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New Cisco CCIE Exam Retake Policies Mandate Patience, Planning, and Preparation

By  Aug 6, 2014

Topics: Cisco, Browse by Cert, CCIE

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE, has been a nonpareil certification ever since its inception in August 1993, when Terry Slattery earned the first ever such credential. The written exam is pretty tough, but the all-day hands-on lab exam is widely and rightly regarded as one of the hardest of all IT cert exams to pass with only a small fraction managing successful completion on their first try. As of last week (8/2/2014), Cisco has changed its exam retake policies for the CCIE, especially where the "wait time" between exam attempts is concerned.

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These changes apply to both the written and lab exams, as explained in detail in the following policy documents:

Where the written exams are concerned, candidates used to have to wait at least 5 days between exam attempts. The new policy enforces a 15-day minimum wait between attempts, and limits the total number of attempts "per rolling calendar year" (the year defined by the date of the first attempt until 12 months later) to four. Considering that the cost of this exam is (in the USA, at least; prices vary somewhat by location) is $400, multiple attempts can quickly become costly.

As far as the lab exams go, things are somewhat more complex. Booking an exam means traveling to one of a half-dozen lab testing centers worldwide, where availability is tight, and travel costs are usually mandatory (except for those lucky enough to live within driving distance of such a center). The retake policy is a multi-stage ladder, as follows:

1. Candidates who fail a CCIE exam lab must wait 30 days before booking a second attempt (subject to additional delays related to availability and location).
2. Candidates who fail a second time must wait 90 days before booking a third and fourth attempt (ditto).
3. Candidates who fail a fifth (or subsequent) attempt must wait 180 days before booking their next try (double ditto).

Each lab exam currently costs $1,600 (again, in the USA, where prices also vary somewhat by region), so the costs for failed attempts mount up pretty quickly as the numbers go up. Five failed attempts means a staggering $8,000 in exam fees alone, not to mention travel and other costs!

All of this adds up to some interesting realizations. The need for such policies speaks to high demand for CCIE professionals, and to the difficulty of earning the credential. In turn, this stresses the need for serious and concerted preparation to make it past the written and lab exams in the minimum number of tries possible. Some of my CCIE friends -- all of them knowledgeable, talented, and accomplished networking experts -- report taking no less than 2 nor more than 4 tries to pass the lab exam (most passed the written exam on their first attempts), so you must be prepared to knuckle down and spend significant time, effort, and money to earn this credential. Cisco's new policies may slow things down somewhat, but they can't prevent a determined and well-prepared IT pro from joining the CCIE ranks.