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Preparing for the CCNA Exam

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Preparing for the CCNA Exam

Photo © Cisco Systems, Inc.

Photo © Cisco Systems, Inc.
Getting Started

Cited consistently by recruiters and hiring managers as one of the most sought-after certifications in the IT industry, the CCNA is one of the most valuable certifications you can have on your resume. Moreover, it’s required for most higher-level Cisco certifications like the CCNP and CCDP (and, by extension, the CCIE). Earning the CCNA demonstrates that you have the ability to configure and support a range of Cisco network devices, along with a strong general knowledge of networking, network security, and wireless networking – all of which are required to support the modern enterprise network.

But before you can become a CCNA, you need to pass Cisco exam 640-802 (or, alternately, exams 640-822 and 640-816 together), which is required in order to earn the certification. The CCNA exam is challenging, and passing it definitely requires a lot of work and effort. But with the right focus and preparation, passing the CCNA exam is an achievable goal. To get you started, here are some tips to use in preparing for your CCNA examination.

Set a Course of Study

The first order of business should be to set the direction for your individual study. Cisco offers a syllabus for the CCNA certification, with a list of topics that are covered. Review this list, print it out and post it, and use it as your guide in crafting your personal course of study. Remember – if it's not on the syllabus, it's not on the exam, so limit your studies to the topics that Cisco highlights.

Identify Your Weaknesses

A good next step is to identify those areas where you’re weakest (hint: try a practice exam to help identify those areas), and make them the focus of your study and practice. Highlight those areas, and set a specific goal towards gaining a good understanding of each. Don’t necessarily neglect your areas of strength completely (you don’t want to forget what you’ve already learned!), but by turning your weaknesses into strengths you can dramatically increase your chances of passing the CCNA exam.

Make Time for Study

The CCNA isn’t an easy exam to pass, and it covers a lot of ground. And, like any technical discipline, if you don’t work at it on a consistent basis, your knowledge and skills will fade. Set aside a consistent, regular time for study, and make sure that you keep to it. Granted, it can be hard to keep this time blocked out, especially with all of the daily responsibilities and distractions that we all deal with. But the key to passing the CCNA is frequent and consistent study and practice, so it’s critical that you set this time aside, limit your distractions, and stick to the task at hand.

Focus on the Details

It’s not enough to know the theory behind the concepts presented in the CCNA curriculum. To successfully pass the CCNA exam, you need to how to complete tasks and understand how things get done in the world of Cisco. That’s an important point, because general networking concepts and the way Cisco does things are not always the same – so it’s important to understand the details and specific methods and procedures for implementing different networking technologies, within the Cisco environment.

Get Access to Gear

This point can't be stressed enough. A big portion of the CCNA exam consists of completing tasks on simulated routers and switches, just as you’ll do them in real life. That’s why it’s critical that you get practice time (preferably a lot of it) on Cisco equipment, so that you can implement what you study within the actual Cisco IOS environment. You can buy or rent pre-configured sets of actual Cisco routers and switches that contain all of the equipment you’ll need to practice for the exam, and these sets are not as expensive as you might think.

Also, there are also some excellent simulators out there, that let you configure virtual routers and switches from your personal computer. Take a look at Packet Tracer, which is an excellent tool available from the Cisco Academy, and Graphical Network Simulator 3 (GNS3), which is a free open-source tool that provides a simulated Cisco IOS environment (you can also use it to simulate the Juniper JunOS platform as well).

Practice All of the Topics on the Exam, Firsthand

Once your practice environment is up and running, make sure you take full advantage of it and practice implementing every protocol and configuration possible, so that you can see how everything works on the actual gear. Remember, things in real life don’t always work the same as they do 'on paper', and just because a book or guide tells you that a given configuration will produce a given result, nothing beats seeing it for yourself, especially on those (hopefully rare) occasions when the books get it wrong.

The key to passing the CCNA exam is preparation, and lots of it. To pass the test, you’ll need to understand networking theory, facts and practice, and be able to readily utilize the Cisco IOS interface, including specific commands and syntax. But, if you take the time to truly learn the material and get to know your way around Cisco routers and switches beforehand, you should find the test relatively easy to pass.

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