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Should you wait to study for the new CCNA?

By Ross Bagurdes    |    August 01, 2019

To answer the question: No. Keep studying!

I’ve experienced about six or seven CCNA exam revisions since earning my first CCNA in 2000. During the transition between the ‘old’ CCNA to the ‘new’ CCNA, there’s always a looming anxiety in the community, especially among those studying for the exam. It can be frustrating to spend so much time studying for an exam, only to find that you spent your time studying topics that are no longer covered or struggling to learn another protocol in data networking. I empathize. I really do.

And if you’re going to invest that much time and energy into studying, you may start questioning whether a CCNA earned at the end of its lifecycle is as valuable as one fresh off the press, especially from the perspective of employers. You may also be asking yourself if your current CCNA will become invalid when the new exam is released or if employers will dismiss your CCNA because the one you earned was not based on the latest exam objectives.

Here’s why you shouldn’t let these questions hold you back.


A CCNA is valid for three years

It’s true. It’s valid for three years, regardless of when you took the exam. 

The CCNA is designed with an expiration date so the industry can be assured someone with a current CCNA certification will have the skills needed for a current generation network. After three years, a CCNA engineer will need to take the new exam to demonstrate an understanding of modern network technology. Because the CCNA is a certification that validates your understanding of basic networking skills, as technology advances, so will the exam.

Recruiters and hiring managers tend to consider the CCNA as being very binary, either ON or OFF. If you pass an exam, and Cisco awards you the CCNA certification, your CCNA badge is ON. After 3 years, that badge moves to the OFF position. Rarely is the version of the exam taken into consideration.


The CCNA objectives and topics don’t change much over time

Let me share the inside scoop: In planning new curriculum to support the new CCNA, I’m finding that most of the exam objectives are the same between the new and current generation. This means that anything you study and learn about data networking to prepare for the certification is going to be valuable in your ability to pass the exam, earn your certification and better understand network technology, which will benefit you in your career.

The core topics of the CCNA have traditionally been understanding the first four layers of the OSI model, and the latest update appears to be no different:

  1. Physical Layer

  2. Data Link Layer

  3. Network Layer

  4. Transport Layer


Modern networks, like networks of 15 years ago, continue to be assembled in generally the same way, which requires a solid understanding of cabling types and uses, Ethernet operation, IP addressing, IP routing, TCP and UDP. The CCNA exam will test you mainly on these topics. The additional topics covered are often the ones that change with each revision of the exam, and are often unique, higher-layer networking protocols and concepts.

To pass the exam, you also need to have an understanding of Cisco’s newer tools used to build and manage networks. The new topics covered in the CCNA are Wireless, Security and Automation. Cisco is removing topics related to Routing and WAN to accommodate these new topics, which account for about 20 percent of the new exam.

I started this blog asking the question, “Should you wait to study for the new CCNA exam?” and the answer is a resounding no. Nearly 80 percent of the exam will cover the same topics as the previous generation. Even if you end up taking the exam after February 2020, there’s still benefit to deepening your knowledge in the topics not covered in the new exam. Having these skills will make you a very valuable network engineer.

You can look forward to an updated Pluralsight CCNA path for the new CCNA exam coming early in 2020. In the meantime, check out the current CCNA path, and use it to begin—or continue—your studies to earn your own CCNA certification.

About the author

Ross has been officially working in IT for the past two decades—implementing and supporting a paperless work order system for a Natural Gas Utility in Illinois. Since then, Ross has spent his years teaching and managing data networks. Ross spent seven years at University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, supporting and managing the large enterprise network. He now has returned to teaching at Madison College in Wisconsin.