CCNA Tutorial: Getting Started

ccnatutorialCongratulations! You have decided to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Although the coursework and tests are challenging, it is been proven that CCNAs earn significantly more money in the IT field than their non-certified coworkers.  If you do not have any network experience at all, start with the Learn Computer Networking course to get a solid foundation.

Cisco is considered the gold standard of networking equipment and caters to both small and large businesses with switches and other network peripherals that range in price from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The equipment offers the best security and functionality of any commercially available networking equipment and Cisco products are relied on in most business IT settings. This means there is never a shortage of jobs for you as a CCNA.

This article is designed to start at the very beginning. It will answer questions such as what test to take (there are a couple of choices) and options for testing with actual hardware. Anyone can successfully become a CCNA with determination and a lot of studying. Cisco tests are notoriously more difficult than Microsoft certification tests (or any other IT certification for that matter).

What Test to Take?

There are two primary ways to obtain your CCNA certification. Each method works, but some people may have more success with one over the other. Take into account how you learn and how good you are at taking tests before making a decision about which route you want to take.

The first way to obtain your certification is by taking two separate tests known as ICND1 and ICND2. Once you take the first test and pass it, you have three years to take the second test before you will have to retake the first test again.

ICND1 Exam Training Made Easy covers everything you need to pass the first CCNA exam.  After you ace the first test, ICND2 Exam Training Made Easy allows you to finish the exam process and start enjoying the benefits of certification.

If you plan on studying for your CCNA yourself, this is often the best route because it is less expensive if you happen to fail. Each test covers a specific amount of material and it is easier to digest this material during the studying process when you are only studying for approximately half of the information required to become CCNA certified.

For those who are bolder, the CCNA Composite exam is a single test that earns you Cisco certification if you pass. Since this single test covers all of the topics contained in both the ICND1 and ICND2, it is generally accepted that the depth of the questions in the CCNA Composite exam is noticeably less extensive.

This means you might be able to sneak away without knowing everything in the study guides cold, but you are required to have a much broader knowledge of Cisco systems to successfully complete this test. Although many people have successfully become Cisco certified taking the Composite test, it is much more expensive to take this single test and fail it when compared to breaking the process into the  two tests mentioned above.

Which way you decide to go is completely up to you. Just remember that the Composite exam requires that you know everything about becoming a CCNA, which is a lot of information to learn for a single test.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Unfortunately, the Cisco tests are very demanding and require that you have some hands-on experience to ensure that you pass the tests. There are a couple of ways you can go about setting up your practice environment.

The easiest is to use a simulator. There are free and paid simulators available online that emulate the Cisco command line (or SDM). These simulated environments are easy to setup and inexpensive. The drawback is that it is not a real switch so you will be missing out on some of the hands-on learning if you choose to use a simulator.

Another option, that provides you with much more experience, is to purchase Cisco hardware. Obviously, this is much more expensive but if you are determined to use actual hardware to practice, you can usually find some deals. There are refurbished Cisco switches available for a couple hundred dollars and these make an excellent training tool.

To actually complete all of the labs outlined in the CCNA literature, you actually need three routers and three switches. Obviously, this makes the cost much higher, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Cisco equipment does not go down in value like some of the less expensive networking equipment commercially available. Once you have successfully completed the CCNA exams, you should have no problem selling these routers and switches to other perspective CCNA candidates.

Unless, of course, you decide to keep the equipment and deck out your home network with some high-end equipment!

In addition to practicing on real hardware (or simulators), there are tons of practice tests available that can help prepare you for exam day. One thing to be cautious of when taking practice exams is to stay away from test dumps and brain dumps. These are actual questions that come from the CCNA test that have been remembered by certification candidates after taking the test and shared via the Internet.

Although this may seem tempting, if you are caught using this literature, you can be banned from taking the certification test at all. The best bet is to stay away from these and focus on the practice tests that are available from Cisco and other resources.

To make sure you are getting the maximum value from these practice tests, don’t just select the right answer and moved to the next question. Look at each of the other three answers and remind yourself why they are wrong. By working through each question this way, you are getting four times the benefit you would if you just answer the question correctly and move on.

If you want to successfully complete the CCNA quickly, the CCNA Kick Start course is designed to speed up the learning process.

CCNA certification is a great way to boost your income and break into the competitive IT field if you have not done so already. The tests are expensive and difficult, so you are well served to take your time and thoroughly study all of the material before scheduling your test. It’s a lot of work, but once you successfully pass the CCNA exam, you can join the ranks of the elite IT workforce that rely on high-end Cisco products every day.