CCNA: Hints & Tips

Cisco Certified Network Associate

A Bit About My Journey and CCNA…

Hey, I am Jack, a network engineer at Opticore. In November 2022, I undertook the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) exam and passed it successfully.

After months of contemplation, I finally took the plunge. I acquired my first Cisco official certification guide during my placement year at university and was determined to continue studying after Cisco revised the certification specifications. Previously, Cisco had separate CCNA pathways for routing & switching, security, wireless, data centre, and some others.

But you don’t have to be like me, putting things off because, after all, the CCNA exam was not as bad as expected! CCNA is Cisco’s associate-level certification, intended for network enthusiasts who are interested in pursuing a career in networking, or are working in a network role and want to obtain their first certification to boost their status and, most importantly, knowledge.

The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and tests you on a breadth of networking knowledge – from routing and switching to wireless, with a hint of security too, alongside all the other foundational network topics. Cisco changing their certification specification has ensured that their certifications are up-to-date and relevant to the new world of networking we are entering.

CCNA Unveiled: Navigating the Basics and Where to Begin

If, like I was, you are considering taking the CCNA certification, then you must be prepared to put in the effort and study. There’s the memorise-and-pass route, or the learn, adapt, and become a great engineer route. I know which one I’d rather take!

You need to be prepared to learn the content and practice it. With that said, I found the best place to begin was the CCNA official certification guide, which can be purchased online. The guide provides an in-depth explanation of the certification and learning material on all topics covered. If you are not a reader, there are other methods, and ideally, you want the one that works for you. For example, if you’re a visual learner, you could use CBT Nuggets, NetworkLessons, Keith Barker’s YouTube channel, or Network Chuck’s YouTube channel.

If you are completely new to networking, I would recommend starting from the bottom. Cisco’s exam topic list provides information on what the exam will test you on (there’s a link to this resource at the bottom of this post). If you are relatively new to networking, my recommendation would be to focus on working your way through the first three main topics, along with their subtopics:

  • Network Fundamentals
  • Network Access
  • IP Connectivity,

If you are a seasoned network engineer, then I would recommend looking at all the topics and sub-topics and rating yourself on a scale based on how proficient you believe yourself to be in each. Start working on topic areas where you may need to brush up.

CCNA Topic list

Plunge into Placement: A Catalyst for Growth

The real-world knowledge I gained working in a networking role during my placement year at university, coupled with my CCNA study, really helped me grasp concepts taught in the CCNA. My point? For anyone considering taking the certification, ensure you have some way of applying the knowledge learned to a practical scenario, even if that means picking up an old Cisco switch off the internet or installing Packet Tracer, though I’d also recommend looking into EVE-ng or GNS3.

The CCNA Exam Gauntlet: Preparing for Success

As well as the suggestion of purchasing a physical kit or installing a virtual instance, it is important to understand the other strategies and challenges faced. Everyone will have their own personal learning style, but the below strategies worked a treat for me:

Strategies:

  • Have a study routine and stick to it.
  • Ask for help from a friend or family member who has taken the certification. If not, there are plenty of online forums for discussion.
  • Learn to love subnetting!
  • Practice, practice, practice – take online practice exams. The official certification guides usually come with practice test software. Boson is also a good practice test software.
  • Accept the fail. This exam is not meant to be easy and will test your knowledge on several topics, which can be challenging to grasp. If you fail, get back up and go again, practicing those topics on which you were not so strong. Cisco may provide a breakdown; for me, I did not get one, but other people I know have.

Challenges:

  • Breadth of topics – the pathways now being combined into one exam means you have more topics to learn and grasp.
  • Answering the Cisco way – some of the questions asked by Cisco are looking for best practices even if other answers would achieve the same result.

Benefits of CCNA

The CCNA provides beneficial attributes to professional and personal growth. It is a signal for employers and peers that you have persistence and resilience by overcoming challenges in study and identifying weak areas to improve on. CCNA also allows for validation of best practices when working with Cisco equipment, though most technologies learned will be transferable. The key benefit is that it provides a comprehensive knowledge base, allowing you to feel more confident in your networking journey.

To Conclude

My venture into the CCNA realm underscores the transformative power of dedication and practical application in the realm of networking. The journey from contemplation to success in the November 2022 CCNA exam has been a dynamic exploration. Whether demystifying the exam’s approachability, delving into fundamental topics, or intertwining real-world experience with theoretical knowledge, the CCNA journey is an enriching odyssey. People who wish to sit this exam are encouraged to approach it with a blend of structured preparation, peer support, and an acceptance of the learning curve, ensuring not just certification success but a profound understanding of networking intricacies crucial for thriving in this evolving field.

 

Read this post to learn how to tackle the CWNE exam

CCNA Exam Topic List