CCDE Success: Study Methodology

Overview

In previous posts I’ve covered most of my thinking about general preparation/alignment with the CCDE practical, the resources I used to help in passing it and how to deal with the test day-of. This one is to outline a bit more of my methods of using the study materials to prepare. This should be the last piece regarding CCDE testing.

Strength in Numbers

This is extremely straight forward: join a group. In all seriousness I felt this was the single greatest contributor to my passing the test. You need to explain and defend your thinking with others. Talking through your understanding is a critical part of that. It proves you have synthesized the material and not just memorized. Synthesis is critical to this test as you have to understand the implications and interactions between the different technologies. So…get in a group. Here are some links to help with that:
Cisco Learning Network Forums for CCDE Study Group
Daniel Dib’s CCDE Unleashed Post on Forming a Group
Daniel Dib’s CCDE Unleashed Post on Running a Group
Kim Peterson’s CCDE Unleashed Post on Learning from Others

As I mentioned in my post on resources used, Jeremy Filliben’s training also gets you access to a Slack channel of people prepping for the test. Use it to get a group going.

The links above talk through the majority of the concerns related to a group but I’d like to highlight one that I think is a challenge for many when you first form a group. That is: speak up and admit your ignorance. Most of the time we tend to work in cultures and environments where we are the most knowledgeable person about technical and networking topics. We naturally will be shy about venturing opinions and ideas on topics we don’t feel mastery or dominance in. You must give up this tendency and feel comfortable admitting what you don’t know. While you certainly cannot let the group teach you everything, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a re-explanation or better description of something. Often times others are unclear as well and simply asking will get an active discussion going. You are in the group to learn from each other and help master the mindset and the technology. If you already knew all you needed to pass there would be no point in being the group. So accept that and open up about what you don’t know. In my group experience this led to a tighter connection and a greater willingness on the part of others to speak up when something was unclear.

Make it Easier to Consume

We all have different schedules and preferences for learning but a common struggle is getting into the right mindset and practice of study. I travel a lot with work so I needed to factor that in too. One habit that helped me to study more was to focus on reducing the barriers and/or friction to studying. I pre-loaded all the PDFs for the reading material I might need (or want) on to my iPad for ease of access. If I wasn’t feeling QoS (which was often…) I could simple swap to a different book/topic. Having it pre-loaded meant I could easily move between topics without being stuck or drawn into a different activity.

I also worked to download CiscoLive videos and archive them off for later playback. I’d download these to my phone and iPad as well. This allowed me to play them back with a third-party video player at increased playback speed (1.25 or 1.33 is usually perfect). This was great to help get through more content faster but also helped because the increased rate makes me focus on the words more and zone out less. The information density goes up and that means I don’t wander in my own thoughts. This takes time to prepare however so you have to spend a session or two simply compiling this. To accompany the video I’d pull down the matching slide deck to go through while watching the video. Doesn’t take a lot of effort to do this but it means when you sit down to study you can immediately begin doing so rather than wasting a few minutes logging in, finding and then starting.

This tip might be obvious to some folks but most people seem to not do things this way: when you find something interesting or helpful as an article, blog, podcast, video or whatever get it and drop it all into a single folder. This includes your books for reading. This allows you to leverage the power of search to quickly “mine” your documentation repository for a topic. It makes it much faster to answer quick questions (Like, what’s the different between always-compare-med and deterministic-med? Where do you use those two?). If you want to turbo charge this part and/or apply it to your regular job, I recommend getting software designed for capturing documents and allowing for extensive tagging/filtering. If you are familiar with my setup, you’ll know I use DevonThink for this. If you find a question like this, turn it into a flash card real quickly and get it in your rotation. Which leads us to the next point.
Finally, I loaded the flash card app (Studies) on all my devices. Review materials tie in with the next section, Create Content, but I’ll address how it made consumption easier as a preface. Having it synced everywhere meant I could review some flash cards when I have 1-10 minutes of wait time randomly. You can really up your retention with regular review and it doesn’t take a great deal of time. If you are waiting on the microwave or an elevator ride or similar things you can knock out a quick review session. This means your larger blocks of study time can go into reading, video watching, listening or creating content.

Create Content

I mentioned this some above but the need to synthesize the material and content creation is a superb way to assist in the overall process. I’ve mentioned my use of mind-maps (and you can get them here) and that was the first step in creation for me. I’d build the map for review and to see how things fit together on a topic. Next, I’d go through the map looking for things to convert into flash cards. Often times this process would result in going back to source material to get an image or similar things (which lead to some light review reading). Then I’d have my flash cards set for review.
I’d also spend some time during our review session making written notes and questions to review or lookup later. These materials were temporary and I’d convert them into maps or flash cards for later learning. Some people prefer handwritten notes or typed notes. Whatever your preference I’d stress spending some time and thinking around making them easily accessible and always-ready for you when you get into study mode.

Summary

Besides the various materials and then time needed to review them, I saw only three other keys to success on the CCDE:

1.) Get in a group. You’ll need to allocate or convert part of your planned study time for this but it is the best way to up your understanding.
2.) Focus on reducing time and friction associated with studying. Whatever your system reducing time spent getting started will give you more time spent on study and reducing friction can convert time not normally available for study/review into productive time.
3.) Creating content will help in synthesizing your learning. It will allow you to review too. Finally, you can choose to share your content with others, hopefully helping the wider the community too.

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