Certifications / Microsoft

How Long Does It Take to Earn an IT Certification?

How Long Does It Take to Earn an IT Certification? picture: A
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Updated on April 2, 2024

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. 

Studying for an exam is a highly individualized process. It's important to give yourself enough time to be successful but not enough time to overthink, burn out, or get bored. We've surveyed thousands of exam-takers to find out the average study times for the most popular IT certs. Whether you need weeks or months depends on experience and a number of other factors, but data from surveys like these can help you plan your study times accordingly.

Here’s how long it typically takes to earn Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, AWS, and CompTIA certifications.

Certs That Typically Require Less Than 3 Months to Pass 

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. 

Certs That Typically Require 3 Months of Preparation 

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 VCP-DCV 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

AWS certifications that require about three months

CompTIA certifications that require about three months

Microsoft certifications that require about three months

VMware certifications that require about three months

Certs That Typically Require 4 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 4 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, while 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 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. 

(ISC)2 Certifications That Require 4 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 4 Months

Over the past few years, Microsoft’s certification landscape has changed significantly. The company has moved towards a product certification model, meaning that most exams will correspond with one of the many Microsoft applications, platforms, or service offerings. Below are some of the certifications that you should be able to clear in the four-month timeframe.

Certs That Typically Require 6 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 Usually Require 6 months

The CCNA is seen as a starting point for IT professionals who want to begin their certification journey into Cisco technologies. Previously, there were multiple CCNA exams, but this has been combined into the CCNA 200-301. It is a single exam that tests Network fundamentals, Network access, IP connectivity, IP services, Security fundamentals, Automation, and programmability.  

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. 

Certs That Typically Require 9 Months of Studying 

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. 

Certs That Require Longer Than a Year

A year is a long time to prepare for an exam, 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:

Expert-level Cisco certs:

How to Know You’re Ready For Your IT 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 how to manage your test time, how to study, and how long to study. 

Again, studying for an exam is an 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 CySA+ 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!

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