CCNA certification: When to study, what to read

For Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) certification, learn what to read, and how and when to study, in this advice column from one of our CCNP Video Mentor contest contributors.

This networking certification advice was one of the contest-winning pieces selected from's CCNP Video Mentor contest.

A few years ago, I had lost my driver's license and with it my job. After a few months of searching, I eventually found a new job, but getting there and back meant an hour and a half each day on the train and a two mile walk to the office from the station.

Networking certification advice from the trenches

Certification preparation: Locate good reading material, resources, and practice tests for any networking exam.

How to pass your exams: No matter which exam you're trying to pass, this bulleted advice will help.

CCNA exam plan: Know the best CCNA resources, and read how to mentally prepare for your CCNA.

Network+ exam plan: Learn how to study and read your Network+ material.

Your certification game plan: This covers online tests, lab setups and lists of activities to complete A+, Network+, CCNA, MCSA and Linux certifications.

CCNA studying: Understand studying time restraints here.

I quickly realized I needed a way of killing time until I got to work -- there was no way I was going to spend 3+ hours of my day staring out of a train window at a blur and having no choice but to listen to someone else's music blaring out of their earphones.

My network manager at the time had mentioned studying for my CCNA, as there were only a few people there with any real routing/switching knowledge. So I decided that day to go out and buy one of the many CCNA books that were available.

After reading the first chapter, I realized how interesting it all was and wondered why I hadn't decided to learn the information properly before. A week after buying the book, I logged onto Amazon (they always have a great deal for CCNA study guides) and bought the CCNA Intro and ICND books by Wendell Odem, as well as the Boson CCNA simulator.

On my way to and from work for the next two months, I had no choice but to read both of the books cover to cover, and I still had time to re-read anything I wasn't sure of or couldn't remember. (It's one thing remembering information, but the key is to understand it too.) I used the walk to the office from the station mentally going over configurations that I'd seen on the train and seeing whether I could remember what was needed.

As soon as I felt confident that I knew the information in the books, I installed the simulator onto my laptop. I then went through all of the exercises again and again until I only needed to look at the scenario requirements and I was able to configure the equipment without any aids and in a pretty short time!

I booked the exam for a week later and spent the remaining time using the exam simulator that came with the study guides. After that, I took the exam and passed it without any problems. I would encourage anyone thinking of taking the exam to go for it, but try and find somewhere quiet for an hour or two a day or -- like me -- somewhere you have no way of escaping quickly.

The CCNA will provide you with the foundations you need to pursue almost any certification with Cisco and will also give you enough knowledge to feel confident when talking to your peers.

I'm now halfway through my CCNP and have no intention of stopping anytime soon. I still find everything I learn or do within the networking field interesting and at times challenging!

I hope this helps!

This was first published in August 2007

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