“This aint’ your Daddy’s Oldsmobile”
The CCNA Exam is much more difficult than the VMware VCP Certification. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Mainly the format of the exam goes against the way that I’ve studied for other tests. The content is also very broad for an ‘entry level’ certification. I compared the difficulty of content and interaction to the EMC Proven Professional Specialist exams or possibly to the VCAP-DCD. Consider this exam as a mid-level certification (AKA Don’t overestimate its difficulty) and you will start off in a better place in your preparation.
To study for this exam will interrupt some part of your life. To get the ‘speed and accuracy’ required to get through the questions and not make mistakes, was to learn the content first and then learn how the content applied in the test. I felt like I knew the content and went to the practice exams and found I missed one of 2-3 correct choices more often than I expected. Effectively, I was aware of the content but hadn’t studied it. I made more than 2 runs at the exam and came out with my tail between my legs. I was confident; but wrong. I was discouraged.
I selected the combined exam because it matched my training class content, but I entered the decision blind. The CCNA 802 exam is much more intense, on fewer questions, that have to be completed in 90 minutes. No rest for the wicked. This is the path we will discuss in more detail; let’s see where the rabbit hole goes.
Read / Review the material and then study for 1-2 hours a day. I had the luxury of a week long bootcamp class with an instructor, but work had a few interruptions during the IP portion of the training. I thought I could miss that part, I already knew IP, but I was wrong.
Subnetting is very important– Relearn IP Subnetting. I doubt that you are a wizard and can see the subnets instantly in a scenario . This is where I underestimated the material. – See http://subnettingquestions.com for practice exercises and see where you might fall in your understanding. Then watch this video of an important step to learn about IP subnetting:
PITStop – Mental Subnet Calculator
It’s a little quirky but important for the exam portion below.
That aside, I found that I couldn’t take the exam right after the week training. Nor would I suggest that you should. The need to run the content through lab scenarios for the simulator questions is something the week long training didn’t cover well. I needed to have good content to review beyond the classroom books I took home, which were mostly in slide-deck format.
Use Cisco’s Press CCNA Official Exam Certification Library which has the ICND1 and ICND2 books by Wendell Odom. These can be found at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Official-Certification-Library-640-802 or your local bookstore. This book is great because the content comes in all the formats and questions you will see in the exams. Not the exact questions, but the types of questions you need to wire your brain into studying in the next part below.
I found the following from the Cisco Learning Network to describe the content of the ICND1 vs ICND2 topics I would expect to see on the exam:
- Exploring Wireless Networking
- Enabling RIP
- Understandin g the TCP/IP Internet Layer
- Cisco Security Device Manager
- Internet Connections with NAT and PAT
- Introducing Access Control List Operation
- Transitioning to IPv6
- Understanding VLANs and Trunks
- Spanning Tree
- Point-to-Point WAN Connection with PPP
Now I found that I could pick up a specific chapter every night after my work/family time calmed down in the evening and get a decent hour of focus on the topics. Mileage will vary, but having done this for a few weeks, in small chunks, helped when I moved over to the Study portion below. I didn’t have to argue if a trick question being presented. I knew that it was, an moved past to the correct answers.
Practice extensively on Simulators and Practice Tests for 3-4 days just before taking the exam. If you have a Cisco device on contract, you can build some part of the environment with GNS3 and follow the guide from http://freeccnaworkbook.com with the binaries of the device.
http://packetlife.net/lab/ and Cisco Packet Tracer (Cisco Academy Members) are two other tools that are good for use as practice for the lab questions. The difficulty here is building an environment that you can practice on without already knowing what is in the scenario. A new question will present a lab you have never seen and you will have to work through the unknown to find the right answers.
A huge find from the ICND1/ICND2 Cisco Press books was the Boson NetSim . It is found on the last CD of the ICND2 book. It allows you to run a full simulation of the Composite Exam with a time limit and the opportunity to watch your progress and get answers on each question. You can also just run without any hints and see how you do.
This sim made all the difference to me. It made the content I learned in the first part apply to the test scores. I hadn’t put myself in the right frame of mind to take the exam and succeed until I tried this simulator. TRY THIS SIM BEFORE ALL
Before the test begins you are provided with a sheet of paper – do a “brain dump” of any items like the PIT Stop calculator learned above. You can do this while the exam environment runs a demo in the beginning of your test time. Don’t worry it doesn’t count as part of your exam time. Cisco has a quick survey and this tutorial at the beginning of the test but not counted towards your time.
Example of Exam Environment
Other things to remember:
- Every exam center will generate the questions in a random order from a different pool
- Simulators may be at the beginning or the end.
- Once you answer a question you cannot go back to it.
- Do not spend a lot of time (5+ mins) on a single question take the hit and move on. ‘Tis better to guess and miss than miss all the questions. The simulators may be the last question when you are short on time.
- Some CLI “help commands” can be displayed on some of the simulator questions.
- Hitting tab twice will display the available commands.
- Hover over the host and switches on any Simulator Topology Map – some equipment can be accessed for testing of traffic patterns
- Sometimes a question might trigger your memory – write down any of these “triggers” on the paper provided for future questions
Remember it is a marathon more than a sprint. Cisco has done a good job of creating a challenging certification exam. They are good at it. Do not get discouraged. I think the first time pass is the exception to the rule on this exam. You will probably need two times at this one. Get prepared and do not underestimate the questions. Use this path and these tools first, and I’m sure you will come out of the experience with better knowledge of the content than breezing through it on the first try. I know I did.
Anyone wanting to talk about VLSM subnetting and the perils that are caused by a distance vector routing protocols in the present IPV4 versus the upcoming IPV6 orientation of Dual-Stack firewalls and Teredo Tunnels over Frame-Relay; I will be on twitter on any given #Beerfriday