When you’re taking an exam as important as the Cisco Certified Network Associate exam, it’s important to understand what you’re up against. In this article, I’ll give you an idea of what you’ll face in the exam, and list some sources of material that can help you prepare to take it.

Why seek certification?
Certification gives you a competitive advantage over those in your field who lack it. I’ve heard the argument that experience counts more. That may be true if an applicant has certification but no experience. All other things being equal, though, the job will probably go to the applicant with the right certification. One of the first things that contracting companies tout is the fact that their employees have certifications, and it’s one of the first things companies look for when hiring, too. The right certification can boost your career in ways that experience alone can’t match.

Cisco Certified Network Associate exam
Cisco offers three levels of certification: Associate, Professional, and Expert. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam falls under the Associate level. In order to obtain your CCNA certification, you need only pass one exam, the CCNA 640-607.

You’ll have 75 minutes to complete the CCNA exam. The passing score is 849, which doesn’t give you much wiggle room. Most of the questions will be multiple-choice questions. There are two different types of multiple-choice questions: those requiring a single correct answer and those requiring multiple correct answers. When multiple answers are required, the question will tell you how many answers to choose. On a question requiring multiple answers, you must select all correct choices in order to get credit; there’s no partial credit for a multiple answer question. You may also see a fill-in-the-blank or drag-and-drop question. You will definitely get at least two simulation questions. The simulation questions make it hard to judge your time because they don’t necessarily come at the end.

There’s no option to mark a question or go back to it at a later time. Once you’ve clicked to proceed to the next question, you can’t go back to a previous question.

Categories for the exam are:

  • Bridging/Switching
  • OSI Reference Model and Layered Communication
  • Network Protocols
  • Routing
  • WAN Protocols
  • Network Management
  • LAN Design
  • Cisco Basics IOS
  • Network Basics

Cisco’s survey
Before you get to the actual exam, Cisco has you fill out a survey online. It doesn’t take time away from your exam, though. This survey can actually help you by letting you prepare a little. When you enter the test room, you’re only allowed to take in the piece of paper and pencil that the exam facility provides. It is strongly recommended that you write down things that can help you on that piece of paper.

During the survey, you can answer a survey question and then spend a few seconds jotting down notes before continuing on to the next survey question. This will help you use the exam time for actually taking the exam and not for writing. Writing down the TCP/IP subnetting table is a good example of something that you can do during the survey to help you prepare for the exam. You can also use a small amount of time before the exam to make notes.

Test-taking tips
When taking the exam, read each question carefully. Some questions tend to be tricky. Make sure when you click on a choice that it’s really marked. Be careful clicking anywhere on the screen. I found that by inadvertently clicking near the scroll bar on the right of the screen, I actually changed an answer.

Test simulations
You’ll face test simulations on a variety of problems. For example, you might be presented with a graphic that shows several routers. You’ll be given a scenario that will explain the problem that you must fix. A router may be down because RIP is disabled or the IP address has been changed. You may also have to configure the Console, Terminal, and Auxiliary passwords.

Be sure you know how to encrypt all passwords on the router and how to enable the secret password. You must also know how to configure a terminal session with 9600 baud, no parity, and 8 bits. If you can’t do this, you may not be able to get into the router to fix the problem. You’ll know that you’ve been successful when you can ping all routers and connectivity is restored. Also, be sure to leave the routers as you would a real production router—by logging off the router.

Additional study information
You can purchase some study material that only focuses on the exam, or you can find a comprehensive study guide that goes into a lot of detail.

Exam Cram has a good, comprehensive book that doesn’t get into too much detail. It only covers the material that you’ll need to pass the exam.

The Sybex 640-607 book is very complete and even has some CDs with simulations that can help prepare you the types of simulations on the exam. The problem with this book is that it’s very long and goes into more detail than is necessary to pass the exam. However, it will make a good reference guide after you’ve passed the exam.

MeasureUp.com has a good online test site that gives you over 400 questions that are comparable to the real exam. There are several modes that you can use, such as certification mode or study mode. The certification mode is set up like the real exam. The study mode lets you check your answers immediately and also gives good explanations. You can choose to take an exam based on category if you feel that you need help in a specific area. You can also print the exams so you can study anywhere.

MeasureUp.com recommends that you pass its certification exam twice with a score of 100 percent before you take the real exam. I found that its exam questions were more difficult than the actual exam, and I never made a 100 percent on any of its exams. You can purchase a 30-day usage for $59, a 90-day usage for $75, a download for $89, or a CD-ROM for $89.

Transcender.com has always been a reliable source of study material. It is a bit more expensive than other sources, but you can be certain that you’re prepared to take the real exam after using its material. You can purchase the download for $139 or the CD-ROM for $149.

CheatExams.com is another source of exam questions that are very similar to those you’ll find on the real exam. For $49, you can purchase 370 questions.

You’re certifiable
The amount of material that you must know to pass the CCNA exam is almost overwhelming. I found it to be the equivalent of about two Microsoft exams combined. Don’t be discouraged from studying for, taking, and passing certification exams. They are an important part of letting the industry know that you’ve done your job and are serious about your career.