For Want of a Nail

I have been weighed.  And measured.  And my configuring skills have been found…lacking.  Welcome, everyone, to the post-lab wrap up post.  Jan 20th looked like a good day for me.  I found all the faults in the troubleshooting section.  The config section looked very beatable to me.  I double checked all the configs with the hour and a half of extra time I had available.  I found some dumb mistakes that were immediately corrected.  And when I left the lab, I had a very good feeling about this one.  Alas, 58 minutes later, the score report I received indicated that I wasn’t as good as I had expected.

Without gory, rule-breaking details, I really thought I did better.  I had reachability in my lab without violating any of the constraints.  My paper was filled with two check marks next to all by one task that I was working on when time was called.  I re-read each question and physically put the point of my pencil on each word on the screen to make sure I didn’t read over anything and miss a subtle nuance that could sink me.  In the end, I think those nuances are what might have sunk me.  It’s not enough to have full reachability if you miss a little phrase that tells you to avoid a certain method or use a specific technique.  While I feel that I had accounted for all of those possibilities, the score report doesn’t think so.  And since the cold reality of the score report is more official than my high hopes, it looks like this trip to sunny San Jose was a bust as well.

After posting my results on Twitter, along with the condolences there were a lot of questions about whether or not I should as for a lab re-grade.  For those not familiar, the lab is partially graded by a script.  In cases where the script returns some strange results a proctor will look over your lab and double check certain tricky tasks.  Historically, I’ve gotten my scores after 3-5 hours.  The fact that I got this report while sitting at In-and-Out burger confused me.  Perhaps the first pass of the grading script didn’t have any issues with my configs.  One or two people even suggested that as a good sign that I might have even passed from the script alone.  So, as I stared at the percentages in front of me, I contemplated something I had never tried before.  I wanted them to take another look at my exam.  I wanted another proctor to take the configurations saved from my equipment and load them up onto new routers and regrade my exam by hand.  This process is not without it’s downsides, though.  First, it costs $250 for them to even do it.  If you get re-graded to a passing score, there is no refund.  Secondly, there is as much possibility of you losing points as there is passing.  This is because the human eyes of the proctor may catch something incorrect that the script missed.  So, you may have only been 3 points from passing, only to now find that you are 8 points away due to some other mistakes.  However, if you are very close to the mark, as in ~2-3%, there is no reason not to take the chance on the regrade.  After all, it’s still cheaper than a new $1400 lab attempt, right?  Third, the regrade attempt takes up to three weeks.  So if you’re hoping for a fast turnaround before deciding to take another lab attempt, you’re going to have a cool your jets for the better part of a month.  On the bright side, Cisco is usually very understanding and will refund the $1400 if you’ve booked another lab attempt and your re-read is honored and changed to a passing score.

Turns out, Cisco won’t even look at tests that are not “statistically close to the historical passing rate.” English?  If you aren’t within about 5% of the passing score, you don’t even have the option to have it regraded.  And, at least in Cisco’s eyes, I was wide of the mark this time.  I’ve filed a case with support to at least be granted the option for the regrade.  We’ll see what happens.  In the meantime, I’m getting back on the horse.  I’ve already had conversations with my employer about when and if there will be another attempt on their dime.  I’m not packing away any lab equipment for the time being.  I’m getting right back into the thick of things to keep it all fresh.  In fact, my wife and I went to the final closing party for a local pub that we’ve been going to since college.  As I sat there surrounded by all the merrymakers and noise of a bar full of people, all I could think of was how much I wanted to get back home and start labbing up some multicast questions.  It seems that the lab has transformed me and sharpened my focus into laser-like precision.  I think about how I’m going to configure tasks and how I’m going to move efficiently from one task to the next.  I pace myself based on the amount of work I can get done in 6 hours with a 40-minute lunch break.  I review flash cards and GNS3 configs during my free time.

No matter what, I’m going to go back and try this again.  I feel like the top of Everest is in sight and I just need one last push to reach the summit.  I’ve come too far to fail now.  More studying, more refining of my task config skills, more “stick time” for this airplane of router and switch configuration.  For want of a nail, this lab was lost.  But the next time around, the only nail will be the lab being nailed by me.

2 thoughts on “For Want of a Nail

  1. This is the primary reason the CCIE has never really appealed to me: there’s no transparency. When you leave the lab confident that you’ve met the objectives of the exam, having verified them twice or three times over, yet still fail, something’s wrong.

    Want to challenge your score? Too bad, Cisco says no. In fact, the only thing you have resembling proof that you indeed did not earn the certification is the supposedly objective approach of a $115 billion company with an obvious interest in the number of CCIEs churned out per month. Candidates should at least be provided an itemized score report complementary to the original exam objectives. If the grading process was as reliable as Cisco says it is, this would be no problem. Certainly some people will argue that even a minimally detailed report would erode the sanctity of the exam, and that’s fair. But I work too hard to gamble away $1400.


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