Networking certification how-to

These networking certification steps focus on what materials you need, what practice tests are best, and what kind of schedule you should put in place in order to pass your exam and certify. If you are a nervous test-taker, these steps also cover how to handle each test question.

Certification preparation is an in-depth process. Sure, you could go out and purchase Q&A papers from some of the popular test material sites; but if you do not truly understand the underlying processes (why a particular answer is correct and why the others are wrong), then the information in your head would be good only for the test and not for real-world application.

I guess you could say I am old-school in that I believe in the four paths to learning (seeing, hearing, speaking and, most importantly, doing). Each path builds upon the other, leading to the desired result: confidence in understanding the topic.

I am currently prepping for the 70-290 and 70-291 Microsoft exams. The methods and resources I use to prepare for these exams are the same as those I used for my existing MCP.

  NOTE: Try to schedule your test about 30 days out. Paying for something in advance is a great motivator for dedicating the time to study.

Recommended resources:

Reading material:

  • Microsoft Press and Sybex Study Guides are excellent resources.
  • Take copious notes, hitting all the high points and testing subject areas.
  • Make flash cards for quick Q&A.
  • Lab:
    At home, I have a computer lab that I use to install, configure and practice essential skills related to the testing guidelines.

    Repetition is the key here; the more familiar I am with a process, the more easily I can recall it when trying to determine an answer to a test question.

    Online resources:

  • If a home lab is not a viable option, the Microsoft TechNet Virtual Labs are an excellent resource for hands-on experience with the operating system.
  • For other exams, like the Cisco CCNA, the CCNA Prep Center is an excellent resource. Registration is required but is free.
  • Practice tests:
    Probably by far the best practice tests are from Transcender. I recommend taking these first in order to get used to the testing format and gauge where you are in the preparation process.

    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.

    Once you pass the Transcender exams with a score in the 900 range, you are ready to go.

    As you go through the practice tests, revisit areas where you are weak and then retake the tests. Each Transcender offers enough tests to mix up the questions pretty well without having many repeated questions, which will ultimately skew your results.

    Taking the test:

    The night before the test, make sure that you get plenty of rest. Cramming now is not going to help; it will only muddy the waters by trying to cram additional information into your already-full head. Get up early and have a good breakfast. Make certain you get to the test center at least 15 to 20 minutes early. After all, you paid all that money and dedicated the time to studying, so the last thing you want to do is miss your scheduled test time.

    Breathe deeply and relax. Take all questions for what they are and do not read too far into them. When you are going through the answers, eliminate the distracters and then choose the best answer from what remains. It is OK to review your questions, but going back and changing answers is statistically a bad idea. Your first instinct is usually correct.

    These steps have helped me pass my certifications. I hope my advice helps you journey successfully down the certification path.

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

    About the author

    Paul D. Oneill has worked in the Information Technology industry for over 14 years. In addition to degrees in Information Systems Security and Network Systems Technology; Paul holds numerous certifications including ISC2's CISSP, CompTIA's Security+, Microsoft's MCP on Windows 2003 and he is a TripWire Certified Engineer. Currently, Paul is the Information Security Engineer for Edfinancial Services, a $7 billion servicing organization for student loans. Paul also enjoys teaching and is a Microsoft Learning Academy instructor for National College of Business & Technology located in Knoxville, TN.
    This was last published in July 2007

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