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How Should I Start Preparing for the CCNA Exam?

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification is one of the most well-respected achievements in the world of computer science. There are several reasons why the certification is held in such high regard. The main reason is it’s offered by Cisco, one of the most prestigious names in advanced networking. The certification exam also covers an encyclopedic range of knowledge. And of course, the certification is also well regarded for the fact that it’s so difficult to earn. These factors make for a compelling, if often intimidating, prize.

People are often eager to earn their CCNA certification right up until they take a look at the sheer volume of study material available to them. However, we just need to look at the market to see that it’s far from an unachievable goal. It is estimated that over 1 million CCNA certifications have been issued since it was initially created back in 1998. With the right strategy you can earn CCNA certification and list yourself within those numbers. It just takes a little extra work and an exam preparation course. Let us begin by looking at some basic objectives of the CCNA.

Understanding the Basics

One of the most important things to keep in mind about the CCNA is found right in the name. The CCNA stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate. The exam has a tremendously large scope. But it will have a strong emphasis on two particular points. These points are networking and elements related to Cisco. Of course, the convergence of these two points in Cisco routers and other networking products and protocols are also a given.

Start with Networking

So, you need to begin with a firm foundation in networking. You should have a solid grasp of networking from an engineering perspective. You should be able to create basic flowcharts of the process various systems use to communicate with each other.

Networking is built on an implementation of pre-existing protocols. These can be thought of as commonly agreed upon encapsulations of specific methodologies. This can be a difficult concept to understand at first glance. However, you can get a better understanding of networking protocols by thinking of a more physical metaphor. Think about how people get up from a chair and walk outside.

The process of moving between chair and the front lawn will have several concrete steps. For example, you need to bend your waist and adjust your center of balance to lift yourself off a chair. You also need to physically move your legs and feet to reach the front door. And finally, there’s additional steps to turn the knob, open the door and then lock it again once you have exited the home. To use this as a metaphor you could think of it as a “going-outside” stack. Within it you would find protocols for interfacing a key with your lock, moving your feet and adjusting your balance.

The metaphor might seem overly analytic at first, but this is exactly how you need to look at networking when studying for the CCNA. Customers and clients can use broad metaphors and more utilitarian views of networking. The professionals working with them need to understand things on a detailed physical level to work with the hardware. But you also need to understand the networking protocols the machines actively implement. You need to not just know how, for example, a router functions, you also need to understand why it was designed to match a particular specification.

Protocols, Implementation and Hardware

Understanding protocols, implementation, and hardware can be a massive asset when working to troubleshoot problems. For example, consider a situation where some Bluetooth connections have become unstable. This can be a big issue when working with diagnostic tools that require Bluetooth connections. But it’s difficult to essentially debug something that works with invisible waves. Not to mention that if it’s your debugging tools facing these issues than you are stuck trying to find a way to debug your debuggers. This is just one reason why it’s important to understand all these items rather than depending on tools. In this particular example, if you understand the fundamental nature of networking design, you’ll know that Bluetooth operates on the 2.5 GHz ISM band. You could then look for sources of interference that also run within that wavelength.

Of course, the most important of these protocols is the Internet protocol suite. This is also known as TCP/IP or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. The TCP/IP can be thought of as the basic blueprint for Internet-based communication. Just as our earlier metaphorical example touched on a person walking, this set of protocols shows how data can move across a global network. We’d then know to look for a problem area where the Bluetooth devices and the Wi-Fi network are in conflict.

Routers and Operating Systems

Cisco is well known for their routers. And routers are themselves one of the most important part of modern networking. So, it’s little surprise that routers form one of the fundamental basics of the CCNA exam.

The CCNA exam covers some of the general functionality of routers, and Cisco routers in particular. You are expected to demonstrate host-to-host communications across routers and their basic setup or configuration. However, the CCNA exam does have a particular twist you may not be prepared for. It goes into the use of IOS. No, not the mobile operating system. Rather, IOS in this context refers to Cisco Internetwork Operating System. This is a special custom operating system from Cisco which runs on their routers.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all of Cisco’s routers use IOS. Some even use Linux or variations which combine elements of the two operating systems. However, in general you need to demonstrate an ability to work with any given router that you might come across. But knowing the basics of Cisco’s routers will cover most of the bases when taking the CCNA exam.

Security and Networking Threats

The CCNA exam will also cover the basics of modern networking security. If you haven’t looked into the subject in a while, you might be shocked by the scope of this subject. The Internet has changed a lot over the years. It used to be something that was more of a hobby, however now the Internet is big business. It’s hard to imagine a major company without an Internet presence. Not to mention the fact that banks make it easy to access our savings with a few clicks and a password.

Securing networks against hackers trying to compromise those financial transactions is one of the most important parts of modern networking. As we’d expect, the CCNA exam covers most aspects of modern networking security. This isn’t an exhaustive deep dive into the subject. But passing the CCNA exam will necessitate a working knowledge of the most popular and effective methods to harden network devices and neutralize networking threats.

Virtualization, Clouds, and Dynamically Expansive Implementations

Areas related to virtualization are among the most recent additions to the CCNA exam. Dynamically expansive items, cloud-based computing or storage and virtual machines can all fit under the larger banner of virtualization. This often leads people to assume that they can get by just skimming the topic. However, there’s a good reason why such a recent concept has become such a huge part of the industry. Likewise, why it’s such an important part of the CCNA exam as well.

Virtualization Has Revolutionized the Industry

Computing was once a very rigid concept. Computers needed to be specially designed for very specific usage scenarios. What modifications were available were often quite destructive to a system’s total uptime. And people would try not to buy overly powerful machine for fear of wasting resources. Virtualization has given us the power to fully utilize excess computing power. It’s also a compelling proposition for companies that want to sell computing resources amid a larger server space.

Virtualization with its heavy dependence on the Internet, is an appealing topic for fields related to networking. Along with this, you should work on the basics of network programmability. This topic applies to some of the ways you can use software to work with aspects of a network. It often goes hand in hand with virtualization as testing and deploying elements can often come as a pair.

The Basic Prerequisites

Everything brought up so far might seem extremely complex. However, as long as you have the basic fundamentals down, you can work through it all. With that in mind, there are some basic concepts that people should know before trying to prepare for the CCNA exam.

One of the most basic elements is simple understanding of modern computers. You don’t need to know about the underlying code of any given operating system. However, you should be able to use the most popular operating systems. Likewise, you need to have a general idea about how people work with the Internet. This includes general concepts like IP addresses or how a router intended for home use operates. These subjects form a basic foundation that later study can build upon.

How To Prepare for the CCNA Exam

This might seem like a lot of information. And it’s true, the exam is quite comprehensive. But one of the best tools to deal with that complexity is an effective and well tested learning method. There’s really no question about the most effective method to prepare for the CCNA exam. Formal exam prep courses have helped countless people pass the CCNA. There are quite a few reasons why they’re so effective.


One of the most important parts of a CCNA prep course is it’s interactive. We aren’t just passively reading material. We’re instead presented with a chance to learn from, and ask questions of, an instructor who’s is intimately familiar with the CCNA exam. It provides us with the chance to ask about material before spending time memorizing it. This can save countless hours. And those hours can instead be used to learn material that is represented within the CCNA exam.

Build Confidence

You also see just how important confidence is to success. With the amount of material covered by the CCNA exam, it’s easy to start to doubt yourself. You often start to panic and wonder about everything you might have done wrong. But when you have an instructor who’s an expert on the subject it literally just takes seconds to remove what might otherwise be days or weeks-worth of fear.

Work with IT Peers

You also have the chance to work with peers who are going through the same experience. The chance to talk to people and share concerns and ideas can make a huge difference. And there’s little doubt that group study sessions can help cement difficult concepts. That energy can instead be put to use. And it’s why a prep course usually lets you pass the CCNA exam in the first place.

Practice Tests are Available

Practice tests make it even more certain. It helps us work through pre-test jitters before we must take the real thing for the first time. By the time we sit down for the CCNA exam it will feel familiar. We know what is and isn’t covered in the CCNA exam. We know how the exam is presented. And we’ve even gone through enough practice sessions to make it all feel completely familiar.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that the CCNA exam is complex, and it takes a lot of preparation to pass it. If you want to join the million or so IT professionals that have passed the CCNA exam and reap the benefits, take the exam seriously and sign up for an exam prep course today.

Want to Learn More?

Florida Technical College has been offering exam prep courses for decades and understands how to prepare you for your certification exam. FTC was founded in 1982 to provide post-secondary training in specialized business fields.  Florida Technical College programs are exciting and dynamic, evolving over the years to meet the needs of students and the job marketplace. 

Ready to move from a job to a career? Florida Technical College Continuing Education is here to help. Contact us to learn more about the Cisco CCNA certification exam preparation courses at Florida Technical College.

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