How to study for and pass the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) exams

Need to know just what to study for the Cisco CCNP exam? Look no further. In this Daily Feature, Todd Lammle shows you where you can find the information you need using TechProGuild's Tech Books library and tools he's created.

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) exams were designed to test network professionals who have been in the IT field for three to five years. Achieving this certification will help prove your worth to your existing management and show future employers that you have the proper skills for the job.

To become a CCNP, you must pass your CCNA exam and then pass four more written exams. In this article, I will explain the information you must study to achieve your CCNP.

The four CCNP exams
The four Cisco CCNP exams are:
  • Routing 640-503
  • Switching 640-504
  • Remote Access 640-505
  • Support 640-506

You can also take the Foundation R/S exam, which covers routing, switching, and remote access in one exam. This exam number is 640-509. However, this exam is not recommended because if you fail just one section, you fail the entire exam.

The CCNP Routing exam is the advanced routing exam. For this exam, you must know your advanced routing protocols like EIGRP, OSPF, and BGP. Practice configuring these protocols—especially OSPF and BGP—on routers that are on large internetworks. Understand how these protocols work and how they are configured. Check out the exam objectives for the Routing exam on Cisco’s Web site. Out of all four exams, these objectives are the only ones that were actually thought out before Cisco put them on the Web site.

You must be able to configure OSPF in a single area as well as multiple areas. Understand the link state advertisements (LSA) process and how it is used in the different areas. For the exam, you should also be able to configure Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) with variable length subnet mask (VLSM) and summarization.

Understand the inside processes of Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) and how EIGRP discovers, chooses, and maintains routes. Also, be sure you can configure EIGRP in a nonbroadcast multiaccess (NBMA) network as well as create and install a large VLSM EIGRP network using summarization.

The topic of Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is probably the hardest part of the exam. You must really know BGP inside and out. You really must know how to configure BGP between multiple autonomous systems, configure external and internal BGP, configure policy control in BGP using prefix lists, and configure BGP to connect to multiple ISPs using BGP.

You must also have a good grasp on route maps and policy-based routing.

Read the TechProGuild Tech Book Cisco Router OSPF Design & Implementation Guide or Sybex’s CCNP: Routing Study Guide for more information on each of these subjects.

The Switching exam tests your knowledge of the Catalyst 5000 and 1900 series switches. You must know how to configure VLANS, ISL, 802.1q, and STP timers. Study STP timers inside and out and make sure you know how they are configured in large switched internetworks. Don’t bother with the Cisco-listed Switching exam objectives, as they won’t help you much in preparation for the actual exam.

For the exam, you should have a fundamental understanding of the OSI reference model and how the different switching methods work at each layer. The more difficult layers (such as Layer 2, Layer 3, and Layer 4) should get special attention. You should also know multilayer switching (MLS). Make sure you understand the Cisco three-layer model. Study how to build switched networks using switch blocks and core blocks.

Study the different cable media and Ethernet networking available, including the specifications of Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. Practice configuring basic IOS commands, such as logging in and setting passwords, on the 5000 series of switches and the 1900 CLI.

You should have a solid understanding of the configuration of VLANs and trunking on both the 5000 and 1900 series of Catalyst switches. Understand the specifications of Layer 2 switching, advanced STP topics, and how STP works with VLANs.

You will also need to be able to design and configure routing between multiple VLANS using both internal and external route processors.

Understand the design theory and configuration of multilayer switching and how to configure Multicast on both routers and switches.

The Cisco Switched Internetworks book from TechRepublic’s Tech Book section will help in your studies, and Sybex’s CCNP: Switching Study Guide covers all the real exam objectives that are not listed on the Cisco Web site.

Remote Access
The Remote Access exam requires that you have a complete knowledge of frame relay, ISDN, PPP, and async connections. Again, don’t bother studying the Cisco-listed objectives.

To pass the Remote Access exam, you must know your async connection types on both Windows and Cisco routers. You must also be able to connect to routers through the async port using modems.

You will need to know how to configure PPP with both PAP and CHAP and configure authentication and multilink with both direct connections and dial-up connections.

ISDN signaling techniques are heavily tested, and you must have a really good understanding of ISDN to pass this exam. Practice configuring ISDN as well as DDR using ISDN and async so when you’re asked the questions on the exam you won’t have any problems.

You will also want to make sure you take the time to study and be able to configure X.25.

Do not bother taking this exam unless you really understand frame relay and how it is configured in different types of WAN networks. Hands-on experience is key for this exam.

Setting up NAT/PAT, queuing on serial interfaces, and AAA authentication is also covered on the exam. Know these.

The Sybex book CCNP: Remote Access Study Guide covers all the real Remote Access exam objectives. You can learn more about Cisco NAT from Chapter 7 of the TechProGuild Tech Book Advanced IP Routing in Cisco Networks.

The Support exam is one of the most difficult of the CCNP series. Not only must you understand the configuration of advanced protocols but you must also know how to troubleshoot and pinpoint problems in an internetwork. I’ve always thought the exam objectives for the Support exam listed on the Cisco Web site were to be designed to make you fail. Use caution when (and if) you review these.

This should probably be the last exam you take in the series since this exam covers how to troubleshoot everything you learned in the previous three exams.

You must know your LAN and WAN protocols inside and out and also the Cisco commands used to verify and troubleshoot configurations.

Before you attempt this exam, practice the troubleshooting techniques found in Sybex’s CCNP Support Study Guide on real networks. Cisco has created a step-by-step approach to troubleshooting the different WAN and LAN protocols, and you must know these steps.

Be sure you can effectively troubleshoot IP, IPX, AppleTalk (yes, AppleTalk), ISDN, frame relay, and PPP.

Do not walk into this exam and say, “I’ve seen ISDN once; I can pass this.” You’d be wrong, very wrong. Study, study, and then study some more on all protocols and Cisco troubleshooting techniques.

Make sure you read Sybex’s CCNP Support Study Guide and memorize the Cisco troubleshooting steps for each protocol.

Each of the CCNP exams consists of about 70 questions that must be completed in around 90 minutes. Each test and its passing score vary, but the passing scores average around 80 percent. Always check the Cisco Web site for the most current information.

Also be sure to get plenty of hands-on experience. Either build a lab at work or at home, or go to the RouterSim Web site for a Cisco router simulator that will help you gain experience for a fraction of the cost of real equipment.
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