Cisco has long been the gold standard for networking, and their certifications are no different. Every industry out there will have at some point touched a Cisco networking device and understanding how they work and being able to manage them is a huge benefit to you as a professional. The Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) is billed as an entry level type of certification but it is far from that. There are two different routes available to those who wish to become CCNA certified, one all-inclusive exam encompassing both the ICND-1 and ICND-2 material, or two separate exams, one covering ICND-1 and one covering ICND-2 material. Just trying to figure out which route to take is a whole other blog post for another time, but it is crucial and will either make your path easier or more difficult.
The CCNA certification is right up there with the VCP and MCSE in my book, they are certs you should have if you are in IT. The majority of tech job listings out on ClearanceJobs.com will have at least one if not all of those keywords in their resume search. Passing the CCNA exam is an uphill battle, but if you find the right resources it can be much easier. Below are some of the best resources available to you in order to help you succeed in getting the certification and solidifying your understanding of Cisco Internetworking technologies.
ccna exam In-Person Classroom Training
Some will skewer me for pushing this, but I cannot stress enough the importance of having in class, live instruction from an expert on CCNA. These classes are not cheap, however most companies will support your endeavor by paying for your training and certification exam. The most important factor in deciding which training company to employ for your CCNA is to look at the instructor to student ratio. The lower you can get the ratio the better. I had a nightmare experience once when I took a CCNA boot camp that had a 50:1 ratio student to teacher. I shared a single workstation with 3 individuals and we had to share each lab exercise, and not one of us had full keyboard access the whole class (needless to say I bombed my first attempt). Some good resource can be found at New Horizons, Intense School and Global Knowledge.
CCNA Practice Exams/Simulators
In the CCNA exam, you will be tested by multiple choice questions as well as scenario/lab based questions. There are usually 4 or 5 lab based questions where you will be configuring a router or switch simulator according to the scenario given. Some of the labs are configuration based, while some are break/fix based. Either way, you need to be prepared with some experience interacting with Cisco equipment. For most, the ability to have free reign to practice with real Cisco equipment will be difficult to come by. Thank goodness for exam simulators and router simulators. There are so many practice exams available on the web, but the best thing you can do is find a good router sim to get some hands on experience with the equipment. There are not many free options but the investment in a router sim will pay dividends when it comes to exam time. The best router sim options available are NetSim by Boson, Simulation Exams, and Cisco Packet Tracer. Download and study the CCNA exam blueprint to figure out what lab scenarios need to be studied in depth and then use your simulator to get some good practice in.
Go Old School: Flashcards
Call them old school, but flashcards are a great resource to help you prepare to pass your CCNA exam. Think back to college or high school when you were trying to remember key points in class, chances are at some point you used flashcards. You can go out and buy some 3×5 index cards and create your own, or you can download some free ones from sites such as Flash Card Machine or Internetwork Training. On Amazon you can purchase CCNA flashcards that are also very helpful if you don’t feel like creating your own. According to Brainscape, “Flashcards engage ‘active recall’ in which you look at the front side of a flashcard and think of the answer. Also, flashcards are known to utilize your metacognitive faculties, which means when you look at the answer side of the flashcard you assess your correctness… this helps to ingrain memories deeper into your knowledge.”
Books are a great tool in helping to prepare you for the CCNA exam. Todd Lammle’s CCNA study guides are known to be some of the best resources out there in book form. Todd puts a lot of work into his study guides and keeps them updated with newer editions coming out as updates to the exam are created. A good book will encompass most of the resources listed in the post, flashcards (usually in digital form), a learning CD or link to an online set of learning resources and practice questions. A quick search on Amazon for CCNA books will return a solid list of books that will definitely help you pass the exam.
Put it All Together to pass the exam
A successful exam preparation approach will include some if not all of the resources listed above. You cannot simply read a book and sit for the exam, if you do, that just means that you already have a strong understanding of internetworking with Cisco devices and you have lots of hands on experience. For most, a solid study plan that includes a class, a book or two, flashcards, lab simulators and practice exam questions is required to be successful on the exam. The CCNA is definitely attainable but will require discipline and the application of the resources listed here to come away certified.