This ultimately worked for me in some way, shape, or form, but keep in mind that having real world network design experience is essential. Having a CCIE is an advantage in my opinion, as long as you can wrap your head around the way that you need to think for CCDE. I can also see how a seasoned network designer could pass without having a CCIE, so don’t let that discourage you. Remember, the exam is completely vendor neutral.
I pretty much used the same resources to prepare for each attempt. The books that I knew inside and out –
- Optimal Routing Design
- Definitive MPLS Network Designs <–my favorite book…every chapter tells a story!
- BGP Design and Implementation
I either skimmed through these, read some of the chapters, or read only the case studies. Read every case study that you can find –
- Traffic Engineering with MPLS
- Deploying IPv6 Networks
- Developing IP Multicast Networks
- Layer 2 VPN Architectures
- Comparing, Designing, and Deploying VPNs
- QoS SRND
Make sure that you get familiar with the demo on the Cisco Learning Network. I was never able to get a really high score on it (was like 70-something), but walk through it repeatedly to try to get the correct answers and understand why they’re the right choice. Reverse engineer it…
I also went through a lot of the routing and MPLS breakout sessions from Cisco Live. I made sure to study all of the sessions for which a CCDE was the speaker. You know who they are… They used to have a session at Live on the CCDE, which was another very useful tool. It went into the structure of the exam and scenarios, and there was an example practical scenario in that presentation. I went through that scenario and reverse engineered it much like the demo.
All of these resources are just examples of stuff that you can use, but the key is that you have to start thinking about things in a particular way. You don’t care about the “bits and bytes” level details. The exam tests higher level design and analysis skills, so don’t focus on how to configure stuff, commands, packet headers, port numbers, etc. Read the case studies and understand why a particular design decision was made…why a particular technology was chosen over another…why things were implemented in a particular order…
I also literally started reading a different way. I would try to read as fast as possible, while still trying to retain the important information. On the practical you have to take in a lot of information, pull out the important details, and then determine what else you need. The clock is ticking while you’re trying to do all of that, so get into the habit of doing it…
Time management is critical. I had to rush through parts of the exam on attempts 1-3 because I needed to catch up on time… or at least I felt like I did. You can find yourself getting stuck in the middle of a scenario, so know the exam. Know how many scenarios you’re dealing with and how much time you have. Have a plan for how to manage your time.
When you actually get down to exam day, you have to get some rest the night before, and have a good breakfast. I didn’t really have any choice whatsoever as far as what I got to eat that day for lunch. I was the last one out of the room and there was one sandwich left. You may want to bring something and leave it in the locker. Just make sure that you eat because you’ll need the brain power. I didn’t take any other breaks during the day outside of lunch.
Make sure that you take notes. Read through all of the information first and try to take note of all of the important details. I still had to go back to the information a lot later, more than I would have liked, but I believe that taking notes helps you to retain a lot of information. I’m not really a big fan of the highlighters…
Remember that the exam is subjective. One thing that I did different on my last attempt was comment a lot. I wanted the person grading my exam to understand what I was thinking. I had to slow my roll on that later on because of time, but I kept it up as much as I could. Do keep in mind that they read each and every one of those comments, so don’t over-do it or it might be a good way to fail!
You have to keep your focus for the entire 8 hours. The exam is very analytical. You have to analyze the information you’re given, each question, answer, etc. It takes a lot out of you… I remember wishing that I could stay another night because I felt like crashing right after the exam. There were points where I knew that I had answered the previous question wrong because of the way that it branched off, but you can’t let that hang you up. Make a comment about it, say “you got me!” and move on…
Then I just made the 3+ hour drive home and started the 12 week wait… You also have to decide whether you will continue to study/prepare for the next 3 months or wait until you get your results back before you ramp back up. By the time you get the results, the next administration of the exam is only about a month or so out, so that can be tricky. I basically took an attempt once per year, except for 2011…
Hope this helps… Good luck!