Is the CCNA R&S Difficult?
CCNA R&S is widely considered an entry-level certification, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Whether you are new to the IT industry or a grizzled networking veteran looking to validate your hard-earned experience with official credentials, the CCNA R&S exam can be a harrowing experience.
I joined Cisco as a CALO co-op in January of 2017. During my orientation, our group was told that while we weren't required to obtain our CCNA R&S certification during our 6-month stay, but it was certainly expected.
Driven by my own ambition and a healthy sense of competition, I started my studies right away. Each day during my one-hour lunch break, I balanced my time between reading from Cisco Press textbooks and watching Jeremy Cioara's ICND1 and ICND2 training videos. In the middle of March in 2017, I took my first attempt at the CCNA-X 200-125 exam and passed it with 10 points to spare. I was the first co-op among my group to obtain the certification.
Despite the fact that I barely passed the exam, I didn't find the exam itself to be particularly difficult. The exam was pretty faithful to what is outlined in the exam topics published by Cisco.
The true difficulty of the exam stemmed from external factors, such as the stress of competition among my peers and juggling priorities between CCNA R&S studies, learning the duties of a new job, maintaining college coursework, and spending time with friends and family.
The reasons many consider the CCNA R&S exam to be difficult have nothing to do with the exam itself — it's everything else.
How to Find the Time to Study
We all wear other hats as parents, spouses, coaches, and so on. It's life that makes the CCNA exam difficult, particularly the ability to allocate time for studying. After all, sometimes it's difficult to carve eight hours out of the day to sleep — let alone a long study session. Luckily, you don't need to study long. You need to study often.
The obvious workaround is to schedule time each day dedicated to studying. The more time dedicated each day to studying, the better off you will be. However, the frequency that you spend studying is more important than the amount of time spent studying. For this reason, try to schedule time as often as possible for studying, even if you're only able to allocate 30 minutes every day.
There's another benefit to studying in shorter increments. It helps to set specific goals for each study session. For example, here's what a study week might look like with just 30 minutes each day:
Monday – Learn about OSPF router IDs and take time to create quality notes
Tuesday – Review your notes and experiment with OSPF router IDs in the lab
Wednesday – Reinforce your understanding of OSPF router IDs by reviewing official Cisco documentation on the subject, noting specific limitations or caveats surrounding the feature.
Once you're confident that you understand the material, demonstrate your mastery by teaching the concept to others — explain OSPF router IDs to a study buddy, write a blog post, tweet about it, or tell your pet.
Additional study time can be squeezed out of the busiest of schedules thanks to technology. Consider reviewing digital flashcards on your mobile device with Anki. Obtain virtual copies of study materials (such as the CBT Nuggets mobile app) and learn while on the go. Even listening to networking podcasts (such as Network Collective and Packet Pushers) while commuting or at the gym can help reinforce networking concepts, as well as get you involved with the networking community.
How to Keep Motivated
Losing motivation also makes studying difficult. It is common for those chasing the CCNA R&S to lose steam at a certain point.
The CCNA R&S certification is a crossroads where people from many different backgrounds and ambitions find a common goal. For each individual, there is a different motivation for obtaining the CCNA R&S, as well as a different reason for losing that motivation.
How to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed
If you're fresh to IT, perhaps straight out of high school or college, you may be intimidated by the content.
Networking (and arguably IT in general) is very similar to math. The skills you learn build upon one another. You can't solve differential equations if you don't first know algebra. While studying for the CCNA, if you find yourself struggling to understand a networking concept, you may not understand something foundational.
This may be a result of studying too much material too quickly. In that case, the best advice would be to slow down and revisit past material to verify mastery. It may also signify a lack of experimentation in the lab. Labbing is really important for the CCNA. Slow down, go back, and experiment using your labbing method of choice.
How to Come Back from Failure
Not everybody passes a certification exam the first time around. In fact, while I did (just barely!) pass the CCNA 200-125 exam on the first try, my most recent attempts at the CCNP R&S ROUTE exam have resulted in three failures.
I know firsthand that failing an exam can be incredibly demoralizing. However, failure is just a stepping stone on the road to success, and every failure along that road is an opportunity for you to learn and improve your knowledge. The benefits of obtaining your CCNA R&S certification will be worth the challenges you face along the way.
Regardless of your own reason for losing motivation, I recommend reading through Cisco's Ten Reasons You Should Get Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching Certified article. The document provides a number of benefits to obtaining your CCNA R&S, such as improving career prospects and your salary.
The majority of these reasons boil down to the fact that obtaining your CCNA R&S certification is an act of self-improvement that sets you apart from your peers and increases your value, whether that's value to your employees, to your customers, to your wage, or to yourself.
You Need to Learn How to Learn
For many, digesting technical material from a textbook feels impossible. You might spend all morning reading about the OSPF routing protocol, but as soon as you put the textbook down, it already feels like most of the information has slipped away from you.
Even recent college graduates find that the strategies that worked fine in college classes, don't work at all for CCNA R&S studies. As a result, many students find that they either need to learn how to learn, or drastically change how they learn.
Learning computer networking skills is similar to learning a foreign language. It's all about context. When learning a language, you'll get nowhere rotely memorizing words. You need to use the language to truly learn it. Use the language enough and it will eventually become second nature.
You follow a similar series of steps when learning about a new technology. You learn the basics and memorize a few key facts of the technology. You learn about the problem this technology solves and why other technologies could not solve this problem. You experiment with the new concept in the lab through configuration, verification, and troubleshooting. Finally, you repeat this process when reviewing notes or experimenting in the lab at a later date.
Practical use is key to learning Spanish or EIGRP. When learning about exam topics in the CCNA R&S, there is absolutely no substitute for getting intimate with the Cisco IOS command-line interface. There are many different ways to do this, whether you prefer working with physical equipment, virtual emulators such as GNS3, simulators such as Cisco's Packet Tracer, or even CBT Nuggets's own virtual labs. However you choose to experiment with networking concepts, just make sure that you practice each and every exam topic possible.
Doing so will not only enable you to pass the CCNA R&S exam, but will make you a better IT professional.
Is the CCNA Worth It?
In my opinion? Absolutely – especially if you earn it.
A week after I earned my CCNA R&S, I was shadowing a Cisco TAC engineer who knew that I had recently certified. As an impromptu test, the engineer drew a simple topology on a whiteboard with four switches connected in a rectangle, filled in some other information, then asked me to converge the spanning tree, indicating the roles and states of each interface in the topology. The 10 minutes that followed were some of the longest of my life, as I stumbled multiple times to find the correct answer. Finally, out of either kindness or mercy, the engineer converged the topology correctly for me while explaining the correct answer.
I was humiliated – how could I fail such a relatively simple task, especially so soon after I had passed the exam? Did I get lucky? Did I truly understand and master the topics covered by the exam? Was I being honest with myself?
Had I really earned my CCNA R&S certification?
After that experience, I made a conscious effort to truly master the topics presented in the exam by teaching them to others who were studying for the CCNA R&S. There's a proverb that goes, "It is not the destination, but the journey that matters." I believe that this is especially true with regards to Cisco certifications, which are earned through the journey to acquire them, not the acquisition itself. I hope that through the methods in this article, I have helped make the journey for you a little less difficult.