On August 31 of 2018, I passed my CCENT. On December 17th, I passed my ICND2 exam and became CCNA certified (yay!). I’ve had a few people reach out to me on Instagram and LinkedIn asking what I did to prepare for the exams, so I wanted to take some time and talk about that today.
I did write a previous post talking about what I did to prepare for the CCENT exam, so I apologize in advance for anything redundant I post here, but I promise that it all ties in together.
First off, I took the CCNA in two parts: ICND1 and ICND2. There is the option to take the composite exam, but I personally felt I would retain more and get a better grasp of the information if I broke up the exams in two parts. Keep in mind, if you take the ICND1 and pass, you obtain the CCENT certification, then when you move on to the ICND2 and pass, you obtain CCNA status. Had I taken the CCNA composite exam and failed, I would have been out more money, as the CCNA composite price is $325, and the ICND1 and ICND2 exams are $165 per exam.
For those wondering what I used for the ICND1, the listed study material can be found here.
For the ICND2, I used the following:
- The Internet
- Chris Bryant’s CCNA course
- CCNA ICND2 200-105 by Wendell Odom
- CCNA R&S Complete Study Guide by Todd Lammle
- Boson Practice Exams
- 101 Labs for the Cisco CCNA Exam
- GNS3 and Packet Tracer for labbing
Why I used both the Odom and the Lammle books:
- Odom: Very thorough but find myself getting lost in the explanations
- Lammle: A bit easier to read but once I understood the main concepts of what I was reading, I’d jump back into the Odom book
Both books were super helpful in their own ways. You don’t need to use both books to pass the exam, but it helped me to use the Lammle book as a reference point when I got stuck reading the Official Cert Guide by Odom.
The reason why I used so many resources was because I don’t like surprises, but you do not have to use as many resources as I did to prepare for these exams. There are some candidates that will use just a book, a video series, or both. It really just comes down to what works for you and how you obtain the information being learned. If you learn by watching, start with a video series. If you learn better by reading, pick up a book. This part doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with one source and if you need another, keep going.
My Study Approach
To be honest, I didn’t have a calculated way of studying. In the mornings, I would study for 2-3 hours. If there was downtime at work, I would study there. After work, I didn’t study a lot because I worked second shift and I knew I would find time to study before I left work for the evening, so I would spend the night playing video games or zone out while watching a show.
I also made sure to incorporate at least one Zero day a week. A Zero day meant I wouldn’t do any studying or labbing once a week, which kept me from burning out and getting frustrated if I couldn’t grasp a concept as fast as I wanted to. I would typically have my Zero day every Friday, which left me time to take care of errands, chores, and time with the people that mattered most. That’s one thing that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s wonderful to have goals and level-up in life, however, it’s important to not let loved ones or other priorities get pushed to the wayside. Having the Zero day helped me to find a balance between studies and enjoying life.
I studied for the ICND1 for 2 months and the ICND2 for about 3 1/2 months, totaling almost 6 months of consistent preparation. Consistency is key to passing this exam, and what kept me going was my “Why”. I wanted to pass this exam so I can finally move onto a Network Admin or Network Engineer position. I worked hard for this certification mostly to prove to myself that I can do this. The first time I took the ICND1 was in 2013 and I failed miserably by 300 points. I wasn’t ready, I rarely studied, and I wasn’t sure why I even wanted to take the exam. There are two things to take from this:
- Establish your “why” and you won’t need to find the motivation to study if obtaining the certification is that important to you.
- Don’t worry about how long it takes you to pass these exams. What’s important is how much you are regurgitating, because when it comes time to sit for a Network Admin interview and the interviewer has you troubleshoot a topology, you’ll have to show you know exactly what you are talking about.
I felt that I kept pretty calm that day. Because I do have test anxiety, I keep a pretty standard ritual for the day: no practice exams, eat a good breakfast, no coffee (because caffeine jitters suck), listen to positive music and motivational speakers (Les Brown, Eric Thomas, Mel Robbins). I try to arrive at the test center before I sit for the exam to chill out for a bit and get signed in with the test proctor.
Without breaking Cisco’s NDA, the exam was a bit tougher than the ICND1. Me labbing during my studies helped a lot with the simulation questions and some of the multiple choice questions. Using the process of elimination and asking myself “which answer is the most correct to the question” helped as well. No lie, I was half way through the exam and thought I failed, but I still kept up the momentum and thought that even if I did fail, I should finish strong.
After answering the last question on the exam, I saw the word “Congratulations!” and tried my best to not freak out in the exam room. Needless to say, I power-walked out of the exam room and high-fived the same test proctor as I did when I passed my CCENT exam.
I’m in the last couple of days of my staycation and with the New Year being here, I have already came up with a list of goals I’d like to achieve for the year. My first goal is to find myself in a Network Administrator role. I have the self-study experience, but now it’s time to step out there and gain some hands-on production experience. My second and third goals involve obtaining the CCNA Security and CCNP R&S. Right now, I am trying to decide which to pursue first.
For those of you going for your CCNA this year (or any other certifications), you got this. Believe in yourself, establish your “why”, and execute. This isn’t a race, so enjoy every moment learning, and good luck!