Just passed the lab exam yesterday @ Tokyo. And now, to reclaim my social life!
Thank you INE for the workbooks & forums. Reading the books and doing the labs, and observing what each protocol does. . .indeed it takes time to comprehend it all. I started CCNA study in 2005, so all-in-all, almost 12 years since I've been studying. The INE workbooks are a great place that puts it all together to grasp the concepts. Only feedback I have is to please update them to match new content.
It was my 2nd attempt. The 1st one I failed mostly because I wasted time trying to understand the lab environment itself. The other failures were in DIAG and just being slooooow. So with that, here's the top 3 things that got me over the edge this time:
1) SPEED + Double topologies. The topologies of the TSHOOT and CONFIG sections of the real exam are HUGE -- at least double what the INE labs have. However, not too much difference in terms of technology in-use. So what I did was combined labs (i.e. Mock Lab 1+2 into a big lab), and just practiced as much as I could. It makes the time greater than 8 hours to complete, but it helps to increase both speed and grasping concepts.
2) Use the paper they give you in the lab. I spent an entire hour just reading the lab and jotting down notes on "one-offs" and restrictions per site. Then, I just went at it like a mad-man in configuration. If I doubted my config, I just glanced at my paper for key notes. Definitely a time saver, especially with this virtual lab environment where clicking each screen just eats your time away, not to mention the slight lag.
3) Grasp the concepts -- I can't emphasize that enough. As this this was my 2nd attempt, of course my lab was completely different from the previous one I took. However, if you know key things like how to quickly identify routing loops or make BGP Traffic Engineering simple and fast, it won't matter what topology you get. You'll be ready for anything. Don't let the huge diagram scare you (as it did on my first attempt). Ignore the markings, and just concentrate on the "overall diagram".
As for general tips in regards to the lab environment. . .
A) I mentioned this before -- the new virtual lab for v5 R&S consists of MSDOS prompts when connecting to the console of your devices. This is absolutely horrid. On top of that, they are stuck in the foreground. So even if you click on the Web Browser to read the instructions, you can't see them because the MSDOS prompt is in the way. You must minimize the MSDOS prompt. Sounds simple? Yea -- now think about doing that for 30+ devices. . .it's a pain in the ass, so. . .use Montior-1 for MSDOS prompts, and Monitor-2 for your lab instructions.
P.S. There is no [show desktop] icon. So also open notepad and calculator 1st, and put them on Monitor-2 as well with the instructions.
B) Bring ear plugs. I had earmuffs provided for me which helped greatly. The mouse+keyboards are complete crap and make huge noise. Combine that with all the other candidates and it's darn near impossible to concentrate.
C) Drink a small carton of orange juice before the exam. Some may argue coffee or whatever -- point is, go in with an energy boost that will last 8 hours, not just 5 minutes.
Also, I was sure i failed DIAG. I got asked a question that had nothing to do with R&S. It seemed more appropritate for R&S Security, as it's not even on the blueprint. Pretty sure I got it completely wrong, but I passed anway so, I guess it might have been one of those "test questions" that doesn't count. Either way, don't take the chance. I can't give details, but what I can say is . . . know IP Services. And I mean KNOW IT, in combination with basic Linux administration and TCL scripting knowledge.
Lastly, don't give up. I took the written 3 times, and the lab 2 times. It cost me over $6,500 to complete, but the return investment is that my 11-year dream is fullfilled. I'm glad to have made my mentors proud -- the ones who came before me and taught me "real networking" as they say, heh.
Good luck to ya'll!