I recently completed my CCNA and I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it will help someone achieve their goals.
The journey for me started last year at Cisco Live in Las Vegas. It was my first Cisco Live and with a full attendee conference pass you get a free voucher for an exam. I decided to attempt the CCNA Route Switch, or 200-125 exam. I put in a little bit of study time but wasn’t terribly concerned with passing it, since it was a free shot. It would be a good experience for me regardless of the outcome because I had never sat for a certification exam.
On exam day I went in and took the exam. I didn’t pass, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised with my results as I scored higher than I felt I would. This gave me the motivation to dive right in.
Upon my return from Cisco Live I started watching the CCNA series on Pluralsight, by Ross Bagurdes. We had a Pluralsight subscription through work. Ross is a great teacher and his videos are fantastic, but the series will NOT teach you everything you need to know to pass the CCNA. I found this out on my second attempt. I scored much higher than the first time I took the exam, but not enough to pass…
Try, try again
I had fallen off the horse but I was more motivated to get back up and try again. This time I used a combination of Pluralsight videos and text. I purchased a Cisco Press book called 31 Days before your CCNA exam. It’s a study guide that prepares someone who has some experience with Routing and Switching. It lays a really solid path for studying such as the order materials should be read, starting with foundational topics and building up from there. It also recommends when to go back and re-read sections and when to take practices quizzes and exams to gauge how well you’re absorbing the material.
This time I also found some free online exam prep tools, like LearnCisco.net. Pluralsight also had a deal with Kaplan for practice exams. Between LearnCisco.net and the Kaplan exams I was getting exceedingly high practice exam scores and just thought that this time around I was going to nearly ace my CCNA.
On exam day I started taking the exam and I was feeling really confident about my answers. Even the simulation questions I felt great about because I had the commands down and was easily finding the information out that I needed to answer the questions. Then about half way through I hit some questions on RIP, and then some really in depth questions on EIGRP, and then some specific questions on APIC-EM. These questions shook me. I expected these topics to appear on the exam but not at the level of detail in which they were presented to me. I hadn’t encountered questions of this depth in any of my practice exams, nor in any of the content that I read/watched.
I had failed the exam again. During a time when I was sure that this was my time to pass. This time I really felt like I was going to succeed.
I immediately rescheduled my exam. I was shaken, but I didn’t want to give up… or so I thought anyway.
Attempting the ICND-1
After the last failure I found it very hard to want to dive back in to studying. I didn’t know where to start. What felt so good last time had ultimately resulted in failure. I was shaken worse than I thought I was. For 7 months I kept rescheduling the exam. Anxious about the very idea of taking it again.
Before too long Cisco Live was approaching again. I attended again this year and again I got free voucher for an exam. Now, I already had the 200-125 exam scheduled and Pearson Vue wouldn’t let me schedule it again. So, I thought I’d attempt the 100-105 exam, or the ICND-1.
You can achieve your CCNA Route Switch in two different ways. You can take the full CCNA, or 200-125 exam, or you can take the 100-105 exam, or ICND-1 and earn your CCENT, or Cisco Certified Entry Level Technician, and then take the 200-105 exam, the ICND-2.
As the conference approached I got back into my old study routines, hitting the books nightly, reading and watching at work when I could. On exam day I sat down and took my time answering the questions that I encountered. I hit a few questions I just didn’t know the answer to, but I tried to use the knowledge I was confident in to answer the questions.
As I neared the end of the exam I started thinking “I may just pass this…” Upon completion of my last question I moved through to the scoring page and saw that not only did I pass, but I scored very high! It was all I could do to stop my self from jumping up and shouting in the middle of a very large room full of people taking exams that were probably much harder than the one I had just completed.
My wife got me that awesome shirt, which I have worn to sit every attempt I’ve made thus far.
Onto the ICND-2!
So now I was bound and determined to finish my CCNA Route Switch. It was really a goal I had had ever since I entered into my IT career. I had studied off and on but didn’t always work somewhere that had Cisco technology and my focus was on finishing college, and then starting a family. Now that my kids are a little bit older I have some free time back to be able to put some serious study time into certs.
So, I kept watching the Pluralsight videos because every pass on watching the videos I picked up something that I didn’t pick up the previous session. I also found two new books that came highly rated. Cisco CCNA Simplied: Your Complete Guide to Passing the Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching Exam and the 101 Labs for the Cisco CCNA Exam. Both books are by Paul Browning and they are just great books! They approach each topic to the level of depth, and sometimes a little beyond, required for the CCNA exam.
I had a really good routine of watching videos, reading the book, and completing labs. For my labs I just used Cisco Packet Tracer. Not all of the IOS commands work the same as they do on a real router or switch, but as long as you’re aware of that for the exam you’ll be just fine, and it’s only a handful of commands. Packet Tracer is free but you just need to sign up for a free Cisco Network Academy account.
I finally sat for my ICND-2 exam in late September (just over a week ago from this blog post) and I passed! This completes my CCNA Route Switch Certification!
So, out of all that, if you’re going for your CCNA I have a few recommendations for you.
- Read the exam syllabus. Every Cisco Certification has an associated syllabus that shows you everything you will encounter on the exam. These are periodically updated along with the exams. So, over the course of your preparations I would go back and double-check the syllabus to make sure that if it has been updated you study the new content before sitting for your exam.
2. Make sure you’re using updated study materials. The latest update of the CCNA, which is v3, is the biggest update to the CCNA since the CCNA was created! Using older study guides and materials will only get you about 70% of the way there, and that’s not a passing score.
3. Use more than one source. Different instructors have different styles that speak better to one student over others. Don’t just get one book and hope that it will cover everything, because it may not. I’ve read a lot of different books but the way that Ross teaches sub-netting in his videos just made the topic finally click for me. But there were certainly other topics that Ross didn’t do a great job of covering that I found that Paul did in his books.
4. Make the investment. Yes the books are expensive. If you choose to purchase lab gear that’s expensive too. The exams themselves are expensive and hopefully these are all things Cisco will address. However, obtaining these industry recognized certifications is not only a financial investment, it’s an investment in yourself and in your career. The Cisco Exams may be vendor specific, but – I’ve got news for you – a lot of vendors copy Cisco. And Cisco is opening their once proprietary protocols up for public consumption. So getting your CCNA won’t put you at a huge disadvantage if you’re working with another vendor’s gear. So don’t try to cheap and grab free materials off the internet. Obtaining these certifications will pay off for you.
Finally, don’t stop. I’m not stopping. It’s been less than a week since I passed my exam and I’ve already dove in on the next book and cert, the CCDA.
Well, hopefully someone will be able to benefit from my experience. If you’re reading this article I thank you for stopping by my blog and I wish you all the best on your next exam!