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Exam Profile: CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Lab Exam

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This article describes the new CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Lab Exam, including the objectives, preparation hints, and study resources.
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The CCIE Routing and Switching v5.0 Lab exam is the culmination of successfully passing the written qualifying exam (400-101) and, within 18 months, making the first attempt at passing the Lab exam to obtain your CCIE numbers.

In 1999, I had the pleasure of taking my first CCIE Routing and Switching Lab exam. The technology sets were significantly different from today’s lab exam. We can sit and debate for hours about which exam was/is more difficult, but that won’t help anyone in preparing for their lab! The current CCIE Lab Exam represents a 20-plus year stretch of setting the de facto standard for the industry about what an expert-level certification entails.

The CCIE Routing and Switching exam series (Written and Lab) have recently been revised to v5.0. The exam covers Layer 2 Technologies, Layer 3 Technologies, VPN Technologies, Infrastructure Security, and Infrastructure Services. There are many details within each of those broad topic areas, and of course, being an expert-level exam, the level of detail can be extreme. The only part that exists in the written exam but not the lab is Network Principles. The weighting of percentages also shifts from the written to the lab exam.

There is more than 20 years of “experience” in the CCIE lab development. Version 5 is a significant jump over previous versions in many different areas. These can all affect your approach to studying and certainly to the strategies you will use when taking the lab. Remember that anything is fair game, at least within the blueprint topics listed.

Exam Details

  • Types of Questions: The exam is presented in three separate sections: Troubleshooting, Diagnostics and Configuration.

The Troubleshooting section is presented as a form of trouble tickets on a preconfigured network. You need to isolate the problem within a large topology and identify and fix the issue at hand. There may be 30+ devices within the network topology and 10 to 12 trouble tickets to work with.

The Diagnostic section is presented as issues with a lot of exhibit (reading/reference) material and questions to isolate your thought process. There is no actual configuration during this section, merely actions of what you see, what you believe, and what you would do next.

The configuration section has instructions that generally follow the high-level blueprint outline, although may select any number of detail items within. If you have to sit the CCIE Lab more than once, your exams may be completely different from one another.

  • Number of Questions: The number will vary based on exams. It is not quite as relevant an issue as it used to be. The trouble tickets will still be 10 to 12 within a 2-hour period. Diagnostic questions will be fewer questions because you have 30 minutes. Configuration guidelines will also vary from exam to exam, but all are geared toward a “minimally qualified candidate” passing within 5.5 hours. In addition, there is a sliding window between Troubleshooting and Configuration of 30 minutes. So you can borrow time (either direction) if needed. The Diagnostic section will always be a 30-minutes fixed time period.
  • Passing Score: The passing score is 80%. In previous versions of the exam, that was a strict 80% on every section; however, in Version 5 of the CCIE Lab exam, that is treated as a weighted average passing score. This should cause candidates to relax a little knowing that if you come “that close” in Troubleshooting, you still have a chance to save the day in the Configuration section.

A new time limit was set on exam retakes.

# of Times Failed

Delay Until Next Attempt


30 days


90 days


90 days


90 days


180 days


180 days

This new policy is designed to not only deal with some of the backlog in the CCIE Lab testing, but also to give candidates some required “back to the books” time between attempts. Brute force hacking is not a method to passing the CCIE Lab!

  • Time Limit: 8 hours total. Default split is 2 hours for Troubleshooting, 30 minutes for Diagnostics, and 5.5 hours for Configuration
  • Cost: $1,600.00 USD (Costs may vary due to exchange rates and local taxes [VAT/GST])
  • How to Register: http://www.cisco.com/go/ccie/
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