The CCIE Routing and Switching test deals with a vast number of technologies. Remembering everything is rather difficult throughout the preparation process. Each CCIE will tell you that you need to have some sort of a method of documenting all of this new knowledge. During my studies I mainly used three types of documentation: mind maps, personal wiki and flashcards. One other very important aspect of CCIE documentation is the navigation of the DocCD.
When I started covering a any CCIE technology topic, the first thing I wanted to do is see how each technology component relates to each other. The best method I found was using mind maps. Initially I used bubbl.us then iThougthsHD to document these topics. The best example of a mind map that I have seen was written by Krzysztof Załęski in his CCIE RS Quick Review Kit. I would definitely recommend you check it out. The main advantage of this is method is understanding the main concepts of each technology and how they relate to each other.
Some people write blogs and others create their own wikis. I created my personal wiki using the wikidot.com platform for private use. Blogging didn’t work for me as it involved a lot of time with the publishing aspect like proof reading, corrections or graphics, which would have bogged down my study process. With my own wiki, I didn’t have to worry about content being written well for others to read (that’s what I can do now with my free time). Any wiki platform has a little bit of a learning curve, but it is worth the time. One of the major advantages using a personal wiki is that content is easy to navigate compared to a stream of blog posts.
There is a major difference between just reading CCIE level content verses writing it yourself. I wasn’t just reading someone else’s work. I was writing my own content and organizing my own knowledge as I explored and learned each topic. The wiki structure was an important tool in organizing my own knowledge. When I had to write about each topic, I was forced me to ask myself many critical questions, which allowed me to further discover these topics. Without my own wiki, I would have to relearn a lot of the information I already encountered which would have been wasting time. At the same time I wrote about IOS behavior I discovered myself which were not very well documented.
For documentation, I also wrote my own flashcard for facts that were not easy to remember. What I noticed is that a lot of times you’ll learn all there is to learn about at topic, such as BGP, but in a month or two you forget some of the finer details that might not be used very often. As time goes by, more and more is forgotten. Researching how people memorize information I found out that this is part of what’s called a forgetting curve. I found a very interesting article on wired.com Want to Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm about memory and software that target information that is hard to remember. Without going into details, after reading the article I downloaded SuperMemo on the iPad and SuperMemoUX for the PC. With SuperMemo I created my own flashcard questions to review when commuting to work on the train (both version have an editor to create custom courses). The key about these questions, was writing question to remember not only protocol features or commands, but also all possible methods of how to solved a task. For example I would write a question, “what are all possible ways of solving the BGP next-hop unreachable problem?“. Constantly reviewing these questions, which SuperMemo software picked selected based on the forgetting curve, helped me maintain the knowledge I needed to pass the CCIE exam.
At last there is the Cisco DocCD, which is the only documentation that’s allowed on the CCIE Lab exam, just like an open book test. During my college years, what I noticed is that open book tests as attractive as they sounds are much harder than closed book tests. Cisco does the same thing, by allowing you to access their DocCD they expect a CCIE candidate to use it to find few details here and there but not rely on it for the basic configuration, that is why being able to navigate it efficiently is very important.
When I was practicing workbook labs, I would try to only use the DocCD to find information. This forced me to learn their structure and organization. I mainly used:
- Configuration Guide for IOS 12.4(15)T
- Configuration Guide for Catalyst 3560 12.2(44)SE
- Master Command Reference IOS 12.4(15)T and individual technology Command References
- Master Command Reference Catalyst 3560 12.2(44)SE