What you need to know to get your CCNA Certification!

To help you prepare you for your Cisco Certification exam, we will cover the major areas you need to be up to speed on so you can pass your exam on your first try!

CCNA Informational Menu

What exam(s) do I need to pass to become CCNA certified?

As of October 1st, 2013, Cisco has updated the CCNA certification exam and name to fall more inline with their other certification naming conventions. Instead of simply CCNA, it is now called the CCNA Routing & Switching certification. Thus to differentiate itself from the other CCNA disciplines of CCNA Voice, CCNA Security, CCNA Wireless and CCNA Data Center. To achieve your CCNA Routing & Switching certification you have two options. The first is you can take the single 200-120 CCNA composite exam and obtain your CCNA Routing & Switching by passing one exam. The cost for this exam is $295 and you will have 90 minutes to answer 50 to 60 questions to receive a passing score of 825 out of 1000.

The second option is you can first take the 100-101 ICND1 exam to obtain your CCENT certification and after you pass that exam you can then take the 200-101 ICND2 exam to fulfill your CCNA Routing & Switching certification requirement. The cost for each of these exams is $150 and you will have 90 minutes to answer 40 to 50 questions. The benefit for some with this option is they can concentrate on certain areas of study as less material is covered in each exam. But the totality of the two exams equals the material covered in the single composite CCNA Routing & Switching exam.

For 2017 the current CCNA has been "refreshed" and is now the 200-125 exam. This was a pretty minor change and a vastly less dramatic change, unlike the reboot from the 640-554 to the 200-120. We will go over some of the changes later in this article. The certification path is still in the same format, where you can take the single 200-215 exam or break it into two exams. These would be the 100-105 ICND1 (CCENT) and the 200-105 ICND2.

Why did Cisco change the CCENT and CCNA exams?

If you look at Cisco's approach to their certification track over the past few years, it is not at all surprising these changes occurred within the CCNA R&S 200-120 exam. Starting with the premier CCIE certification track; Cisco has had that track broken up into multiple specialties such as CCIE R&S, CCIE Voice, CCIE Security, CCIE Wireless and CCIE Storage among others for a few years now. Then in the past 18 months Cisco took the same approach with their CCNP track. Creating the CCNP R&S, CCNP Voice, CCNP Security, CCNP Wireless certifications and others also. So now we get to the track and they have had CCNA Voice and CCNA Security for about 18 months as specific disciplines. Now to complete the restructure, they have officially brought the certification inline by renaming it CCNA 2.0 R&S. You can read about the history of the CCNA certification going all the way back to 1998 after this article by clicking the link as it will open in another window History of the CCNA Certification.

ccent ccna

What topics are covered on the CCENT and CCNA exams?

Operation of IP Data Networks - This covers the OSI and TCP/IP models. Also covered is how routers, switches, bridges and hubs work, different media types and how data actually flows from one device to another at the packet level.

LAN Switching Technologies - This is all about switching. Collision/broadcast domains, RSTP, PVSTP, VLANs, STP and root bridge elections.

IPv4 and IPv6 - Familiarity with the operation of public and private network address schemas. VLSM and runnign IPv4 and IPv6 in a dual stack.

IP Routing Technologies - How a router boots. Basic configuration of a router using static routing, EIGRP and OSPFv3 dynamic routing protocols.

IP Services - Detailed understanding of DNS, DHCP, ACLs, NAT, VRRP, HSRP, GLBP, Syslog, and SNMP.

Network Device Security - On a router; enable vs enable secret, Telnet, SSH, VTYs, AAA. On a switch; sticky MAC, port shutdown, Err disable recovery, native VLAN. Both configuring ACLs to enhance security.

Troubleshooting - Understanding how to troubleshoot and use the following: Netflow data, VLAN issues, STP, OSPF, Route Tables, EIGRP, interVLAN routing, ACL issues, layer 1 issues.

WAN Technologies - Configure WAN serial connections, PPP between routes, Frame-Relay and PPPoE while being able to identify technologies such as VSAT, Cellular 3G/4G, MPLS, T1/E1, DSL, and VPN.

Now let's dig down a little deeper into what was added and removed from each exam so we have a better understanding.

CCENT Changes

As mentioned previously, the CCENT ICND1 100-101 exam for the CCENT certification just got a whole lot harder. Many of the CCNA concepts are now a part of the core of this exam. This is why a CCNA v2 Lab is really required even for the ICND1 exam to get the hands-on you need to pass the exam. So let's review what changes Cisco made to the ICND1 exam and why.

CCENT Objectives That Did Not Change

  • Purposes of Network Devices
  • OSI Model
  • Network Data Communications
  • Ethernet Technologies
  • Operation of Routers
  • Operation of Switches
  • IP Addressing & Subnetting
  • TCP/IP
  • Static & Dynamic Routing
  • OSPF
  • Network Time Protocol
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol
  • Router Security
  • Switch Security

Added to the 100-101 ICND1 Exam

  • VLSM
  • ACLs
  • VLANs and Trunking
  • Inter-VLAN Routing
  • Single Area OSPF
  • IPv6 Basics
  • IPv6 Theory
  • IPv6 Configuration
  • Troubleshooting, Troubleshooting, Troubleshooting

Removed from the CCENT 100-101 ICND1 Exam

  • RIP - this is a legacy protocol not really used anymore
  • SDM - this is a legacy GUI tool that has been replaced by CCP
  • Wireless - this now has it's own certification track CCNA Wireless 640-461
  • Securing the Network - this now has it's own certification track CCNA Security 640-544

So you can see Cisco added quite a bit to the ICND1 CCENT exam. Specifically it seems like Cisco feels IPv6 is here to stay and you need to know it inside and out. That is why we have 7 distinct IPv6 labs covering everything from IPv6 Link Local Addressing to IPv6 over Frame-Relay with OSPFv3. Additionally now Cisco wants you to be able to connect the dots and be able to troubleshoot scenarios. This has make the exam quite a bit harder. Given all these changes, you can see why Cisco is now making the CCENT certification a requirement for all the advanced certifications such as CCNA Security, Voice, Wireless and Data Center. As it provides the student with the right foundation to build their networking skills.

ICND2 200-101 Exam Changes

Above we seen what topics were added and removed specifically to the CCENT ICND1 portion of the exam. The remaining items are the changes to the ICND2 200-101 exam which would be the second exam you would take to obtain your CCNA certification. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway; if you are going to take the single CCNA 200-120, it will now consist of all the updated concepts of both the CCENT ICND1 and ICND2 exams.

ICND2 200-101 Objectives That Did Not Change

  • Managing Cisco Device Files
  • Prevention of Routing Loops
  • Advanced Dynamic Routing Concepts
  • OSPF
  • SNMP
  • Route Summarization
  • Identify various WAN Technologies
  • Configure Various Serial Connections
  • PPP
  • Frame-Relay
  • PPPoE

Added to the 200-101 ICND2 Exam

  • Understanding STP
  • Etherchannel
  • Layer 3 Redundancy Protocols
  • Cisco Licensing
  • SNMP, Syslog, Netflow
  • Managing Cisco Devices
  • Troubleshooting VLANs
  • Troubleshooting EIGRP
  • Troubleshooting IPv4 Network Connectivity
  • Troubleshooting IPv6 Network Connectivity
  • EIGRP for IPv6
  • Multi-Area OSPF
  • OSPFv3

Removed from the 200-101 ICND2 Exam

  • Inter-VLAN Routing - this was moved to 100-101 ICND1
  • Securing the Network - this now has it's own certification CCNA Security 640-554
  • VLSM - this was moved to 100-101 ICND1
  • NAT/PAT - this was moved to 100-101 ICND1

So you will see Cisco thinks that IPv6 is here to stay so there are new IPv6 concepts covered. Also, if you are familiar with the CCNP Routing and Switching track, you will know it has an exam called TSHOOT that deals strictly with troubleshooting. This is where it is critical that you have hands on and really understand what is happening on your Cisco routers and switches. You need very detailed labs that will explain to you how to configure the concepts and why they are working. Not only that, the labs need to show you how to understand the various outputs and which troubleshooting commands to run where. This is where our new CCNA v2 Routing & Switching 200-120 Lab Workbook excels! We have added tons of troubleshooting, EtherChannel, Licensing, IPv6, OSPFv3, Syslog, NetFlow and many more labs covering over 450 pages. With all the changes to the CCNA v2 exam, I think Cisco has gone a long way to weeding out the paper CCNAs and you will need to have the right complimentary study materials to secure your new CCNA R&S certification!

Added to the 100-105 ICND1 Exam

  • High level knowledge of the impact and interactions of infrastructure components in an Enterprise network -Firewalls, Access Points, Wireless controllers
  • Compare collapsed core architecure to traiditonal three-tiered architectures
  • Knowledge of LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol) -Used in addition to CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol)
  • Understanding monitoring and logging from Syslog messages
  • Configure and verify IPv6 Stateless Address Auto Configuration (SLAAC)
  • ANYcast added to IPv6 addressing types
  • Additional requirements for the understanding of DNS and DHCP connectivity problems
  • RIPv2 for IPv4 is the primary routing protocol focus
  • Managing devices in relation to backing-up and restoring configurations, times zones, and IOS licensing features

Removed from the 200-105 ICND1 Exam or Moved to the 200-105 ICND2 Exam

  • OSPF single area and other OSPF topics has been moved to 200-105 ICND2
  • CEF - Cisco Express Forwarding has been removed
  • Dual Stack has been removed

Added to the 200-105 ICND2 Exam

  • VPN topics now include DMVPN, Site-to-Site VPN, and Client VPN technologies used in Enterprise networks.
  • Understanding of Cloud technology being used in Enterprise Network Architectures.
  • -How cloud services will affect traffic paths and flows -Common virtualized services and how these coexist with a legacy infrastructure -Basics of virtual network infrastructure (Network Function Virtualization)
  • Basic knowledge of external BGP (eBGP)
  • Understanding of dual-homed vs single-homed Intelligent WAN topology options
  • Awareness of Programmable Network (SDN) architectures
  • -Separation of the control plane and data plane -How a controller functions and communicates northbound to network applications and southbound to the R&S infrastructure using APIs
  • Using Path Trace application for ACLs enabled by Application Policy Infrastructure Controller – Enterprise Module (APIC-EM)
  • -Using this tool to automate troubleshooting and the resolution of complex ACLs deployments
  • Understanding of QoS concepts related to marking, shaping, and policing mechanisms used to manage congestion of various types of traffic.
  • -How it is used for prioritizing voice, video and data traffic -Understanding of the automation provided by programmable networks to implement business critical QoS policies

Removed from the 200-105 ICND2 Exam

  • Frame-Relay and Serial WAN technologies have been removed
  • VRRP and GLBP have been removed from First Hop Redundancy Protocols. Only HSRP remains.

What type of questions are on the CCENT &CCNA exams?

There are five types of questions you may see are as follows:

  1. Single answer multiple choice
    -These are multiple choice questions where there is only one correct answer. A question will be posed, and a radio button will allow the user to select the proper answer to the question.
  2. Multiple answer multiple choice
    -These are multiple choice questions where there are multiple correct answers. A question will be posed, and checkboxes will allow the user to select the proper answer to the question.
  3. Drag and Drop (DND)
    -A green list of options will be provided on the left side of the screen, prompting the user to drag each of these to the correct yellow category box on the right side. The items can be removed from the chosen category and rearranged before submitting a final answer using the Submit button.
  4. Router Simulation
    -Individual real-world scenarios are given, and the user is prompted to negotiate the proper network arrangement or perform the functions necessary using a simulated console session. With this type of question, you must remember to do a copy running-config startup-config to save your configuration or you will simply get the question wrong even if you configured it all correctly.
  5. Testlet
    -The user is provided with a real-world scenario, and 3 or more questions are posed with regard to the scenario given. With this sort of question, you need to make sure you click all the question numbers on the right and select and answer for each before going to the next question; as you can't go back.

How to study for the CCNA exam?

We have been helping students prepare for their CCNA exam since 2000 and we have picked up a thing or two on how to successfully prepare a student for their CCNA exam! At a high level you need the following things available to you successfully self-study and pass your exam.

  1. A full blown CCNA Study Guide When you purchase a lab kit from us you will get a lab workbook to help guide you through your labs. But the lab workbook does assume that you have some basic knowledge about Cisco routers and switches. We want to be very clear, just having routers, switches and a lab workbook is not enough to pass your Cisco exam. Most CCNA study guides are about 800 pages so there are lots of concepts and nuisances that are covered and we highly recommend you purchase a CCNA study guide to assist you in your self study efforts. Many people ask us what study guide we recommend. I will give you a few suggestions. For a low cost solution, you can go with the basic Sybex CCNA study guide. It is written in layman's terms for very green students and it the cheapest solution. However I have found that it does not go as in-depth to some topics as I might like. The next suggestion is the Cisco Press CCNA study guide. This is a more expensive solution and is written in technical terms and probably does not explain some of the concepts as clearly as the Sybex Guide. So if you are already familiar with Cisco routers and TCP/IP, this may be a better solution for you. Finally, we recommend the Bryant Advantage Ultimate CCNA Study Package. You can find a link to his site at the Bryant Advantage. Now for a free solution, you may want to checkout our www.FreeCCNAStudyGuide.com as it is the best price of all; free! We also include in all of our CCNA kits our free CCENT, INCD2 and CCNA Boot Camp eBooks. They are more along the lines of an exam cram type of book. You can click the link to download a PDF sample of our Advanced IOS Management chapter.
    CCNA Book Sample
  2. Not absolutely required, but a nice to have is a CBT Video of the CCNA class. This acts as a nice compliment to a study guide (especially for those who absorb data better by hearing and seeing it), but should not be used as a replacement of a CCNA Study Guide as you can't yellow highlight the important concepts on your computer screen!
  3. A CCNA Lab Kit with the right combination of routers and switches to exercise the concepts on the exam. You can't just throw together any routers and switches together and think it will work. You want to balance the features between the devices to get the most value out of your lab. You can read our CCNA Lab Suggestions or contact us via our Contact Us link to help you build the best home lab for your objectives.
  4. Now as you are absorbing the concepts you are reading and about to put them to use in a lab, a top of the line Lab Workbook like our 450 page lab workbook we include in all of our kits so you can practice the concepts on your CCNA home lab. This will help to really cement the concepts into your head. What good is having a CCNA lab if you don't have any labs to follow? And let us be clear. A configuration example is not the same as a step by step lab with commentary and questions. It covers everything from creating static routes, dynamic routes, NAT, Frame-Relay and IPv6. Probably things a new CCNA student cannot do off the top of their head. Here is a sample topology from our 450+ page CCNA Lab Workbook that will walk you through over 60 labs.  You can see them all listed at the bottom of this page.  Notice how we have redundant links and combine both WAN and LAN technologies in our lab as they each use different encapsulation types.  These are the types of complex labs that will help you actually learn the topics in the CCNA exam.
      Sample CCNA EIGRP Lab Topology
    Click here to download the sample CCNA EIGRP Lab
  5. A CCNA Practice Exam Simulator is another invaluable piece of your CCNA study arsenal. A good exam simulator will help you identify what areas you need to brush up on before paying $295 for your CCNA exam. Our CCNA practice exam will help prepare you for the types of questions you will see on the exam. The biggest thing I want to emphasize here is you do NOT want to memorize the questions! You need to be able to understand why the answer is correct or incorrect. Memorizing questions and answers is not learning ... it is just memorization! What would happen if you see a similar question on the test that is slightly reworded? You need to understand how to read the question and pick out the right solution. Using a CCNA exam simulator properly will help you develop this test taking skill. Take a look at how our questions are complex scenario questions like you will see on the exam and not simple memorization questions. When you purchase our CCNA practice exam as a solo product it comes with our Pass Guarantee*! Compare this to the exam simulators offered by Transcender for $139 or Measure-Up for $99 per exam!
    CCNA Exam Simulator

So how do we tie those items together? Its really easy. We suggest you do the following:

  1. Read the first 3 or 4 foundational theory chapters of your CCNA Study Guide along with your CBT DVD if you have one.
  2. After completing the theory reading/DVD watching, you can get into the hands on configuration chapters. Once you are in these chapters, you can jump around in the lab workbook to match the lab up with the concept you are reading about.
  3. Upon completion of your study guide and lab workbook exercises, you can now take a first stab at a practice exam. Once you complete the practice exam, print out all the questions and answers. Review the ones you answered incorrectly and go back and review those topics in both your study guide and redo the labs. Really cement those concepts in your brain. Then retake the next practice exam repeating until you are scoring an 85% or better without memorization! Just continue refreshing the material and in no time you will be holding your passing exam score for your CCNA certification!

What CCNA Lab Kit do I buy?

There is nothing better to prepare you for your CCNA exam than working on the real thing! But at the same time, haphazardly throwing together routers and switches does not necessarily make a good lab. You want a balance of routers and switches in your lab that will be able to support different features that are covered on the exam. If you have all routers that are 10mb, then you can do some of the inter-vlan routing and trunking labs. If you have all routers that have a single Ethernet port you can't do any of the NAT/PAT labs. So those were just a few quick examples of why it is important to get the right mix of equipment. Additionally, you want to have a Lab Workbook that is a real lab workbook to come with your kit. You may be asking what is the big deal as a lab workbook is a lab workbook. Absolutely not! Our lab workbook explains to your step by step what commands to enter, the theory of why you are entering them and then we do verification to show you they work and then guide you on how to troubleshoot with those commands. Other "lab workbooks" are simply the commands to enter with no additional information. So to get a lot more information about how to build the right CCNA lab, review our Lab Suggestions.

ccna kit

What to do on test day?

Many of these suggestions are common sense, but well worth repeating as sometimes they are forgotten.

  • I like to schedule my exam for roughly 11 am. This gives me some time in case I oversleep, car breaks down, and so I do not feel rushed.
  • Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before your exam. You don't want to be battling a hangover in addition to Cisco's trick questions.
  • Make sure you know how to get to the test center. Many times I hear students say they missed their test time because they could not find the test center. This should never happen.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the test center. Try to arrive an hour early. This will allow you time to compose yourself for the exam and review any last minute topics you want to brush up on. This also gives you a buffer in case of traffic issues, your car breaks down, you get lost, etc.
  • Relax. Review your CRAM sheet and notes while you wait for exam time.
  • You know the stuff. Read the questions carefully and answer to the best of your ability. Never leave a question blank as then it is automatically wrong.
  • First thing you can do when you sit down and BEFORE you start your exam is write on your notes sheet the test center gave you any commands or notes you are having trouble with. This way you don't lose any of the time allocated for the actual exam writing this down. Also if you do this right away, you will not forget those commands you are having trouble with.
  • At the same time, write down your subnetting chart for number of hosts, subnets, etc. This way you can easily refer back to it during the exam.
  • Try to use the process of elimination when you have no clue what the correct answer is for the question. Usually you can eliminate 50% of the answers and then you have a 50-50 shot of getting it right.
  • Use the option to mark a question (if available on your exam) to go back to it later if you are unsure of the answer. I then mark it on my scrap paper with a quick note of NS or NC with the question number as you will see below.
  • On my scrap piece of paper, I create three columns and I label them as such; OK which means I know the answer 100%, NS(Not Sure), and NC(No Clue). Then as I take the exam, I put a mark in each column so I can kind of track how I am doing. It helps me understand how much time to spend on a question. So if I see I have 90% of them in the OK column, I don't stress as much if I have a few in the NS or NC column. But if I have a lot in the NS or NC column, I know I need to go back and review them to try to pick up any clues I can.

Should I take the two part exam (ICND1 and ICND2 = CCNA) or the single CCNA exam?

This is one of the most asked questions we get. This is very much a personal choice, but there are factors that can be considered that may help you in this decision. Either way you go, the tests ultimately cover the same exact material. The curriculum is simply just split up or not split up. The CCNA exam covers a lot of material, so for some people it is easier to focus on this in two separate exams. We think one of the biggest factors to consider here is your ability to commit time to studying and preparing. If you are able to study full-time and commit all of your energy to preparation, the single CCNA exam may be the best option for you. If you are working part-time or full-time and are using a few hours a night to prepare, then breaking the test up may greatly help with your time management. There are a couple of additional trade-offs between taking the two part and one part exam. If you take the two part exam, you will be able to put your skills to the test earlier and get a peek at how a a Cisco exam works before you go to take the second part when you are ready. Another benefit is that you will receive the CCENT certiication after completing ICND1, which will look great on a resume as you are waiting to complete ICND2. The beneficial part to taking the single CCNA exam is that it may cover the same material, but it is a single exam, so less questions. So, if you are feeling confident and want to get everything done with one trip to the exam center, go for it!

How long is my CCENT or CCNA certification good for?

Your Cisco certification is good for 3 years from the date you obtain it. Coincidentally that is also roughly the same amount of time between exam major content refreshes. So every three years, you must update your Cisco certification according to the policies of Cisco at that time. Generally you can recertify by passing the ICND1 for CCENT, ICND2 for CCNA or any advanced Cisco exam and it will extend your Cisco CCENT/CCNA certification status another 3 years. This is one of the reasons why a Cisco certification is more valuable than many other IT certifications. By requiring you to recertify every three years, it ensures you are kept up to date with the quickly changing technologies in the IT field. CCIEs by the way are required to recertify every two years.

Advanced CCNA Certifications

Once you achieve your CCNA Routing &Switching certification, you have many options open to you in the Cisco world. In 2008 Cisco introduced four advanced CCNA certifications which focused on specialization in different technologies. Obtaining your CCNA is a perquisite for any of these advanced CCNA certifications. Each is obtained by completing one additional exam. These four certifications are as follows:

CCNA Voice which is obtained by completing the 640-461 exam. This exam validates associate-level knowledge and skills required to administer a voice network. Focusing on the required skill set for specialized job roles in voice technologies such as voice technologies administrator, voice engineer, and voice manager. It validates skills in VoIP technologies such as IP PBX, IP telephony, handset, call control, and voicemail solutions. You should be proficient in your skills with Cisco CallManager Express(CME) and Cisco Unity Express(CUE).

CCNA Collaboration which is obtained by completing the 640-461 exam. This exam validates associate-level knowledge and skills required to administer a voice network. Focusing on the required skill set for specialized job roles in voice technologies such as voice technologies administrator, voice engineer, and voice manager. This exam replaces the CCNA Voice exam and expands on its curriculum.

CCNA Security certification which is obtained by completing the 210-260 exam. This exam validates knowledge and skills required to secure Cisco networks. With a CCNA Security certification, a administrator demonstrates the skills required to develop a security infrastructure, recognize threats and vulnerabilities to networks, and mitigate security threats. The CCNA Security exam puts emphasizes on core security technologies, the installation, troubleshooting and monitoring of network devices to maintain integrity, confidentiality and availability of data and devices, and competency in the technologies that Cisco uses in its security structure.

CCNA Cyber Ops certification which is obtained by completing the 210-250 and the 210-255 exam. This is one of the newest Cisco certifications out there and is available as of May 2017. This eam validates knowledge in detecting cybersecurity breaches and effectively responding to security incidents. This curriculum prepares candidates to begin a career working with associate-level cybersecurity analysts within security operations centers (SOC's).

CCNA Wireless certification which is obtained by completing the 200-355 exam. This exam validates associate-level knowledge and skills to configure, implement and support of wireless LANs, specifically those networks using Cisco equipment. With a CCNA Wireless certification, administrators can support a basic wireless network on a Cisco WLAN in a SMB to enterprise network. The CCNA Wireless exam includes information and practice activities to prepare them for configuring, monitoring and troubleshooting basic tasks of a Cisco WLAN in SMB and Enterprise networks.

Data Center certification is obtained by passing the 200-150 and 200-155 Data Center Networking and Data Center Technologies exams respectively. The key areas covered are data center network design, implementation and maintenance.