The Cisco CCNA exam is considered by many to be the premier IT certification and with good reason. Cisco has ensured the quality and relevance of the exam by continually polling their customers to find out what skills they consider important for their network engineers.
Even though it’s considered an entry-level networking certification, it has a 50% first-time pass rate, so it is not to be taken lightly. For this reason, we need to dig into what this certification is and what it can do for you.
Almost every IT equipment vendor offers certification exams testing students on both common networking protocols and services, and their implementation, be it commands you can type on the CLI (Command Line Interface) or their GUI (Graphical User Interface) and Cisco are no different.
Having a certification program enhances the company brand but also helps produce subject matter experts who can support, install and troubleshoot their equipment, thus reducing support loads. In return, vendors often offer discounts to companies employing certified individuals as well as enhanced support options.
CCNA Exam – From A to Z
What is the CCNA Exam?
The CCNA stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate, and passing it demonstrates that you can support a small network hosting common routing protocols such as OSPF and services such as DHCP, NAT, and CDP. You should be able to install a simple wireless network as well as LAN and WAN.
The CCNA exam is generally considered entry-level, although there is a Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) certification, very few have heard of it. The CCNA exam is offered three tracks which are reduced from the previous seven or eight:
- CCNA Enterprise -routing and switching track
- Cisco CyberOps Associate – security and
- Cisco DevNet Associate – network automation
Each exam has its own syllabus, exam code and has no requirements before you sit them. It’s strongly recommended you have Network+ level knowledge before you take any of these exams, so you have a good grounding in internetworking principles.
Depending upon the exam you choose, you will have to answer questions from the syllabus topics as well as configure or troubleshoot hands-on labs. This could be in the form of a router emulator, or you might just see output from routers or switches and have to answer questions based upon what you see.
We’ll focus on the CCNA Enterprise track for now, which is also called the CCNA – Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA). I won’t paste the syllabus here, but if you visit the below URL, you will be taken to the Cisco CCNA pages.
Cisco doesn’t reveal specific details, but generally, you can expect:
- Questions – 102 approx
- Exam code – CCNA 200-301
- Time – 90 minutes
- Pass mark – approx 85% (840/1000 points)
- Cost – $300 USD
You can sit the exam at any approved testing center or online but check that you meet the conditions. The authorised vendor is:
You can just rock up and take the exam in person or online but, unless you are already skilled all the syllabus areas you may want to consider investing in some preparation materials. You can spend a small fortune here so adust according to your budget.
As a bare minimum you should have one study guide. You can choose from the exam vendor i.e. Cisco Press but they have now split the books you need into two (although there is only one exam) so you will end up paying more. Some also don’t rate the Cisco Press manuals due to lack of follow-along labs and typos.
Other vendors include Sybex or smaller vendors such as Reality Press who produce Cisco CCNA Simplified and Cisco CCNA in 60 Days.
We recommend you have one printed book as your main study guide and one in Kindle format you can refer to for another perspective on the same topics.
We strongly recommend you do a ton of hands-on labs so you can master all of the syllabus topics and at the moment, the only lab guide we know of on the market is 101 labs – Cisco CCNA.
You must take practice exams every day as part of your study program. Leaving them to the last week is a big mistake. Don’t worry if you are getting low scores to start with. You can try to find some free CCNA exams online, your book may well come with some or you can find an exam vendor.
Almost every Cisco CCNA exam topic has videos on YouTube or you can take a formal course on sites such as Udemy or howtonetwork.com. If you go for a membership website option you would only need access for 2-3 months.
The Cisco CCNA exam used to feature hands-on configuration labs but they seem to have removed this from the new version. Don’t make the mistake of not doing labs though, you simply must lab up the important topics so you really understand them.
Cisco Packet Tracer is free but has limited configuration and show commands. Cisco offers their VIRL tool and there are other options where you need the IOS software such as EVE-NG or GNS3. You can of course get access to live Cisco racks and websites such as howtonetwork.com offer these to members.
Because the Cisco CCNA exam covers network configuration, wireless networking and security, network automation, troubleshooting, security and network cabling you can actually go into several career types with the certification.
After passing the CCNA I landed a job with Cisco TAC which is their support team. I supported NAT, Access Lists and router memory and interface problems. There were other teams around me supporting VLANs, firewalls and more.
- Network support
- Network design
- Network administration
- Cabling engineer
- Wireless support and configuration
The Cisco CCNA has stood the test of time and I highly recommend you add it to your portfolio. I do suggest you study for the CompTIA Network+ first even if you don’t plan to take the exam.