CCNA Certification Requirements – How to Become CCNA-Certified

Introduction

In this article, we’ll look at what it takes to become CCNA Routing and Switching-certified, from the prerequisites of the exam to the study materials used to prepare for the exam and, finally, how long to study before taking the exam.

Please note that from this point on, we will refer to the certification simply as CCNA.

What are the Prerequisites for the CCNA?

The CCNA certification is actually at the foundational level of Cisco’s hierarchy of certifications, so there are no technical prerequisites for the CCNA exam. This means that you do not have to take any previous exams before you can qualify as CCNA-certified. However, there are age restrictions for any Cisco certification:

  • Under 13 years — Cannot sit for exam even with parental consent
  • 13-17 years — Can sit for exam with parental consent
  • 18 years and above — No age restrictions

Even though there are no prerequisites from Cisco’s end, the CCNA exam (200-125) may be better suited to those with one to two years of networking experience. This should not discourage those who do not have any hands-on experience and still want to take the exam; you will only need to work harder and use the tools available to you, such as GNS3 and Packet Tracer.

Please note: as we will discuss in a later section, there are two paths to achieving the CCNA certification. Candidates without networking experience may want to first take the ICND1 exam and then the ICND2 exam to become CCNA-certified.

What Study Materials Do I Need to Get Started?

As with any certification exam, there are various study materials to help candidates prepare for the CCNA certification exam and these materials are available in different formats. For example, there are study guides, videos (live and self-paced), workbooks, lab guides, practice tests, and so on. Some of these materials are from Cisco while others are available from other vendors.

Cisco has provided a free online list of approved study materials. You can do a web search to find study resources from other vendors, free and paid. Just keep in mind that, regardless of the study materials you use, you need to make sure that you cover the entire content of the exam.

The study materials you decide to start with will depend on the manner in which you learn. Some people prefer videos to textbooks, while some nod off immediately after they start watching a video. This section will provide a sample guide (and plan) of study materials to prepare for the CCNA exam.

  1. Start with self-paced videos so that you can cover a lot of ground quickly. This is especially useful if you are new to networking. Seeing concepts explained visually does a lot to aid understanding of such concepts. However, do not rely solely on these training videos because it is easy to miss important concepts when watching videos. This is because training videos generally focus on more practical aspects of an exam and can gloss over the theoretical topics required to pass the exam.
  2. Get the Official Certification Guide (OCG) for the CCNA exam. If you only read one guide, this should be it because it is the only self-study guide that Cisco approves. These guides are usually quite bulky but are worth the effort. They are available in various formats (ebook, hardcover) from Cisco Press and other bookstores, such as Amazon.
  3. Labs. Videos and study guides cannot replace hands-on experience. This used to be tricky because it meant you needed access to expensive devices like routers and switches. Thankfully, simulator/emulator tools like GNS3, Packet Tracer and Cisco VIRL have changed the game. As an estimate, over 90% of the CCNA exam content can be practiced with a combination of these tools.
  4. Practice tests. Unless you are using dumps (which we do not encourage), no practice test can ever show you the exact questions that will come out on the real exam. The best you can get from practice tests is knowing what kinds of questions to expect on the real exam. As such, do not rely too much on your performance in practice tests as a measure of your success in the real exam.

How Should I Prepare for the CCNA?

We have already talked about some of the study materials you can use to prepare for the CCNA exam in the previous section. In this section, we will discuss non-technical preparation steps for the CCNA exam, including preparation method and schedule.

Study Progress

A good way to track your study progress is to copy the exam topics into a spreadsheet and update each topic as you go through it. The level of detail you want to put into this tracking spreadsheet is up to you, but it will help you be certain of what work you’ve already completed.

Preparation Methods

There are generally two ways you can prepare for the CCNA exam; these methods are not mutually exclusive:

  • Self-study by using the OCG, watching videos, etc.
  • Training including boot camps and live training sessions

While you can prepare for the exam exclusively through self-study, you will definitely add some form of self-study if you go for the external training option. Your choice of preparation will depend on factors such as budget, time, location, and chance of success.

External training options will cost more than self-study, and they may not be available in your location. However, they generally do well in the area of time and increasing your chance of success in the exam. The advice here is to know yourself and determine what is best for you. Plus, you can have the best of both worlds: Self-study and then attend a virtual boot camp or watch recorded videos from a boot camp session.

Preparation Schedule

Now that you have determined the study materials you want to use, the next thing to figure out is how to plan your time and create a study schedule. Of course, this will depend on a number of factors:

  • Certification, knowledge, or both? If you are only after the certification, you can probably complete your studying faster than if you are going for gaining the full knowledge from your study.
  • Time. Do you have other commitments? A job, family, etc? These will definitely affect your study schedule and you should not underestimate the effects of study on your other commitments.
  • Study method. If you are going the self-study route, your schedule may be longer than someone who is going for a training and then supplementing with self-study.

As an example, let us assume you are able to put in three hours of study daily for six days a week (one day to rest on the weekend). That’s 18 hours every week. Doing a random sample of CCNA training videos from online providers, you can finish their CCNA training course in about 2½ weeks (approximately 40 hours of content). The CCNA official cert guide is about 1600 pages. Assuming you can cover 200 pages in a week, it will take you 8 weeks to get through the book. This brings us to 10½ weeks without factoring in labs, study breaks, unforeseen events that disrupt study, practice tests, and so on.

In summary, if you are on a tight schedule, three months for your preparation schedule is being pretty generous. A more realistic expectation may be 6-12 months of study, especially if you have other commitments.

Which Exams Should I Take?

There are two ways to become CCNA-certified:

  • Pass one CCNA Composite exam (currently 200-125)
  • Pass two individual ICND exams (currently ICND1 100-105 and ICND2 200-105). In effect, 200-125 = 100-105 + 200-105

So the question becomes: “Which route should I take?” The answer to this is completely subjective and depends on your circumstances. If you have some networking experience or are on a tight schedule to become CCNA-certified, then go for the CCNA Composite exam. However, this means you have more content to cover and the risks are higher.

The current price of the 200-125 exam is $325, while each ICND exam costs $165.

How Long Should I Study Before Taking a Boot Camp and the Exams?

Like we said in a previous section, some people choose to supplement their study by attending a boot camp. Personally, I think it is a mistake to attend a boot camp without having done some self-study beforehand. This is because boot camps are highly-focused, specialized training programs that are meant to fill up holes in your understanding. If you go there without much knowledge of the subject, you won’t get as much out of the boot camp as you should.

While there is no fixed length of time to study before taking a boot camp, you should probably attend a boot camp when you are almost ready to take your exam. This means you should have gone through videos, guides and labs, which can take you anywhere from three to 12 months based on our previous analysis.

The same reasoning applies to how long you should study before you take the exam. Unfortunately, just like any other exam, there is no way to know if you are entirely prepared for the exam until you take it! So when you discover that you are fine with most topics on the exam and you find yourself in a “paralysis by analysis” situation, book your exam and give it a shot.

Conclusion

In this article, we have looked at how to become CCNA-certified. We have discussed some of the study materials to prepare for the exam, including videos, official certification guides, practice tests and so on. We have also considered how long it may take to study for the exam which can be anywhere between three and 12 months or more. Good luck with your test!

Sources

CCNA Routing and Switching, Cisco

CCNA Study Material, Cisco

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