Tips for acing the new CCNA exams

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studyingDoesn't it feel like vendors always update their certifications as soon as you get comfortable with them? Well, it's happening again!

Cisco has updated its main associate-level routing and switching certification, the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). But don't fret; the content that's getting a reboot only makes up about 25 percent of the test. The other 75 percent of the exam still covers the same core technologies and features you've come to expect. Let's take a look at the biggest changes, so you know how to tackle them.

Which path should you take?

The CCNA certification requires you to take one of two paths: split the objectives into two exams for easier study or take a single composite test. Everyone who takes a shot at the CCNA has their own preferred method of achieving it, but neither path is better than the other. If you decide to take the split route, the two exams will include the 100-101 - Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1) and the 200-101 - Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 2 (ICND2). If decide you only want to take one test, the exam will include the 200-120 - Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices (Composite). These exams became available in spring 2013, and the older CCNA exams (640-822, 640-816 and 640-802) will be retired on September 30, 2013.

Newly introduced topics

With Cisco's updated associate-level exams, technology-specific objects are kept in their respective tests. For example, wireless is covered only in CCNA Wireless, and voice is only covered in CCNA Voice. The advantage is that these types of topics have been removed from the CCNA Routing and Switching exams, leaving room for more coverage of R&S topics. Some of the major additions with this update include:

  • IPv6 (Additional coverage including routing protocols: OSPFv3 and EIGRP for IPv6)
  • First Hop Redundancy Protocols (FHRP) including Hot Standby Router Protocol (HSRP), Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP) and Gateway Load Balancing Protocol (GLBP)
  • Password Recovery
  • Software (IOS) Licensing
  • Network Time Protocol
  • Syslog and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
  • Netflow

Along with these topic updates, you should expect there to be some amount of troubleshooting in the exam, and most likely more than what was previously covered (having not personally sat the exam).

Preparing for the CCNA exams

When studying for these exams, it's best to prepare the way that works for you. For those who have some experience with networking, self-study is a popular option, and you can do so using any number of available resources, including the courses available through Pluralsight. In my experience, self-study works well when coupled with considerable practice on Cisco's IOS. For most people at the CCNA level, using a product like GNS3 combined with computer-based training is an excellent approach. For the CCNA R&S exams, make sure you understand the fundamentals, IP subnetting, addressing and basic routing, before looking at other topics. Regardless of the changes to these exams, the fundamentals will always be covered.

For most of the tests that Cisco offers, cramming isn't a useful option and should be avoided. Go through all of the topics in IOS and learn them, configure them and figure out how and why they work. Cisco IOS is generally a well-documented OS. Cisco also has a very active certification support community that can provide specific advice as issues arise.

Preparing for any test can be stressful, and Cisco's CCNAs are no exception. No matter how much studying you've done, it won't be of much use if you're tired or distracted. The best thing you can do to prepare is to get plenty of sleep, and go into your exams as relaxed and confident as possible.

We've just added new CCNA courses to the Pluralsight library! Preparing to get one of Cisco's certifications? Use these courses to help you ace the test.

Ready to test your skills in CCNA? See how they stack up with this assessment from Smarterer. Start this CCNA test now

Sean Wilkins is an accomplished networking consultant for SR-W Consulting and has been in the field of IT since the mid 1990's working with companies like Cisco, Lucent, Verizon and AT&T as well as several other private companies. Sean currently holds certifications with Cisco (CCNP/CCDP), Microsoft (MCSE) and CompTIA (A+ and Network+). He also has a Masters of Science degree in Information Technology with a focus in Network Architecture and Design, a Masters of Science degree in Operational Management, a Masters Certificate in Network Security, a Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Networking and Associates of Applied Science in Computer Information Systems. In addition to working as a consultant, Sean spends a lot of his time as a technical writer and editor for various companies

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Sean Wilkins

Sean Wilkins is an accomplished networking consultant who has been in the IT field for more than 20 years, working with several large enterprises. He is a writer for infoDispersion and his educational accomplishments include: a Master’s of Science in Information Technology with a focus in Network Architecture and Design, and a Master’s of Science in Organizational Management. Sean holds certifications with Cisco (CCNP/CCDP), Microsoft (MCSE) and CompTIA (A+ and Network+).