CCNA the Ultimate Guide

The CCNA Certification is one of the most respected networking credentials in the world. If you’re looking for a qualification that cements your position as an industry leader, then this certificate is the way to go. The CCNA will act as a testament to your knowledge of running, configuring, and troubleshooting on an enterprise routed and switched network.

There are a range of CCNA exams beyond the core exam that is most commonly referred to (CCNA Routing and Switching). CCNA Cloud, CCNA Collaboration, CCNA Cyber Ops, CCNA Data Center, CCNA Industrial, CCNA Security, CCNA Service Provider, and CCNA Wireless are all other types of CCNA exams that you can take. However, the core CCNA certification is the one most commonly discussed.

The examination itself takes 90 minutes to complete. The exam covers the following topics:

  • Network Fundamentals
  • LAN Switching Technologies
  • Routing Technologies
  • WAN Technologies
  • Infrastructure Services
  • Infrastructure Security
  • Infrastructure Management

In the exam you will encounter content on the OSI model, IP addressing, routers, routing protocols, network security, and WAN/LAN network design. By completing the exam you will be able to signal to current and future employers that you have a tight grasp of these subjects and are ready to apply them within a live environment.

How do I Apply for the CCNA Exam?

In order to register for the CCNA you’ll need to contact Pearson VUE. Pearson VUE is a Cisco partner company that provides an exam environment for you in which to complete the test. You can register online. The CCNA costs $325 (£251). However, if you’re going the ICND1 and ICND2 exam route with two exams rather than one, you’ll need to pay $165 (£127) for each.

There are test locations available throughout the world. When registering for an exam you’ll need your legal name, your Cisco Certification ID or Test ID number, name of your company, email address, and payment method.

How are CCNA Exams Taken?

To take the CCNA exam you need to go to an authorized testing center. It is important to note that the test cannot be taken online. When attending the exam you’ll need to bring your identification. Nothing besides your ID will be permitted inside the testing center. Once in the exam, you’ll be provided with laminated paper and a marker pen to use for calculations and other notes during the exam.

The Exam(s): and What Happens Once you Pass the Exam

In order to get your certification, you need to pass one of two exams. These are the:

  • ICND1 Exam (100-101) and the ICND2 (200-101)
  • Combined CCNA Exam (200-120)

Once you’ve passed the exam you’ll be certified as CCNA approved for a period of three years. Once this three-year period expires you will need to take the exam again in order to maintain your certification. This format is why the CCNA is so highly regarded. By retesting certified professionals every three years Cisco makes sure that standards stay high. This is particularly important given the rate at which technology changes. Retesting forces you to keep up with the latest technological developments.

You also have the option to go one a step further into other advanced certifications like the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNA) certification.

Preparation for the Exam

Now even though anyone can take the CCNA, the exam itself is far from easy. If you don’t put in the time to study then you’re not going to pass. The length of time taken to prepare for the exam varies not just according to the ability and dedication of the person taking it but also whether they are self-taught or not. Working with an established course is likely to be your best way to prepare for the exam as you’ll have the help of an experienced professional to guide you through.

However, a CCNA class is likely to cost well over $1000. This is a high figure and has encouraged many pursuing certification to self-study instead. However, if you’d rather go it alone then there are enough free and paid resources out there to enable you to do just that. If you’re dedicated and study for several hours every day then you might be able to pass in one to two months.

Key Resources for Passing the CCNA

Now the CCNA is so popular that there are literally hundreds of online resources that you can call on to learn what you need to. Whether you prefer books, articles, courses, or videos you should be mixing up the content that you consume in order to ensure you have the widest knowledge. We’ve included a short list of some of the best CCNA books to help you through the initial stages of your studying:

How Difficult is the CCNA?

One of the most obvious things that will influence your decision to take the CCNA is the difficulty of the exam. The difficulty of the CCNA Routing and Switching exam largely depends on your knowledge and your expertise. However, if you’re not deeply intimate with Cisco technology then you’re going to need to learn a lot of new information.

The CCNA exam has a propensity for obscure information at times. This means that even if you study hard for a prolonged period of time you can still fail very easily. It is very easy to overlook small topics or pockets of knowledge that make a big difference on your final score. The difficulty of the exam is one of the reasons why people opt to take two exams (ICND1 and ICND2) instead of one. By splitting the CCNA exam into two exams, you can break down topics much more easily and target your reviewing accordingly.

Why Should I get Certified?

There are many benefits to obtaining a CCNA certification, all the way from pride and employability to a higher salary. The fact is that the CCNA is widely-respected and certificate holders have proof of substantial networking knowledge. As a result of that, knowledge administrators who pass the CCNA can command a higher salary than those without the certification.

Increase in Salary

The chance of a higher salary is one of the most common reasons why administrators decide to work towards a certification. According to a recent survey, the average salary range for a CCNA was $39,000-$119,000 (£30,226-£92,225). Similarly, according to Cisco the average salary for CCNA is $79,942 (£61,995) .

Generally speaking, a less-advanced certification like the A+ will start you at roughly $30,000 (£23,250) and the CCNA can start you at around $40,000 (£31,000). It is important to note that you also have a career path where earnings can grow substantially into a six-figure range as well. This is even more true if you use the CCNA to step into another advanced certification.

Access More Advanced Certifications

Of course, once you get the CCNA exam under your belt you don’t have to rest on your laurels; you can go straight into getting other certifications. Additional Cisco certifications such as the CCIE, CCNP, CCNA Security, and CCNA Wireless will allow you to build your knowledge even further. This will not only help you during your day-to-day work but will also help to set the path for further career progression and salary increases down the line.

Building Your Knowledge

One of the clearest motivations for taking the CCNA is simply to improve your knowledge. There are no entry requirements in place to stop you from taking the exam. Even if you’re completely new to network administration you can make a start and learn the skills to make you a successful administrator. You’ll be learning a mix of practical and theoretical knowledge that you can take with you for the rest of your career.

Potential Job Opportunities

Passing the CCNA puts you in a bracket of professionals with verified knowledge of networking and network administration. The career paths gained by doing the CCNA are quite wide and you’ll often see network engineers, technicians, support engineers, administrators, and analysts holding CCNA exams. While the responsibilities of your job vary from position to position these are the typical titles for which the CCNA opens up doors.

Why Shouldn’t I take the Exam?

Though the CCNA exam still has a lot to over potential candidates, there are a number of reasons why the CCNA isn’t as prestigious as it used to be. While the CCNA does still hold a real value in terms of helping you understand basic networking concepts, it is important to be realistic about the limitations of this certification.

  • The CCNA is Becoming Outdated

The world of networking has changed at a staggering rate with the growth in new technologies, VOIP phone systems, cloud services, and SDN disrupting the traditional concepts laid down in the CCNA exam. The traditional networking approach that is espoused in CCNA Routing and Switching is enough to give you a grasp of the fundamentals, but it isn’t enough to help you navigate this fast-moving landscape alone.

  • CCNA Provides You With Limited Knowledge

As a result, there is a big gap in the networking knowledge that you gain from the CCNA exam and that which you need to become a networking specialist. When going into the CCNA it is important to note that you will need to develop additional skills and expertise if you are to get the most out of your career. While the CCNA does still hold a strong degree of respect in the networking community don’t make the mistake of thinking this qualification is enough to carry you.

  • You Need to Invest Lots of Time and Money

In order to pass the CCNA exam, you need to invest a substantial amount of time and money into your preparation. Passing the CCNA exam comes down to hours of practice and unless you know Cisco technology very well you’re not going to be able to sidestep this process. You also have no guarantee that you will achieve certification even if you put the hours in every day.

Do I need a Lab to Study for My CCNA Exam? (And Can I Use a Simulator Instead?!)

One of the most frequently asked questions by aspiring CCNA’s is whether or not a lab is essential to passing the CCNA. While you don’t need a lab in order to complete the exam you are advised to use a home lab. If you have experience with Cisco products skipping the lab isn’t the worst thing in the world but if your experience here is limited then you’re definitely going to want to get your hands on a home lab.

The reason is that the CCNA exam is heavily-based on your fluency with Cisco equipment such as routers and switches. If you can’t actually monitor these components within a live network environment then you’re not going to pass the CCNA. Incorporating labs into your study is almost always going to benefit you when it comes to the day of the exam.

If you don’t want to opt for the lab route then you can use simulators instead. Simulators imitate the behavior of real routers and switches to give you a mock-up monitoring environment. This is better than no lab work but it doesn’t have the same capabilities as your standard lab. Simulators also have a habit of interjecting auto correction and preventing you from making your own mistakes.

You want to bear in mind that there is a big difference between configuring a real router and configuring one on a network simulator. If you only have experience with simulated routers then the first time you interact with a real one is likely to be a nerve-wracking experience. Practicing on a network lab provides you with an opportunity to build your confidence so you’re ready to perform when you reach a live environment.

Online Community

One of the best courses of action to take if you want to undertake the CCNA is to join the community that surrounds it. There are many different forums online dedicated to sharing information, insights, and resources on the CCNA exam. These also provide areas for you to converse with like-minded professionals and to ask your own questions about the exam.

Two of the best online community’s include the Cisco Learning Network and the CCNA subreddit on Reddit. These forums are active with lots of users. While online communities can be an excellent resource you’re going to want to double-check some of the information you see with more official choices just to make sure it’s correct. While nine times out of ten there won’t be any issues, you can’t verify the knowledge of everyone you come into contact with online so checking up with an official resource is a good way to cross reference.

CCNA: Worth The Struggle  

As you can see the process for starting the CCNA exam is straightforward. There are no restrictions on entry and so long as you apply and pay the exam fee you’ll be able to take the test regardless of your current certifications. Once you’ve applied it is on you to study hard for the big day. Even though the CCNA is a large commitment, it is a winnable battle.

Whether you opt for self-study or you enroll in a class you’ll get there so long as you work hard. The CCNA isn’t something you can pass with only a partial investment in time and you’ll need to give your best if you are to succeed. When you get your certification you’ll be more than rewarded by the increase in knowledge, prospects, and salary that comes with your new found expertise.

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