Network+ study guides: Which one is the best?

With the scores of study guides available for the Network+ exam, choosing the right one can be daunting. Don't fret. Now that Erik Eckel has shown you what to study, he's ready to recommend the best book to help you master the material and pass the exam.

If you've tried to select a Network+ study guide, you know that there are many to choose from. There are so many Network+ resources, in fact, that I found more than I could count on two hands. With all those choices, trying to pick out the best one can prove irksome. However, I have discovered that four Network+ study guides are particularly useful. I chose them based on the quality of the following elements:
  • Content
  • Graphics and diagrams
  • Sample practice exam(s)
  • Study questions

The four finalists are, in alphabetical order:

I'll explain why I think these are the cream of the crop, and then I'll tell you my top pick.

Read Erik’s Network+ study lists
"The Network+ exam: Your first list to study" "The Network+ exam: Your second list to study"

Coriolis' Network+ Exam Cram
Long a bread-and-butter tool for IT professionals seeking IT certification, the popular Exam Cram line lives up to expectations when it comes to Network+. You’ll find several Exam Crams, in fact, dedicated to the Net+ exam.

One follows the traditional Exam Cram format, while another title, Network+ Practice Test Exam Cram, consists entirely of sample exams. My preference is to work with electronic simulations only. Thus, the Network+ Exam Cram (non-Adaptive version) is the title to get if you go the Exam Cram route.

This title is like most in the Exam Cram series. You’ll find the nuts-and-bolts exam content covered, helpful exam alerts, average graphics and diagrams, and a collection of sample questions at the end of each chapter. There’s also a sample test at the end. Add in the fact it’s got the best removable cram sheet of the group, and it’s a book well worth its $29.99 cover price. But alas, there’s no CD-ROM.

Microsoft Press' Network+ Certification Training Kit
The Microsoft Press selection is similar to the Sybex text below in that both offer a more well-rounded experience. Neither of these two titles focuses on just the knowledge required to get you through the exam. The benefit of this is that the Microsoft Press and Sybex books will serve you long after your paper certification yellows on the wall, because they both make great reference books too.

Microsoft Press’ Network+ Certification Training Kit covers all the material you’ll likely find on the exam, and then some. Graphics, diagrams, and illustrations are a step above Coriolis’, and the included lessons and exercises make you stop and apply the topics you’ve just read about.

At $59.99, it’s the priciest of the lot. In its defense, it’s also the largest, at more than 600 pages.

Like the Sybex and New Riders books, the Microsoft Press version includes the entire contents of the book in electronic format on an accompanying CD-ROM. Unlike the New Riders and Sybex texts, Redmond’s Network+ guide doesn’t include practice questions, electronic flashcards, or a simulation exam. You will find video demonstrations and an eBook copy of Microsoft’s Encyclopedia of Networking though. Not a bad trade-off on the reference front.

New Riders' Network+ Certification Training Guide
For some reason, I usually don’t jump at New Riders’ books when selecting an exam aid. That’s changing. I found much to like in the Network+ Certification Training Guide.

New Riders uses notes in page margins to solidify concepts and to remind you of important clarifications. I found numerous sidebars that proved helpful.

Most every exam topic is covered. However, it’s best if you’ve spent a few years working in the industry, as this book quickly passes over some issues, such as Novell administration, UNIX operation, and subnetting.

You’ll be greeted by sections that encourage you to “apply your knowledge” at the end of every chapter. Such exercises are a necessity in an exam prep book.

It’s clear that New Riders’ illustrators worked overtime. You’ll find no better diagrams, drawings, and graphics than those included in the New Riders text. The UTP connector drawing in the first chapter and the frame format diagram in the third chapter are just two examples. Most important, don’t underestimate the value of these graphic aids, especially when preparing for an exam that tests your networking and hardware expertise!

For $49, the New Riders book boasts a CD-ROM that includes electronic flashcards and study cards, an exam simulation with 150 questions, the entire book’s contents, and more. It’s a solid buy.

Sybex's Network+ Study Guide
The Sybex Network+ Study Guide could pass as CompTIA courseware. It’s that thorough. Each chapter ends with a collection of decent test questions. Plus, you’ll find a list of keywords you can scan quickly. Doing so helps ensure that you remember and understand the important terms you just covered without having to flip back through numerous pages.

The accompanying CD-ROM includes the entire book text, hundreds of practice questions, flashcards, and more. It’s a valuable resource that you won’t want to leave sealed.

Like the Coriolis and New Riders products, the Sybex book includes a tear-out sheet. Only, the Sybex version lists the exam’s objectives. That’s not real helpful. I would prefer a cram sheet I can study from. My only other complaint with the Network+ Study Guide is that the graphic elements aren’t as well developed as those you’ll find in the New Riders text.

Oh well. At $49.99, you’ll be hard-pressed to surpass the combination of first-rate exam content, test questions, and background information that you’ll receive from Sybex’s Net+ resource.

Eckel’s take
I’m not going to wimp out and say all four of these books are excellent (although they are). I’m not going to take the easy way out and say you can’t go wrong with any of them (which is true, as they’re all resources capable of helping you pass the Network+ certification exam). Instead, I’ll give it to you straight. I believe the Sybex book is the best of the bunch.

As I mentioned above, the Sybex text is so thorough that it could easily be used as courseware. If you haven’t worked much with Novell or UNIX, as I haven’t, you’ll find the additional information that’s provided helpful.

The test engine on the CD is excellent. The book’s illustrations are ample, if not as good as those in the New Riders book. While I don’t like the Sybex tear-out cram sheet, I don’t use them half of the time when I buy Exam Crams, anyway.

While I could probably pass the exam studying only from the Microsoft Press or Coriolis books, it really came down to the New Riders and Sybex books for me. Since the Net+ offering from New Riders was a little sparse in the areas of Novell, UNIX, and subnetting, which I want to brush up on again since I last passed a TCP/IP exam some 24 months ago, I feel most comfortable with the Sybex Network+ Study Guide.

I’ll use it to prepare for my Network+ certification. You should too.

What are you using to study for the Network+ exam?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.


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