Optimizing Your Studies
    19 October 09

    Optimizing Your Studies

    Posted byPetr Lapukhov

    Many students keep asking us - how do I get the most from IEWB-RS VOL1? This product is a Tier-1 solution, designed to teach students the fundamental technologies of the CCIE R&S lab. However, the workbook looks intimidating to many beginner students due to its huge volume. In short, the problems that many people have dealing with a large amount of knowledge covered in the workbook could be summarized as follows:

    1. Limited time – can’t go through all the labs.
    2. Memorization issues, tendency to forget things learned earlier.
    3. Time planning problems, cannot allocate time properly between the workbook sections to get the most use of it.

    Resolving these issues is the best way of improving VOL1 effectiveness. Let’s see the ways to address the outlined issues.

    Basic Planning

    Start by figuring out how many hours you may spend practicing mini-labs. Normally, this should be around 60-70% of the total time you have allotted to prepare to the CCIE lab exam. Let’s say you have 6 months before your lab date. It’s about 180 days, so you can spend 60%*180=108 days on mini-labs. Now estimate the time you can spend a day preparing for your CCIE – let’s say it’s 2 hours in average (e.g. 1 hour today, 3 hours tomorrow, or just 2 hours every day). Take a realistic number, accounting for the time you need to spend on your job, family, etc. Now find the resulting amount of hours that you may spend on VOL1: 108*2=216 hours. Finally, gauge the time you need to complete a single VOL1 lab. Some of VOL1 labs might be harder than another, so try figuring an average number. Let’s say it’s about 40 minutes, where 30 minutes you spend actually working on the lab and 10 minutes repeating the information you have just learned. Based on the total amount of hours you have for VOL1 and the average time per lab you may find the approximate number of mini-labs that you may cover; using the example from above, it’s going to be 216/(4/6)=324. This number is significantly lower than the amount of scenarios in VOL1. So how should you divide your efforts among different sections of VOL1 to obtain maximum efficiency?

    Allocating the time between VOL1 sections properly

    In the previous blog post, an approach based on the utility function has been suggested. However, after some modeling I decided to revert back to a simpler approach, based on the concept of max min fairness. The reason is a well-known utilitarian paradox, which I yet need to address properly ;)

    So what about this max-min fairness thing? You may already have known of it, if you studied QoS and resource sharing. In fact, this is an approach used to implement Fair Queueing – maximizing the “throughput” for the minimally demanding “flow”. In our scenario, a “flow” is a section, and “demand” is the amount of tasks you need to complete from this section. We implement section weighting, so that some topics are considered more important as another. In short, here is how the max/min fair approach works:

    1. Assume there are N sections, with the weights a1, a2,… aN and the amount of tasks T1,…,TN in respective sections.
    2. Suppose you may only complete M tasks, where M < T1+T2+…TN.
    3. Initially, we allocate the time between sections based on the formula: Xj=aj/(a1+a2+…aN)*M. This means that every section gets “fair” amount of resource, proportional to its weight.
    4. For every section that gets more than it needs, i.e. Xj > Tj, take the amount Xj-Tj and allocate is based on the weights a1, a2…aN as in step (2) among all remaining sections that still need the resource.
    5. Repeat the loop to (4) checking for the sections that got more than they needed and re-allocating this amount again.

    This iterative algorithm could be quickly implemented using an Excel spreadsheet. Here is a simple spreadsheet with some of the basic constants (e.g. number of tasks per section) configured for you. All you need to enter is the following:

    a) Total amount of hours you are going to spend on the workbook
    b) Average amount of time per lab. This may change with your progress, so you may want to get back to the spreadsheet and edit some values.
    c) The number of labs that you have already completed for every section. Like with (b), you may return to the spreadsheet and re-calculate the time allocation. Make sure you set these to zeroes if you truly dont know much about the technologies covered in the respective section.


    Notice that the spreadsheet only performs two iterations of the weighted fair sharing algorithm, which should be enough in most cases, but may yield slightly inaccurate results in some situations. Also, pay attention to the “Weights” column. This is where you specify the relative “importance” of every section. In short, the idea is to prefer the core topics to non-core, thus allocating more time to spend on those. If you feel like you know what you’re doing, you may play with the weights. Just keep in minds that only their relative values do matter, i.e. 10 20 30 would yield the same weighting as 1:2:3.

    Not just Learning, but Memorizing

    We’ve been talking about memorization before in this blog post. One answer to better memorization was the process of optimally spaced repetitions. But those might look complicated if you follow any of the special algorithms. Is there a small and simple set of instructions that one can follow to improve the memorization process without the need of any software? In fact, there is. Here are the rules:

    1. Perform the first repetition immediately after you finished a set of mini-labs. What do we mean by a repetition? Typically, it’s a condensed review of the material you have just been working with. Read over the breakdowns; re-type the major commands in the notepad. Do not spend too much time reviewing and repeating, it should be kept up to 10% of the time you typically spend labbing up the scenarios. (e.g. if you spend 30 minutes on a mini-lab, allocate approximately 10 minutes to a single lab repetition).
    2. Take a 20 minutes break from studying; you may spend the break reading over and analyzing the tomorrow’s set of mini-labs, or just taking a cup of coffee or green tea. Both drinks contain caffeine, which in small amounts improve concentration and memorization processes.
    3. When you done with the labs for the day, schedule another repetition 8 hours after your initial repetition. Based on this 8-hour interval, it may be best to practice in the morning (so you may take a repetition in the evening) or in the evening, right before you go to sleep (so you may repeat everything early next morning). During that repetition, review the material for all mini-labs you practiced today. For example if you were doing 3 mini-labs it may take about 30 minutes to perform complete review.
    4. Schedule the last repetition of the today’s labst by 24 hours in the future counting from the initial (Step 1) repetition (e.g. tomorrow’s morning if you were practicing in the morning). Mark this on your calendar or any personal time-management tool. This is going to be the last review for the series of the mini-labs you have done today. Again, it should take no longer than 10-15% of the time you spend practicing the scenarios initially.

    This repetition procedure adds over 30% overhead to your “bare” study time (you need to repeat the material 3 times during the first day). This is a significant increase in time, and you may want to account for it when calculating the average time to complete a single mini-lab and planning your time budget as shown previously.

    How do I prioritize labs within VOL1 sections?

    Like we said before, sections are weighted based on their relative importance. Core topics require more attention than non-core. What about the tasks within a single section? Typically, the workflow for VOL1 is linear: every next lab requires previous scenarios as “pre-configuration”; however, major “chains” are independent, and you may see the workbook asking you to perform configuration resets between the sub-sections. Commonly, more advanced scenarios follow the basic ones, so you progress naturally by doing them in sequence. However, in situations when you don’t have enough time, you may want to focus on the scenarios you are most unfamiliar with and skip some basic stuff.

    In addition to this, some sections, especially the non-core ones (e.g. QoS or IP Services), may not follow the linear logical structure perfectly. For example, if you take “IP Services” you may see scenarios being grouped by technology: e.g. DHCP, NAT, WCCP and so on. For the QoS, you may group scenarios in sub-sections such as MQC, Catalyst QoS, Legacy FRTS and so on. In this case, you may want to apply the same fair scheduling logic to these sections. In the same XLS file we referred to before, there is an additional sheet (named “QoS”) to help you splitting the time “inside” a large, non-linear section. I’m planning to add similar breakdowns to other “non-linear” sections, such as “IP Services”, “System Management” and “Security”. Here is a sample screenshot of this page:


    It works in the same way as the main planning page. However, you don’t have to edit the total amount of labs for the QoS section – it is copied from the previous sheet. You may only want to edit the “Labs Completed” column, to reflect the amount of scenarios you came through already.


    The above-described techniques should help you get more organized and proactive with your time management as well as improve content retention. Keep in mind those are just tools, and it’s up to you to do all work! And stay tuned for more updates to the XLS file and the methodology. Following our Tier-based logical approach, the next step after VOL1 should be IEWB-RS VOL2 full-scale labs practicing, which is to be covered next.

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