The amount of time you have to complete a task is often the amount of time the task takes to complete. That’s particularly true with something as subjective as exam preparation. While we don’t necessarily think Parkinson’s law is the best approach to test preparation, it’s also just how time works. If you give yourself a month to study for an exam, then that’s how much time you have — whether you’re ready or not.
It’s important to give yourself enough time to be successful, but not enough time to overthink, burn out, or get bored. We’ve helped thousands of IT professionals prepare for IT certifications. In some cases, even helping them create study plans. There’s a Goldilocks Zone for studying — and it’s about three months per exam. Because most certifications require passing multiple exams, it’s just a simple matter of multiplication to figure out the total study commitment for an exam.
Here’s how long it typically takes to earn Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, AWS, and CompTIA certifications.
Certs that typically require less than three months
Preparing for an IT exam can be a long, arduous process, even with hands-on experience. Without hands-on experience, most entry-level certifications are out of reach for brand new or aspiring IT professionals. That ’s why foundational exams exist. These exams are designed for people with zero to six months of experience in the field. But, they’re typically attainable with fewer than 12 weeks of studying.
CompTIA IT Fundamentals
CompTIA Cloud Essentials
vSphere 6 Foundations
vSphere 6.5 Foundations
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
Certs that typically require about three months
CBT Nuggets Accountability Coaches have helped thousands of IT professionals prepare for their certification exams. They tell learners that three months is enough time to study for most exams. There are outliers, however. For instance, you can prepare for the VCP6 in a nine-week sprint, but it’ll be tight. So, why aren’t there more certifications on this list? Many certification exams require passing multiple exams. These are the certifications that require just one exam to earn.
Cisco certifications that require about three months
Cisco CCENT/CCNA ICND1 100-205
AWS certifications that require about three months
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
AWS Certified Developer – Associate
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
AWS Certified Security – Specialty
AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
CompTIA certifications that require about three months
Microsoft certifications that require about three months
MCSE: Business Applications
MCSE: Core Infrastructure
MCSE: Data Management and Analytics
VMware certifications that require about three months
VCP 6 – Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV)
VCP 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization (VCP6.5-DCV)
VCP – Data Center Virtualization 2019 (VCP-DCV 2019)
VCP 6 – Network Virtualization (VCP6-NV)
VCP – Network Virtualization 2019 (VCP-NV 2019)
VCP 6 – Cloud Management and Automation (VCP6–CMA)
VCP 7 – Cloud Management and Automation (VCP7-CMA)
VCP – Cloud Management and Automation 2019 (VCP-CMA 2019)
VCP Horizon 7.5
VCP 6 – Desktop and Mobility (VCP6-DTM)
VCP – Desktop and Mobility 2018 (VCP-DTM 2018)
VCP 7 – Desktop and Mobility (VCP7-DTM)
VCP – Desktop and Mobility 2019 (VCP-DTM 2019)
VCP – Digital Workspace 2018 (VCP-DW 2018)
VCP – Digital Workspace 2019 (VCP-DW 2019)
Certs that typically require about four months
These are either single-exam advanced certifications or entry-level certifications with more exams. Most people should be able to earn these CompTIA, Microsoft, and (ISC)2 certifications in about four months.
CompTIA certifications that require about four months
In a recent poll, we found a nearly even split in study time for the two CompTIA A+ certifications. Half of the respondents said it took them less than two months to study for each exam. The other half spent more than two months. However, about 70 percent spent less than 12 weeks studying for each exam. That’s why we’re recommending the lower end for the A+, but you should give yourself longer if you’re brand new to IT.
CompTIA A+ (two exams)
CompTIA is well known for its Core Series exams — A+, Network+ and Security+. It also has several advanced security exams. Looking at the /r/CompTIA subreddit, experienced professionals typically take between one and six months to pass these exams. They’re certainly not easy, but they should be attainable in four months — with a good study plan.
CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner
(ISC)2 certifications that require about four months
(ISC)2 certifications only require one exam, but they are massive exams. CBT Nuggets trainer Keith Barker describes the CISSP as “a mile wide and two inches deep.” With that said, (ISC)2 exams are typically taken by experienced security professionals. For that reason, it’s possible to study for these exams in four to five months.
Microsoft certifications that require about four months
While it might seem ambitious to knock out two Microsoft exams in four months, the vast majority of polled IT professionals found two months enough to study for most MCSA exams. Since these Microsoft certifications have two exams, they should be attainable in four months.
MCSA: BI Reporting
MCSA: Data Engineering and Azure (retires June 30, 2019)
MCSA: Machine Learning (retires June 30, 2019)
MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 (retires April 30, 2019)
MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations
MCSA: Office 365 (retires March 31, 2019)
MCSA: SQL 2016 BI Development
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Administration
MCSA: SQL 2016 Database Development
MCSA: Universal Windows Platform
MCSA: Windows 10 (retires March 31, 2019)
Certs that typically require about six months
These certifications are either two or three exams. Sticking with the assumption that it takes three months to study per exam, then these should be attainable in six months.
Cisco certifications that require about six months
These entry-level Cisco certifications all require two exams — one of which is the ICND1, as a prerequisite, which should take about three months to study for and pass. The rest of the exams are a coin flip. Our polling suggests that Cisco exams are either considered easy or hard. With that said, six months should be enough time to earn any of these entry-level Cisco certifications.
Cisco CCNA 1CND2 200-205
CCNA Cyber Ops
CCNA Data Center
CCNA Routing and Switching
CCNA Service Provider
Microsoft certifications that require about six months
These Microsoft certifications each require three exams. The vast majority of respondents to our poll studied for the Microsoft exams in fewer than two months. At two months per exam, these certifications should take you about six months to earn.
MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014
MCSA: Web Applications
MCSA: Windows Server 2012
MCSA: Windows Server 2016
A note about these certifications: Microsoft exams are notoriously tough for beginners. There’s a reason Microsoft recommends at least one year of experience before attempting an MCSA. Depending on your experience, you may need more time to earn these certifications, but two months is a good starting point.
Certs that typically require about nine months
Nine months might be a long time to study for one exam, but it’s just enough time to study for three professional-level exams. We’re still confident that three months is enough time to study, but that’s assuming you have the recommended five to seven years of experience.
CCNP Routing and Switching
Certs that require longer than a year
A year may seem like a long time to study for a certification, but we aren’t talking about entry-level exams. The professional-level certifications in this list have four exams that test advanced networking concepts. Cisco CCIE certifications have two parts — a written exam and then the lab. Most people spend a year studying for the lab portion — alone. So, to say that these exams take longer than a year to earn might be an understatement.
Professional-level Cisco certs with four exams:
CCNP Service Provider
CCNP Data Center
Expert-level Cisco certs:
CCIE Data Center
CCIE Routing and Switching
CCIE Service Provider
How to know you’re ready for an exam
Studying for certification exams gets both harder and easier as you progress from entry-level to expert. The exams test more advanced topics, but you’re better equipped to handle those through experience. The exams also test more material, but you’ve passed enough exams to know manage your test time, how to study, and how long to study.
Again, studying for an exam is a highly individualized process. It requires knowing your strengths and weaknesses, both with the exam content and your study skills. If it’s your first exam or you’re new to IT, then you probably need a little more time than an experienced professional. But even then, don’t be fooled. Some exams are harder than others. You might have passed your Network+ after only a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean the CCNA or MCSA will be as easy.
It’s important to know what to expect before scheduling an exam. You don’t want to schedule too little time to study otherwise you’ll be rushed. Three months is a good starting point to study for most exams. For the outliers, you’ll have to feel your way through to make the right call. Good luck!