There is no doubt that obtaining CCNA certification is an important first step for anyone aspiring to create a career in IP networking. In this post I describe how to get CCNA certified and boost your earnings as you climb the ladder.
All it takes is a little planning and commitment. Commitment is the motivation to keep going after the initial rush of enthusiasm wears off.
When I first passed the CCNA exam in 1999 it was a test that proved a basic understanding of IP networks, subnet addressing, the OSI Reference Model and several other core subjects. In the years since the CCNA has evolved to reflect the rapid changes in technology and there are now nine different types of CCNA.
- CCNA Cloud
- CCNA Collaboration
- CCNA Cyber Ops
- CCNA Data Center
- CCNA Industrial
- CCNA Routing and Switching
- CCNA Security
- CCNA Service Provider
- CCNA Wireless
Unless you are already certain of your path you will probably choose the CCNA Routing and Switching exam. This is the original CCNA updated for modern times.
Why get CCNA certified?
Passing the CCNA exam takes effort, time, and expense, so why bother?
The CCNA certification is an industry recognised benchmark. It demonstrates an appreciation of the fundamentals of IP networking and proves to any prospective employer that you have the necessary knowledge in this area.
Not everyone who passes the CCNA becomes a Network Engineer who configures and troubleshoots Cisco devices on a daily basis. It is also the certification that opens doors for Network Administrators, Customer Managers, and many other roles.
Obtaining this certification is an assurance to the employer, the company’s customers, and yourself that you have reached a level of understanding that will enable you to do your job.
It gives you an advantage if you’re competing with others for a position. It is also leverage for a pay rise if you’re already employed.
How to get CCNA certified
Let’s assume you’ve elected to go down the Routing and Switching route. There are no prerequisites and you can take the exam whenever you feel ready.
Alternatively you can take two entry level exams which combine to give you the certification.
- 100-105 ICND1 – Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1)
- 200-105 ICND2 v3.0 – Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 2 (ICND2)
How to prepare for the CCNA exams
When I first started studying for the CCNA exam in 1999 there were very few resources available. Today there are too many to list. Of course it’s a big advantage to have so many options online but in order to make your exam preparation efficient you should choose one or two resources and stick with them. Jumping from one to another will only distract you and waste time.
Cisco themselves offer several e-learning options. There is free content to get you started but to view the full courses and all the videos you will need to pay one-off fees or subscriptions. It’s high quality training material straight from the people who provide the certification path so you know you’ll be getting the best tuition.
Independent online training is available from companies like INE.com. They have online courses for most Cisco certifications right up to CCIE. However, I see that another long standing provider has gone out of business. IP Expert is now offline.
Global Knowledge provide classroom courses all over the UK and in many other countries.
Personally, I find there is nothing better than the tried and trusted method of having a book in my hands. Let’s assume I was about to take the CCNA Routing and Switching exam again (I last did so in January 2014).
- Buy the latest CCNA Routing and Switching 200-125 Official Cert Guide Library by Wendell Odom (CCIE #1624) or a similar selection of CiscoPress.com guides. Make sure you’ve chosen the latest edition as they are revised and reprinted as the exam changes.
- Review the contents and work out a study program
- Set aside study time each day or at least 2-3 sessions per week
- Stick to the schedule and establish the routine
- Review the previous material before going on to the next
- Repeat until all the material has been covered
- Answer all the practice test questions
- Whether your answers are right or wrong make sure you understand the answers before moving on
- Other Ciscopress books are available. The Portable Command Guide is worthy supplement to the main study guides.
The above method works if you are renewing your certification or if you already have plenty of experience on Cisco IOS devices but you might be approaching the CCNA exam for the first time with little experience. In that case you will probably benefit from some training. I’ve listed a few options above.
You can self-sponsor or you might be able to persuade your employer to pay for a course, either external or online. External courses are the most expensive option. As well as the course fee there may be accommodation and travel costs as well. However, there are advantage to classroom study that cannot be obtained from e-learning. Being able to put questions to an instructor and have things explained until you fully understand them is invaluable.
Sitting the CCNA exam
Everybody loves taking an exam, right? OK, maybe not but there are some ways in which you can reduce the stress levels.
- Choose a time for your exam that suits you. I’m a morning person so I always choose exam times that are mid morning or thereabouts.
- Make sure you know how to find the testing centre and where to park. I once went to a testing centre in an unfamiliar town and spent anxious minutes driving around looking for somewhere to park only to find each car park was full.
- Allow enough time for your journey, parking, and going through the reception area. You may have to check in at the front desk, walk across a campus to another building and check in again in the testing centre on another floor.
- Don’t forget your ID. To prevent exam fraud you have to prove your identity with some photo ID like a passport or driving licence.
- Relax. Practice some deep, abdominal breathing. You’ve put the hours of study in so you will be able to answer most of the questions.
- Read the question slowly and read it twice. I say again, read the question twice. Like many others I have been caught out by questions that read differently on the second pass.
- Remember, these are questions about Cisco products and IOS. There can sometimes be a conflict between what you understand to be the answer and that which Cisco expects you to mark as correct.
How to deal with exam failure
I know the feeling. Been there, done that, got several t-shirts. Over the past 17 years or I’ve taken many Cisco exams. I don’t like to count how many I’ve failed. The important thing is that eventually I’ve gone back and taking the exam again and passed it.
That’s true of most of them. There are a few that I didn’t re-take due to changes in funding, position, and other circumstances.
Failure is disappointing. There is no way of sugar-coating it but as the old saying goes, it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get up again that counts.
If you fail your Cisco exam take break from the studies and do something you enjoy. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t give up, but take time to relax and have some fun. Forget about studies for a little while but don’t leave it too long. Take a short break but not so long that you lose momentum.
When you’re ready, pick up the score sheet and go over the feedback you received. It will give you some idea of where your knowledge was weak and you will probably know yourself which questions and what subjects you found difficult.
Work on those areas while checking that you are still comfortable with all the other subjects. Eventually you will feel ready for another attempt at the exam.
Passing the CCNA exam could be the first step in an IT career that lasts decades. With the evolution of networking technology there’s never been a better time to achieve this goal.
Please share this post with anyone you think might benefit from it and leave your experiences, feedback, and study tips in the comments section below.
Good luck with your exams!