CCNA certification requirements – how to become CCNA-certified [updated 2021]
The current CCNA exam is 200-301. In this article, we will see the prerequisites to attend the CCNA exam, some of the options for study materials and how to prepare for the exam.
What are the prerequisites for the CCNA certification?
The CCNA exam is the foundation exam of the Cisco certification paths. This means that you do not need to have any certifications or passed any exams before you can sit for the CCNA exam.
There are few basic restrictions and prerequisites that one should be aware of before attempting to take the exam. The first restrictions concern age:
- Persons below 13 cannot take the exam even with parental consent.
- Persons between 13 and 17 can take the exam and get the certification if passed only with parental consent.
- Persons above 18 (including) are eligible to take the exam without any age restrictions.
The second prerequisite is about the fact that the test center requires a digital photo and signature along with two types of personal identification, so failing any of these two points will prevent the candidate from taking the exam.
Although Cisco is not imposing any prerequisites of this kind, it makes sense to take the exam after one year of networking experience. Studying, combined with hands-on work in a real environment, increases the chances to pass the exam.
What are the best CCNA certification study materials?
As with any other certification, there are plenty of options for study materials. Each option is available from multiple content vendors.
At the very least, one can get information for each point of the exam blueprint from the Cisco public documentation. However, Cisco provides free resources targeted at covering the CCNA exam blueprint points so that the information can be found in a single place.
Because training for Cisco products is a huge market, there are plenty of content vendors that are creating training material for all sorts of Cisco exams, including CCNA.
Some people choose to use the materials from one vendor, others choose to learn from multiple vendors.
Regarding the format the materials come, these are some of the options. The order is not the one that a candidate should choose to study; obviously, the practice tests should be taken only after the candidate is ready to take the exam.
- Official certification guide: This can be the only source of information for theoretical knowledge. Most of the time, these guides are comprehensive and come with lots of appendices that will help you to master some of the topics that require additional study. The formats they are available can be hard cover, PDF or Kindle.
- Video material: Live or on-demand. This is a more recent addition to the type of resources that can be used to prepare for an exam. Some people prefer this type of materials because they are more focused on the hands-on side of topics. You get to see the instructor trying to configure various features. Sometimes, the instructors get into issues and you get to see a “live” troubleshooting. This type of resource can be used in conjunction with the official certification guide.
- Labs: No matter how many videos you see others configure and troubleshoot, it is important that you configure everything multiple times by yourself. Very often, at least at the beginning, there will be typos, wrong commands that will require you to troubleshoot and fix the problems. That is why the lab practicing is something that cannot be missed during preparation for the exam. Aside from having physical routers and switches, which is pretty expensive, there are multiple tools that allow you to create labs using virtual appliances like Packet Tracer, EVE-NG or GNS3.
- Practice tests: This form of preparation should be the last one, one, two weeks before the exam. Although the questions are not the ones from the exam, they mimic the format and the complexity of the exam questions. It allows you to discover the weak areas that can be reviewed before taking the exam.
How should I prepare for the CCNA certification exam?
- Track your progress: One of the most important things that you need to do when you start the study for a certification, be that CCNA or anything else, is to track your study progress. How fast or slow you go through the certification topics it is up to you and is specific to each candidate.
- Choose your material: Regarding the type of resources you can use to prepare, there is no golden standard: some use just the official guides, some use just the video lectures and some use both. If you cannot follow the video lessons, then there is no point to stick with them and replay them several times until you get the concept. Just start using the official guide.
- Perform labs: On top of this, there must be time allocated for the labs. Here, you can either lab a feature right after you studied it or you can wait until you’ve gone through all the material and then do all the labs, once or more (obviously more is better).
- Optional: Attend a live bootcamp if the budget allows it. If it is delivered onsite, you can travel there (although most of the training done in 2020 is online).
Can a boot camp help me pass the CCNA certification exam?
The simple answer is it depends. A Bootcamp can take from five to ten, twelve days, each day eight, ten hours of hard work. These days are intense and the instructor goes through all the topics.
The purpose of the bootcamp is to fill in any gaps that might be there after the self-study period and to review all the topics in a short time interval.
That is why the bootcamp is most useful if it is attended just before taking the exam. If it is attended too soon, say at the beginning of study, it will not be very efficient: there will be topics not known or not completely understood. In this case, the bootcamp attendee is getting lost very soon after the bootcamp has started.
How long should I spend studying for the CCNA certification exam?
Again, there is no secret recipe. If you can allocate just two hours a day to study and if you know how many pages you can read in one hour, then you will know how many days you will need to (for example) finish the official guide. The time required will grow if you plan to use video lessons as well.
To this, you will need to add the time for the labs. Some read faster, others slower, some type faster, others slower, so it will vary.
In my opinion, the most important thing is to stick to a schedule and follow it as much as possible. It’s better to study two hours a day, every weekday, instead of randomly studying during weekdays and hoping to catch up on the weekend.
From experience, starting from scratch with CCNA, three or four months should be enough to get a solid ground and be confident to attempt the exam. Remember, though, that this only works if you clearly define it as a goal and do whatever it takes to not get left behind with the study.
In this article, we saw how you can become CCNA-certified, what kind of materials are available, how they should be used and how long it might take to pass the exam — assuming you keep a constant focus on study.