t.  More often than not, I find myself cursing out loud about this unfinished job or task months down the road and threatening to find the person responsible, only to later determine that I should be kicking my own butt for it.

One place where this particular habit of mine has caused me endless grief in inside the unforgiving walls of Cisco’s Building C lab in San Jose.  Yep, I can honestly say that at least one lab attempt was foiled due to my propensity to miss the little things.  I’ve previously written about some of the details of the lab, but I wanted to take some time in this post to talk about the details themselves.  As in, the details in the questions that will kill you if you give them the chance.

Let’s get it out there right now: there is NO partial credit in the CCIE lab.  None. Zilch.  If you fail to answer every portion of the question with completeness, you get zero points for that question.  Unlike the old days in elementary school, you don’t get points for trying.  This shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone that’s taken a multiple choice test any time in their life.  On those tests, there is exactly one set of answer(s) for a particular question, and if you don’t select the proper repsonse(s), you don’t get the points.  The same thing goes for the questions you find in the CCIE lab exam.  Just because the questions may or may not have multiple parts doesn’t excuse your need to answer them fully.  Old Mr. Hollingsworth used to tell me regularly, “Son, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”  Since I don’t play horseshoes and my hand grenade supplier mysteriously dried up, I guess close just won’t cut it any more.

You might end up getting a question in the lab that says something along the lines of “Configure OSPF on R1, R3, and R6 according to the diagram.  Do not change router IDs.  Rename R1 to ‘SnugglesR1’.”  You could build the most perfect OSPF lab in history.  You could spend an hour optimizing things.  If you forget to rename Snuggles the Router, you will receive no credit for the question.  All that hard work will get flushed down the toilet.  You’ll get your score report at the end of the day and wonder why you didn’t get any points for all that time you spend making OSPF sing like a soprano.

In order to prevent this from happening to you, start training yourself now to read carefully and consider every facet of the questions you’ll see.  Remember that the questions in the lab are carefully constructed by a team that spends a ton of time evaluating every part.  There are no unnecessary words.  Candidates have pestered proctors over the meaning of single words on a question.  The questions are written as they are to make sure you take into account a number of factors.  They are also designed to slip in changes to tasks and additional configuration with a word or two.  And if you are careless, you’ll miss those phrases that signal changes and negations.

Surely, everyone has taken a test that has a question that says “Which of the following was NOT a <something> <something>”  Your job is to evaluate the choices and pick the one that is not something.  That single word changes the whole meaning of the question.  And for those that are careless or the kind the skim questions, the NOT might be missed and cause them to answer incorrectly.  Questions in the lab are the same way.  Skimming over them without reading critically can cause nuances to be missed and lead to incorrect solutions.  After 5 hours of staring at words on a monitor, things might start blurring a little, but attention must be paid to the last few questions, as those might be enough points to buoy over the passing mark.

I’ll be the first to admit that the pressure to get everything done in the allotted time may cause the candidate to want to rush, but you must resist that pressure.  Many CCIE lab prep courses and instructors will tell you to carefully read the questions before you ever start configuring.  I agree, with some additions.  I always take my scratch paper and write the task numbers down the side.  After I’ve accounted for Task 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, and so on, I then go back to the questions and make marks next to my list for any questions that may have multiple parts or tricky solutions.  That way, if I find myself rushing through after lunch the marks I made early in the day force me to pay attention to the question and ensure that I don’t miss something that might cause me to tank three or four points.  Those points add up over the course of the day, and more than a few careless mistakes can cost you a nice expensive soda can.

If you are serious about the CCIE lab, it’s worth your time to start working on ensuring that you pay close attention to each question and don’t make any careless mistakes due to reading too fast or missing important configuration requirements.  Your day is going to be stressful enough without the added pressure of fixing mistakes later in the lab as a result of forgetting to enable OSPF authentication or a typo on a VLAN interface.  You want to remember to dot every “i” and cross every “t” for each and every question.  That way, you can walk out of the lab and use that freshly-dotted “i” when you spell you new title as a CCIE.

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