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7 Keys To Cisco CCNA Certification Exam Success

Getting ready to take the Cisco CCNA/CCENT/CCDA/CCNA Security certification exams? We reached out to several of our senior instructors and industry experts to share their certification exam insights. Here are seven keys to help you pass your Cisco certification exams.

This may sound overly simple, but your first step to success is knowing the challenge you are going to face. Cisco’s website will help you find basic information on the CCNA Quad certification exams. It will also provide links to a lot of useful information, such as exam topics, practice tests and study material.

The Cisco Official Cert Guide contains essential details such as an overview of the certification and the exam, including its prerequisites, how many and what type of questions you are about to face, time allotted for examination and the passing mark.

It also provides detailed information on the topics that will be covered in the examination, including the percentage of questions dedicated to each subject. This helps a lot, especially in constructing your study plan.

Without adequate planning, your chance of success will drop. Creating a study plan that fits your personal needs is essential; even a simple to-do list can help a lot. As mentioned before, the certification guide will provide a basic recommendation for study hours required, but that is quite generic. For your custom study plan, you should consider factors such as:

How much time can you devote to your study efforts? If you are already working, or have other commitments, make sure you can dedicate sufficient time to the basics, such as covering all exam topics, taking practice tests and reviewing exam simulations.

How much can you spend on preparation material and training courses? Look for official, certified study materials and training to make sure you have a thorough understanding of each topic covered in the exam. A great option is getting the official pre-study book and reading it early on; this will create a solid basis for further developing your skills/knowledge with whatever training methodology you chose.

What training method best suits you? Some people prefer self-learning, while others may think there is no substitute for the classroom. Other candidates find online training helps them study on-the-go, at any time. Use your past learning experiences to help you pick the method to help you prepare best.

How well acquainted are you already with the exam subjects? Even very experienced professionals, with good knowledge about the certification subject, can have a hard time during the examination. Your personal experience can save you some studying time, but you should take into consideration factors such as the exam length and question logic. Relying too much on experience alone is a poor strategy that will likely lead to bad results.

Deciding to use a self-study-only approach may seem like a bold decision, but it may not be the best strategy. It is important to understand achieving exam success requires in-depth knowledge of several different subjects, even for entry level certs. The definitions and understanding of some of these topics may vary, depending on the point of view of whatever certification body was responsible for developing the exam. In practice, this means even if you have firsthand knowledge, some of it may not apply since the certification body’s view may be quite different from the tasks professionals are used to doing in the field.

Going through a certification preparation course lets candidates spend some time with an experienced instructor, with actual knowledge on how to beat the exam. It is an excellent opportunity to get all your questions answered, share experiences and strategies, and even do some networking if it is in-person training. This results in a greater success rate on any certification exam.

To pass the CCNA Quad certification, you will need a solid understanding of how the modern protocol stack of TCP/IP works. Critically, you must understand how addressing works.

Link Layer: Most of the focus at the data access layer will be on Ethernet addressing. You should understand the following about media access control (MAC) addresses:

• MAC address structure: 48 bits represented as 12 hexadecimal digits.
• MAC addressing on the local network: Any two hosts/nodes on a network communicate using MAC addresses. Understand how ARP works, and how a host keeps an ARP cache/table.
• Switches and MAC addresses: A basic understanding of the MAC address table or computer addressable memory (CAM) table, and how a switch uses it to forward and filter traffic.

Internet Layer: The tests will all have questions about Internet Protocol (IP) addressing. These include:

• IPv4 addressing: Know the reserved addresses, and understand what the subnet mask does.
• IPv6 addressing: Know the different address types (global, link local, unique local, etc.).

If possible, spend some time getting familiar with subnetting concepts.

Transport Layer: Be familiar with some of the common port numbers for well-known services like Telnet (23), Http (80), Https (443) and others.

The Cisco tests include lab work, and a Cisco technician should have a solid understanding of the basic configuration and investigative commands. Specifically, you should understand how to use the show commands to do the following:

• Examine interface settings
• Check routing protocols
• View mac address tables
• Verify configuration details

Even though these topics are covered extensively in the classes, having some knowledge ahead of time will put you ahead of the curve for test preparation.

Whenever available, practice exams are a great way to test yourself. It is not only a question of having a good grasp of the test subject matter, but also getting familiar with how questions are structured. We recommend using official training material and question databases, as it should be the best approach to emulate the real exam. One thing should be clear: try not to memorize every question. This may seem like an easy way to deal with a certification, but most exams have thousands of questions in their official banks. Instead, try to use practice exams as an opportunity to discover your strengths and weaknesses. If you consistently have a top score in a specific subject, you may divert study time to reinforce areas in which you did not do as well.

Also, a good question database will not only show the correct response, but also explain why it is correct and even have details on why the other options are incorrect; this is great for complementing whatever prep course you may have chosen.

Another excellent way to use practice exams is emulating a complete exam. It may sound nice to take a batch of 10 questions whenever you have some free time, but every candidate should take a complete mock exam at least a couple times. Completing a full practice exam will not only test your skills, but also improve your resilience, attention level and concentration.

As for practice exam test results, do not be discouraged. Unless you are an experienced test taker, it is quite common for things to go sour during the first round of questions, especially if you are not done with your reading and cert prep course. Take your time to study and use every resource available to clarify any doubts. By the end of your study plan, you will see consistent results in practice exams.

There is no lack of online material and communities for most IT certification exams. Taking part in online forums helps you learn and share exam strategies, helping you learn from other’s success and failure stories. As for finding the best online community, aside from the Cisco Learning Network, a simple Google search on “certification name + forum” can land some nice results. The CCNA Reddit page is bursting with people from around the world willing to share experiences. Other valuable resources include Facebook groups like The Best Damn Cisco Certification Group In The World.

A word of advice though: Unless you have time to help others, stay away from toxic people and posts. Many unfortunate exam takers go online to vent their frustration and this can be discouraging.

If you have any questions about our Training and Certification Programs, we would love to hear from you! Give us a call at 855-TO-THINQ (855-868-4467) or email

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