If sitting for Cisco’s Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam is on your radar, you already know that you’ll need to put in a lot of study and combine that with practice time on Cisco routing and switching equipment (or worst case a simulator if you don’t have access to equipment.)  But for many of us, study and lab time might not be enough to pass a challenging entry- to mid-level exam such as Cisco’s CCNA.  I think exams like these can be challenging because the exam can’t really replicate actual equipment, nor can it be straight question and answer.  The end result is often an exam that doesn’t do either that well. With all of that in mind, for those planning on pursuing this certification, here are my five top tips for sitting for (and passing) Cisco’s CCNA certification exam.

  1. Know your troubleshooting.  Any simulation questions on the exam will either be configuration or troubleshooting in nature.  Of the two, troubleshooting is more challenging, by far. Expect to see questions that have multiple routers with some kind of routing issue.  Make sure you’re not only comfortable with scenarios like these, but that you can solve them quickly.
  2. Don’t get rattled by questions you don’t know.  When I sat for the exam, I was given several questions that were absolutely not on the exam objectives or in any study guide.  They could have been tester questions that don’t count toward the score, but regardless, getting hit with a few of these “I have no idea what the answer is” questions can rattle anyone.  Don’t let it get to you and just press on.
  3. One word can make the difference.  Often you’ll be in a situation where you feel like you need to pick the “best right answer.”  Questions like these usually come down to one word in one of the answers. Removing or changing one word changes the entire meaning and therefore changes the answer.  Be sure to read and re-read the question and each answer carefully and consider the meaning and intention of each. There are no words in the answers that are there by accident.  Think through the implications of the entire answer.
  4. Know it well enough to teach it.  You should know the exam material so well that you could explain it to someone else.  When you can teach the material, then you know you know it. In fact, teaching is one of the best ways to learn a topic and a great way for you to verify you know your stuff.  Try it out. See if you can explain important concepts to someone you know. This will help you verify that you really know the material.
  5. Don’t memorize the commands, learn what the commands are doing.  For beginners just starting on Cisco equipment (or any other equipment, for that matter), a common habit is to memorize the IOS commands in a particular order.  This is different than actually knowing WHY we are using those commands and WHAT the commands are doing in the background. Push to learn the WHY and WHAT instead of the HOW.  This will make you better prepared if you really understand the processes behind the commands.

Good luck!

Related Questions

How long is the CCNA good for?  Cisco states that their CCNA certification is valid for three years before it must be renewed or leveled up to a higher certification.

Should I take the CCNA Security or CCNA Routing and Switching exam?  Both certifications are valued in the marketplace by employers.  Some people choose to earn both certifications, or branch out to another area, such as wireless or collaboration.


About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.