Fixing The CCIE Written – A Follow Up


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I stirred up quite the hornet’s nest last week, didn’t I? I posted about how I thought the CCIE Routing and Switching Written Exam needed to be fixed. I got 75 favorites on Twitter and 40 retweets of my post, not to mention the countless people that shared it on a variety of forums and other sites. Since I was at Cisco Live, I had a lot of people coming up to me saying that they agreed with my views. I also had quite a few people that weren’t thrilled with my perspective. Thankfully, I had the chance to sit down with Yusuf Bhaiji, head of the CCIE program, and chat about things. I wanted to share some thoughts here.

Clarity Of Purpose

One of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard is that I was being “malicious” in my post with regards to the CCIE. I was also told that it was a case of “sour grapes” and even that the exam was as hard as it was on purpose because the CCIE is supposed to be hard. Mostly, I felt upset that people were under the impression that my post was designed to destroy, harm, or otherwise defame the CCIE in the eyes of the community. Let me state for the record what my position is:

I still believe the CCIE is the premier certification in networking. I’m happy to be a CCIE and love the program.

Why did I write the post? Not because I couldn’t pass the written. Not because I wanted people to tell me that I was wrong and being mean to them. I wrote the post because I saw a problem and wanted to address it. I felt that the comments being made by so many people that had recently taken the test needed to be collected and discussed. Sure, making light of these kinds of issues in a public forum won’t make people happy. But, as I said to the CCIE team, would you rather know about it or let it fester quietly?

Yusuf assured me that the CCIE program holds itself to the highest standards. All questions are evaluated by three subject matter experts (SMEs) for relevance and correctness before being included in the exam. If those three experts don’t sign off, the question doesn’t go in. There are also quite a few metrics built into the testing software that give the CCIE team feedback on questions and answer choices. Those programs can index all manner of statistics to figure out if questions are creating problems for candidates. Any given test can produce pages worth of valuable information for the people creating the test and trying to keep it relevant.

Another point that was brought up was the comment section on the exam. If you have any problem with a question, you need to fill out the comment form. Yes, I know that taking time out of the test to provide feedback can cause issues. It also interrupts your flow of answering questions. But if you even think for an instant that the question is unfair or misleading or incorrect, you have to leave a detailed comment to make sure the question is flagged properly for review. Which of the following comments means more to you?

  • Trivia question

or

  • This question tests on an obscure command and isn’t valid for a CCIE-level test.

I can promise I know which one is going to be evaluated more closely. And yes, every comment that has purpose is reviewed. The exam creators can print off every comment ever left on a question. The more detailed the comment, the more likely to trigger a review. So please make sure to leave a comment if you think there is a problem with the question.

Clarity Of Vision

Some of the conversations that I had during Cisco Live revolved around the relevance of the questions on the test to a CCIE candidate. Most of the people that I talked to were CCIEs already and using the test for recertification. A few came to me to talk about the relevance of the test questions to candidates that are qualifying for the lab.

While I’m not able to discuss any of the specific plans for the future of the program, I will say that there are ideas in place that could make this distinction matter less. Yusuf told me that the team will be releasing more details as soon as they are confirmed.

The most important point is that the issues that I have with the CCIE Written exam are fixable. I also believe that criticism without a suggestion solution is little more than whining. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is with regard to the CCIE written exam.

I volunteered to fix it.

I stepped up and offered my time as an SME to review the questions on the written exam for relevance, correctness, and grammar. That’s not a light undertaking. There are a ton of questions in the pool that need to be examined. So for every person that agreed with my post or told me that they thought the exam needed to be fixed, I’m putting you all on the spot as well.

It’s time for us as a community of CCIEs to do our part for the exam. Yusuf told me the easiest way to take part in the program is to visit the following URL:

http://www.cisco.com/go/certsme

Sign up for the SME program. Tell them that you want to help fix the CCIE. Maybe you only have to look at 5-10 questions. If the hundred or so people that agreed with me volunteered today, the entire test question pool could be analyzed in a matter of weeks. We could do our part to ensure that people taking the exam have the best possible test in front of them.

But I also challenge you to do more. Don’t just correct grammar or tell them they spelled “electricity” wrong in the question. Challenge them. Ask yourself if this is a question a CCIE candidate should know the answer to. There’s a chance that you could make a difference there. But you can’t do that unless you step up the plate.


Tom’s Take

I had at least ten people tell me that they would do whatever it took to fix the CCIE test last week after I talked to the CCIE cert team. They were excited and hopeful that the issues they saw with the test could be sorted out. I’ll admit that I stepped out on a pretty big limb here by doing this in public as opposed to over email or through official channels. And I do admit that I didn’t clarify my intent to build the program up as opposed to casting the whole exam team and process in a bad light.

Mea culpa.

But, my motivation succeed in getting people to talk about the CCIE written. There are many of you that are ready to do your part to help. Please, go sign up at the link above to join the SME program. Maybe you’ll never look at a single question, Maybe you’ll look at fifty. The point is that you step up and tell Cisco that you’re willing. If even fifteen people come forward and agree to help then that message will sound loud and clear that each and every one of us is proud of being a CCIE and want the program to continue long past the time when we’re retired and telling our grandchildren about the good old days of hard but fair tests.

If you have any questions about participating in the program or you want to reach out to me with your thoughts, don’t hesitate to contact me. Let’s put the power of community behind this!

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21 thoughts on “Fixing The CCIE Written – A Follow Up

  1. Hi Tom

    Thanks for the update. I wish I could participate into this program, I would volunteer too but I am afraid that I am not eligible since I am still learning for this exam. I too was accused that I want to cast the certification in a bad light. I still don;t understand how that conclusion was reached when I am still learning for this certification. In fact, as I explained them I was trying to protect my investment in time and money and make sure that the cert matters on long term.

    If I could suggest one thing that must be improved that would be this: if they do not agree to break this exam into per technology exam or per group of technologies exams (Ex: Routing, Switching, QoS and Multicast and Troubleshooting, Security and Network services) then at least let’s make sure that the exam tests your understanding of the topics and not your memory.

    In this light any question that resorts to remembering things or some sort of pattern recognition to call it so where the candidate is rather asked to use his memory and not his understanding of a topic should be ruled out.

    thanks again
    Cristian

  2. Tom, I too have applied for the SME program. I am in the same camp as you, valuing the certification enough to want to fix it but believing it to be broken in the current state. I also very much wanted to write your initial blog post after seeing the state of the CCIE R/S written exam in a recertification attempt a couple months ago. I chose not to do so because I believed it would be seen as nothing more than sour grapes from someone not capable of passing it. After a second attempt at CLUS this year, my conclusion is the same. It is broken and it needs to be fixed. Thank you for stepping out and speaking up as someone who doesn’t have the dependence of passing this exam hanging over their head.

  3. Thanks for jumping on this. I took this test at Live as well. It was pretty brutal. I left there fairly convinced that I would not realistically be able to pass this test before my re-up in October unless I quit my job and read books all day. That means something is wrong.
    My solution? There are 22 categories of subject matter on the current blueprint. Maybe let us weight 10 of those catagories so a larger portion of the test can be centered around technologies we work on on a day-to-day bases, with the rest of them sprinkled in. Just a thought from #27413.

  4. Pingback: The CCIE Routing And Switching Written Exam Needs To Be Fixed | The Networking Nerd

  5. I think we need to look at our approach to testing as a whole, and move away from product specific tasks and to more situational/solution based. This would cause the exam to be more applicable to the real world situations and allow versions to be updated at a more regular interval. My background is Collaboration, where the version of the products is significantly behind the shipping release… behind as in like due for EoL any day.

  6. Its not just R/S. I have recerted 6 times since my CCIE RS (8808) back in 2002. last 4 times I did voice as it was related to what I do (voice and R/S). Worst case, fail the written, study thenew blueprint, eliminate the obvious non answers based on real experience and done. I did written 4 times in the last year. Never even came close to passing. Hence now CCIE emeritus. I’m not doing a theoretical test testing me on memorizing the bandwidth requirement per any iteration of any codec or protocol. Thats like asking a English studies student what the 378th word in Hamlet is from memory. Useless information. Until this test becomes A; Relevant to real life work and B. Passable, I’m staying emeritus. I was looking at doing RS but as I see its in the same boat as written and probably the others. I would guess recerts #s are WAY down, and Emeritus #s WAY up.
    Jason Whelan
    CCIE 8808

  7. Thank you for stepping up and pointing out an issue that resonates with everyone I know that has taken the CCIE R/S written, including me. Also, thank you for being willing to be part of the solution and continuing to improve the value of this certification.

  8. Pingback: Breakfast and Learning – Cisco Live | cantechit - Technology and IT BLOG

  9. Wow, it’s even worse than I thought, then. So let me get this straight: these questions/answer choices are purported to be sound because three uncompensated, self-proclaimed SMEs hacked off on them??? Ugh. Just because many (and only many – not most) of them are technically correct (or are by committee deemed “most correct” or whatever), does not in the least relevant make them!! This is a silly trivia fest of little factoids about Cisco protocols that are easily googled (and subject to change, and so they should not be committed to long-term memory but rather reviewed at the outset of each engagement with them).

    Remember the good old days when test writers knew enough about the written technologies to show you a complicated EIGRP topology, along with a bunch of config snippets and debug output, and then they gave you tantalizingly easy answer choices that you would go for if you hadn’t studied hard and really knew your stuff? But instead you saw through the deception and you answered correctly? The only problem back then was that you often couldn’t read the tiny graphics, and Cisco stood firmly by their three-year grandfathering of test centers to meet current technical requirements, such as minimum screen size.

    This exam has always been junk in some way, but never more so than now.

    And they charge $400 for this nonsense???

  10. Even with a CCIE R&S, I fall into the category of having sworn off the R&S and moved to Security. In my opinion, the real issue came about when Cisco started pushing for ISO certification of its exams, removing the ability for those writing the written from knowing anything about what is tested on in the lab, and also the book writers from knowing what the exams look like. This is covered in the CCNP review sessions at Cisco Live, or at least it was in 2014.

    Everything is theoretical, nothing is a 1 to 1 match for what is actually tested in what it’s meant to lead into. The study regiment for either exam is completely different and a separate process. That’s the definition of broken. Once Cisco moves to a more unified exam blueprint where the knowledge learned while studying for the written enables candidates who are studying for the lab, success and value will both be felt.

  11. “If you have any problem with a question, you need to fill out the comment form. Yes, I know that taking time…”

    this is also easily fixable. cisco can introduce “complain” flag for each question which will indicate that there is possibly something wrong with question. people don’t have to waste time providing feedback during exam and losing time. after all question are already submitted and there is no way back there can be page with all flagged questions and people can submit detailed feedback then without being stressed of loosing precious time.

    • I just re-certified my CCIE scrapping through.
      Luckily I have spent the last year doing a major project for a customer deploying cool IoT stuff using AWS as their cloud provider.
      A lot of the questions made sense to me because of having to spent a lot of time understanding the terminology of cloud technologies and IoT.

      This however has nothing to do with the new CCIE Collaboration 1.1 written exams as no Internet of thing will ever make a SIP call to establish a late offer to a Video enabled device 🙂

      I can see why cloud tech is important in the curriculum as Spark and hybrid solutions will need in depth knowledge of federation etc, however Cisco itself has no official study material.

      I was lucky this time, but lets see in a couple of years when the dreaded time arrives again,

      #17169

  12. Absolutely ridiculous. The test is made into garbage trivia because people dump. The more people dump the more outlandish the test… its a horrible cycle. I have 1 more test to go before I get the chance for emeritus.

  13. CCIE is a good cert overall but actually all Cisco certs are losing ground. One of the main reason I hear is that the exam costs are ridiculously high…$400/attempt. People get demoralized after 2 failed attempts, it’s just too much out-of-the pocket expense. Also, why should I go with a Cisco certs when there are other hot certs available with less than $200 .. examples – AWS, Microsoft Azure. Just a thought ….

  14. I am curious to know what is the status of this issue. Has there been any change yet? What is Cisco doing about all the complaints? Any hope for a better CCIE R&S? It’s sad to see how you encounter useless and irrelevant questions, not in any way related to your career nor d2d work…. it’s sad!

  15. Hi there!

    I was wondering if this initiative has succeeded… If not, let’s just vote with our feet and move to Juniper 😉 grass is always greener elsewhere right?

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