In my previous installment, I filled you in on key elements you would need to take into the CCNA class to make the experience as painless as possible. This time around, we are going to discuss tactics that will aid you while you are within the actual classroom environment.

Please take note that this is not a forum in which to learn the particulars of either internetwork computing or the Cisco IOS. Instead, this is a guide that will enable you to get through the CCNA classes much more easily than you would otherwise. We will discuss study techniques and learning tips that are unique to the CCNA classroom.

Before the class: a recap
As I said in the previous article, it is best to have a working knowledge of IP fundamentals, subnetting, and the command-line interface. With a good working understanding of these concepts, your education will be so much easier.

Should you fall short in these areas, do not fret—you will get a good dose of them within the class. And when you do, pay close attention!

To note or not to note
It is an ongoing debate (probably even within your own conscience) whether or not to take notes within a class. Is it a valuable tool? Of course it is—when it doesn’t get in the way.

One of the more difficult aspects of the CCNA classes is the volume of material you will cover. It’s extensive. Todd Lammle’s book, Cisco Certified Network Associate Study Guide, is 541 pages (not including the final practice exams, appendices, glossaries, and index), and you will cover each and every page! That is a lot of material. Not only is it a lot of material, it is dense and difficult material. So how do you get through the classes without getting either lost or plagued with finger cramps?

The first bit of advice I will offer is to limit your note taking. The first few days of CCNA class, I found myself madly scrambling to write down every gem that the instructor had to offer. Because of my insistence to grab every syllable, I wound up missing key information. What I failed to realize is that the instructor was pulling most of his information from the book. The key word here is most. What I was missing, as I desperately attempted to jot down every word, was the actual explanation of some of the more difficult concepts. Because of this, you will want to rely more on the book for the standard information and take note when the instructor strays from what the text offers.

Does this mean that you should have the book memorized? Of course not. What it does mean is that you should either ask the instructor which page the current material is coming from or follow the book closely as he/she speaks. With this technique, you can simply highlight what the instructor points out and make note of what is not included in the text. You will find yourself grasping the concepts much more quickly.

Another tried-and-true technique is employing the microcassette recorder. I find that often taping the instructor’s lesson allows me to listen better knowing that I can simply hit rewind (later on, of course) when I’ve missed something.

With these techniques you are going to want to invest in good old standard issue highlighters. One tip I’ve always been fond of is using two (or more) colors for highlighting. By using two colors to highlight your text you can indicate standard need to know knowledge in, say, yellow and critical have to know knowledge in, say, red. It’s an elementary technique but one that might save you from trying to decipher critical from not-so-critical information during those late night study sessions.

Lab work
During the CCNA course, you will actually get hands-on experience with a Cisco router. Typically you will be instructed on its setup and use and then released to complete various labs. Throughout these labs, it is very easy to fall prey to the type it out and get it done method. This is fine if you only wish to get home early. However, if you really want to understand what is happening, you will want to take your time.

For these labs, it would be all too simple to enter the required commands and call it quits. This method is sure to return just what you give—nothing. Sure, you will successfully complete the lab, but try to explain what you just did? You can’t! So instead of plowing through this section, take the time to understand what is going on. Read the lab manual carefully so you know what each command does and how it affects the test network you are creating.

Another bit of helpful advice is to use your lab time wisely. Should you finish a lab early, go over it again! Ask the instructor if it is okay to repeat the same lab. There are also certain sections of the lab that give you enough leeway to play. For instance, while creating various banners and logins, you can get creative and play around with adding and removing banners and passwords. Keep your neighbors from telnetting into your router with a password. Not only will this give you a spot of entertainment (in an otherwise possibly dry environment), it will serve as good practice—and practice, as you know, makes perfect.

Ask and ye shall receive
The last bit of classroom advice I can offer is fairly straightforward. Having spent a few years as an instructor myself, I can guarantee you that teachers love questions! An inquisitive student is a listening student. With that thought in mind, ask questions! If there’s a concept or technology you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask your instructor to expand or explain. Trust me, there will be others in your class who will be relieved that you asked.

You’ve paid good money for this class (or your company has paid good money), so don’t waste time with not understanding an idea when all you have to do is raise your hand. Although it is easy to think that asking questions will make you look unintelligent, you have to understand that you are on the road to a certification that is sure to expand your own horizons. It’s critical that you understand this information, and there’s no better place to gain this knowledge (with the exception, in many cases, of on the job training). Ask, ask, ask! Who cares if you look stupid in the eyes of your classmates: If it helps you to understand something you are struggling with, then your question has served you well.

It is very easy to get lost in the barrage of information that will confront you in CCNA class. With the simple tools and tasks outlined above, you should have a head start on those around you. Use what works and discard what does not. And above all, enjoy the experience!
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