After preparing for what I am sure was too long a period of time, I finally scheduled, paid for, prayed about, and sat for the new CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) 200-301 Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions exam. Unlike previous Cisco Associate level exams, the new CCNA exam covers a ton of topics that range from routing and switching, security, architectures, network design, cloud, wireless, and virtualization.
In the past, to master all these different subject matters, a candidate would have to take several courses and pass more than a single exam. Personally, I tend to want to be over-prepared, as this minimizes the risk that I will not pass the first examination. To that end, I read, studied, and reviewed hundreds of pages of material and tested myself rigorously on the topics covered. Even still, with all that preparation, I always have this nagging feeling in my gut that I will not be prepared for success. Luckily, I am usually wrong, but that is the feeling I get every time.
Ten Tips to Prepare for Your Exam
With that said, I thought it might be useful (from a strategy perspective) to share how I over-prepare for any exam I am taking. What you need to understand about me is that I have a fixed idea in my mind that more is better – always. What might also be helpful to understand is that memorizing answers to questions is not time well spent. Understanding what the question is asking and how to navigate to the correct answer is time well spent. Here is my exam-taking strategy in a nutshell:
- I read the entire book or manual at least twice. More if needed
- I write/type any review questions each chapter/section offers in a Word document and create an answer key to the questions also in a Word document
- I test myself with all the questions and try to get to 90% correct responses before considering myself proficient in that subject matter. Thankfully notebook paper is cheap.
- I use workbooks that I have gathered over the years in creating competence in subjects like IPv4 subnetting, IPv6, VLSM (Variable-Length Subnet Masking, and Access-Control Lists.
- I create high-level references for different subjects such as routing protocols, security protocols, etc
- I watch free videos easily found on the Interwebs about subjects I am unsure of
- I work through lab exercises found in the course material
- My 18 element home lab with live equipment helps out. Remember, more is better. Plus I like the white noise it creates.
- Sometimes I purchase associated Cisco Press books about the subject
- Last but certainly not least you could take the certification prep course Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA v1.0).
Scheduling Your Exam
If this is the first time you are taking a Cisco exam, there is a bit of a process involved. You will need a Cisco account (free) that has all your contact information. You can go here to register with Cisco. Then you will need to establish an account with Pearson VUE, the official testing entity for Cisco. Pearson VUE is where you will schedule, pay for, and select your testing site (remote or at a testing center). Once on the Pearson VUE site, you will select the option at the top of the Home Page called “For Test Takers”, then select “Schedule an exam”, then in the Ready, set, test window on the page that follows, type in the name Cisco Systems. Once selected, this will take you to the Pearson VUE Cisco page and you can either Create an Account or if you already have one, simply sign in. You then choose your exam number (200-301 for the CCNA exam I took), pay your fee, select the date and place (I took mine from home in the early afternoon), and capitalize on the investment of time, energy and brain cells you have developed.
Taking the Exam Remotely
If you are taking the exam remotely, be aware that you are being recorded and monitored by an exam proctor. You cannot see them, but they can see you. Also, prior to the start of the exam, you have to submit photographs of the space where you will sit. Candy cannot be on the desk, secondary and “n” monitors have to be physically disconnected from your docking station or desktop, and you are disallowed from speaking to anyone during the exam. And finally, you can have a drink but it has to be in a clear glass or cup. My favorite cold beverage cup is a dual-lined plastic green tinted Bubba cup and I could not use it. And if you are anything like me, I tend to drink a lot of liquids during the day, so this of course generates a lot of trips to the bathroom. My counsel to all of you is to make sure you go to the restroom before you sit down to take the 2-hour exam.
During my exam, of course all the nerves and liquid had my body responding appropriately. One of the challenges I had with this “new normal” of sitting at the desk and being comfortable was the enormous amount of time it took to get the attention of my proctor. There is a whiteboard (electronic) and a chat window to get to ping your proctor. But be aware that if you leave the space within which you are being recorded, the proctor can (and most likely will) invalidate your exam. Part of what is agreed upon is that you will not speak to anyone during the exam (except for the proctor via chat), so silence is golden.
With regard to the actual exam, I think it safe to share with everyone some high-level details. I hope you know that the way Cisco tests your subject matter knowledge is by building an adaptive exam and giving that a version number. You cannot see this, but the goal is that if you fail on any attempt, the testing engine can ask generally the same questions but formatted in a way that is different with each attempt. This is why memorizing exam questions is a waste of time.
The CCNA exam I sat for had 100 questions on it, and I was given 120 minutes to complete it. Be aware that unlike other exams, once you respond to a question and go to the next question, you cannot go back and review your responses. Remember to breathe (particularly important) and remember that you know what you know. For example, you know (if you read a book or better yet took one of our Skyline-ATS classes) that an IPv4 address will and shall always have 32 bits, regardless of how it is manipulated. Don’t let a test question try and convince you otherwise.
As you prepare for the exam, I wish you all the best of success. I was really happy with how I did, but I think it worth mentioning that prior to the new exam, I held Cisco Associate certifications in Route/Switch, Wireless and Security. Happy examing everyone!
Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA v1.0)