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The Cisco CCNA Exam Today: What You Need to Know to Pass the First Time

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When preparing for Cisco's CCNA series of exams, it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to figure out what to study, how much to study, and where to begin. This article offers a brief overview of what is on the CCNA exams, and where you can look for the information you need.

Evolution of CCNA Preparation Strategies

So how does one study for the current CCNA exam, with broader and deeper topic coverage, simulated questions, more complex scenarios, and the added time pressure? Well, looking at it that way, the task sounds a bit scary. The flip side is that with the proper time, effort, and study, you can pass with confidence. Cisco Press offers many products to help candidates prepare, the CCNA Certification Library being the most comprehensive single tool for CCNA exam preparation. This library contains both the CCNA INTRO and CCNA ICND Exam Certification Guides.

The CCNA Certification Library has been designed for newbies to networking, as well as those with some experience. Newbies need a book that explains the basics before getting too deep. To pass CCNA, both the newbie and the experienced reader need a book that doesnt sacrifice technical details and depth. Earlier editions of my books were written assuming the reader had actually been to the ICND class, and just needed to be reminded of some details, so true newbies had difficulty at times. I changed the latest edition of the books, first adding a lot more basic information. I also reorganized material into much shorter chapters to help the reader from getting lost. At the same time, I expanded the technical depth and explanations in the book, even though earlier editions already had a great reputation for technical depth.

Interestingly, back in 1998 when I first spoke with Cisco Press about writing a CCNA book, we all agreed that it (and the entire Exam Certification Guide series) couldnt just be a book about how to pass the test that it had to be a book that helped you really learn networking, with additional features to help you remember and practice so you could readily pass. (The first few editions were probably too deep for people who only cared about passing the exam.) Today, the CCNA pendulum has swung back toward a deeper technical knowledge, and the CCNA Certification Library addresses that with many examples, detailed explanations of concepts and commands, and command output on the routers and switches.

So to prepare for the exam via self-study, you need to study using books like the CCNA Certification Library—something that covers the breadth and depth of exam topics with easily understood language, but without the compromise by being too light on technical details just to be perceived as an easy read. But just reading the books isn't enough. You need practice, plain and simple. An old and very loud coach of mine used to say that you dont practice doing it wrong, you practice doing it right. So for CCNA preparation, you need lots of practice that reflects the actual exam, including a CD-ROMbased test engine with simulation questions and the applied/scenario type of questions. The CD-ROM included with the CCNA Certification Library has more than 500 questions.

Another important practice element is hands-on skills. For that practice, the library includes an evaluation version of the Boson CCNA NetSim product, with several labs enabled for your use. The library also includes sample lab exercises for people who have their own lab equipment with which to practice. For those who want more simulation experience, Cisco Press publishes the Cisco CCNA Network Simulator from Boson Software, which delivers more than 100 CCNA labs and allows you to choose from 45 different router and switch models and design a network with up to 200 routers and switches.

The final element of practice is speed. There are a couple of key activities for getting faster. For starters, you must absolutely know how to subnet, quickly and with confidence. Questions in the Appendix of each Exam Certification Guide offer good practice. Answering all the questions repeatedly on the CCNA Certification Library CD-ROM testing engine helps, particularly with all the simulation and scenario questions in the Library's exam bank today. Another helpful exercise is to make a list of the tables from a section of the book and the types of information in the tables, wait a day and then try to re-create the tables from scratch. That forces you to memorize the facts and speeds recall on exam day.

While the CCNA Certification Library is designed to be a standalone package for CCNA preparation, many people feel the need to use multiple products for exam preparation. Cisco Press publishes a wide variety of other tools, including the CCNA Preparation Library, which contains two books based on the Cisco INTRO and ICND courses, and the CCNA Flash Cards and Exam Practice Pack, with more questions for additional practice. These tools provide plenty of opportunities to deepen your knowledge, hone your hands-on skills, and develop the confidence to pass CCNA. You'll also be well-positioned to start preparing for the CCNP®, CCIP®, CCSP™, and CCVP® exams.

To learn more about the CCNA exam and self-study products from Cisco Press, visit www.ciscopress.com/ccna.