I did it! Recall after completing my CCNA Routing and Switching I started right in on my CCDA. That was just five months ago! It hasn’t been a solid five months of studying and preparation, with the holidays and all, but I put in a solid effort and was very happy with the outcome on Friday, February 1st when I completed the 200-310 exam.
I think part of my success is mainly due to coming hot off of my preparations for the CCNA. There is a lot of content around spanning tree and routing protocols that overlaps with the two exams. I appreciate that this exam went deeper into the how’s and why’s. For example, the CCNA just barely mentions IS-IS and BGP. However, the CCDA goes much further into both of these topics. Nothing at all on specific router commands on how to configure these protocols, but more on the metrics, how to use them to pick the best or preferred routes, and of course where they are put to best use.
Now, I’ve been planning to do this track for some time. I picked up my CCDA book at my first Cisco Live event in 2017. It’s the Cisco Press Official Cert guide for the 200-310. I knew then that after completing my CCNA that the CCDA is where I wanted to go next. I’ve always had an appreciation for proper network design, and that may be because I’ve worked in, and seen, some pretty poorly designed networks throughout my career.
In the back of the book was an envelope and in there was a special code to get the purchaser a massive discount on the premium version of the text, which gave me access to digital copies of the book, including a PDF and ePub versions. Additionally, I got access to additional content like blank versions of all the tables throughout the text, and a completed copy. (This was called Appendix E and proved to be an amazing resource to help me memorize important exam topics.) There was also a practice exam engine which ended up being a huge help!
In addition to the book and the practice exams, I also read various CVDs, or Cisco Validated Designs. The CVDs really helped to put the architectures I was learning about into context. I also read about a lot of best practices on implementation as well that I was previously unaware of.
Lastly, just like my CCNA preparations I also used Pluralsight to prepare for the CCDA. Two experienced network designers, Sean Wilkins, and Leigh Bogardis joined forces from two very different parts of the world and created an excellent course that leads the viewer through all of the topics that would be on the exam and to make them more prepared to design real-world networks. What I most appreciated about this course is that they often went deeper on subjects than what was needed for the exam. Just that little bit of information often helped me better understand the subject.
Now if you’re looking for a brain dump, I’m not going to do it. But what I will tell you about the CCDA exam is that it is unlike a track like the CCNA where you are expected to know how to configure and troubleshoot. As the name implies this exam is about design, so knowing architectures like Enterprise Campus, Collapsed core, and Branch designs are essential. How to plan for high availability and redundancy. When and where to redistribute between routing protocols. Even proper IPv4 and IPv6 design are very critical topics on this exam. You still have to know subnetting for this exam!
So, to adequately prepare I first studied the objectives found here on the Cisco Learning Network. This is how you should start any exam preparation really. Then, I watched the video course. In parallel, I read about the same topics in the book. This leads to some jumping around, but ultimately it was an excellent way to build on top of the various subjects. I used the “Do I already know this quizzes” found at the beginning of each chapter to assess my knowledge and practice. There are also additional questions located at the back of each chapter. I also used the practice exam engine that came with the book and focused on just the sections I was learning about at that time.
As time went on, I would take a day and go back and review a previously studied chapter so the topics would not go stale.
I scheduled my exam about a month out. I knew exactly where and when I was going to take it. A couple times a week I would put myself in exam mode at the time I was scheduled to take the exam. I’d disconnect from the world, lock myself in my office, put the exam engine in practice mode – which just means you don’t know if you got the question right until after you’ve answered all of the questions. You also cannot go back to a question you’ve already answered. Very similar to the actual exam experience. This tactic, I believe, helped me to feel really prepared to take the exam when the time came. I felt a little nervous but a lot less anxious compared to other times I’ve sat for certification exams.
Well, of course, I passed, otherwise I might not be writing this article. But beyond the passing score, I was just really pleased with how well this process prepared me to take the exam and helped me with my career path. While I didn’t ace the exam, I believe I scored exceptionally high and I’m of course thrilled to now have my CCDA. I didn’t feel like there were any topics on the exam that I was not prepared to see.
Well, for me on my certification journey I’ve decided to tackle the CCNP Route Switch, and I’ll be starting with 300-115 SWITCH exam. I’ve already got my books, and I’m diving right in, so stay tuned!