Preparing for Palo Alto's CNSA? Here’s How Long You’ll Need to Study

by Ross Heintzkill | Published on August 31, 2023

Palo Alto produces some of the world's best networking equipment and technology. The only downside is that companies who invest in Palo Alto tech need to hire people who understand what makes Palo Alto unique. The Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator (or PCNSA) is a certification developed and maintained by Palo Alto that essentially states that the person who earns it knows their stuff around a Palo Alto network and they can be trusted to do the basic and intermediary work necessary to keep it running.

But if you want to earn the PCNSA, you're going to have to study for it – since it's about much more than general cybersecurity concepts. It also includes detailed and specific skills in maintaining and managing Palo Alto devices and software. How long will it take you to prepare for the PCNSA? How long it takes to study for the Palo Alto Administrator-level cert is different for people based on their experience and preparation, but it's still possible to get a sense of estimates. CBT Nuggets surveyed 235 IT professionals with their PCNSA to find out how long it takes to prepare for the cybersecurity exam. We asked on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to find out how to speed up preparation time.

How long did most people need to study for the Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator?

According to a survey of 235 cybersecurity professionals with their PCNSA, it took the majority of people more than 6 weeks to prepare for the exam. Despite that, nearly a third of people (32%) with the PCNSA only needed 6 weeks or less to prepare. Out of all cert-holders, 38% needed more than 3 months, and 30% needed between 6 weeks and 3 months.

How long to study Palo Alto Networks Certified Network Security Administrator

The data reveals that there's a nearly even distribution of people who needed less than 6 weeks, more than 3 months and between 6 weeks and 3 months to prepare for the PCNSA. What that strongly suggests is that there are good, better and worse ways to prepare for the PCNSA. More than most other IT certifications, it's clear that the quality of training materials you use and how well you stick to them determines how long it takes to study for the Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator.

How should you prepare ahead of taking PCNSA? 

The Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator exam covers four main subject areas: Device Management and Services, Managing Objects, Policy Evaluation and Management and Securing Traffic. Some of those topics are specific to cybersecurity professionals early in their career, but others could be useful for more advanced IT professionals. Make sure that there aren't other certifications in the Palo Alto certification library that are better suited for your interests and job responsibilities. It's a large catalog that includes as many as four certs that are ideal for network engineers – make sure you're choosing the right one when you start studying for the PCNSA.

And then, make sure you're dedicating yourself to your studies. One of the most successful ways of studying for the PCNSA in as little time as possible is to set aside a certain amount of time, every single day, without fail, to study. Excellent study habits are a huge factor in how long it takes to study for the PCNSA. But the quality of the course material matters a lot too – find an online PCNSA course that doesn't just teach random facts, but shows you how to practice the actual skills that are on the test.

Tips to make sure you’re test-ready before Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator exam day:

Knowing what to expect on the exam and practicing real-world skills are the two best ways to study for the PCNSA in as little time as possible. More than anything, though, Palo Alto wants to make sure you're a competent Palo Alto security administrator, so you need to focus the most on real-world, practical skills and not just reading or listening about the things that are on the test.

Use virtual labs

A virtual lab is basically a simulated network that acts and behaves like the real thing, but can be configured however you want. That means that with the right virtual lab, you can simulate working configuring, managing and setting up a real-world network security infrastructure that is for all intents and purposes exactly like the real thing. Study using virtual labs and you'll be ready for the PCNSA in as little as 6 weeks.

Test yourself using practice exams

To make sure you don't study topics that you already know or won't be tested on and instead spend your time learning things you don't actually know, you need practice exams. A course with practice exams can help focus your study time and make it the most efficient use of your time possible.

Learn from the experts

The internet is full of random advice and dubious courses about cybersecurity – taking a course from a verified expert is one of the best ways to study for the PCNSA in the shortest time possible. Keith Barker is an expert in networking, cybersecurity and Palo Alto certification exams, and he wrote the CBT Nuggets online course for the PCNSA. That means he knows what you need to know to pass the test, and how to best teach it to you. If you're on the fence, watch the first video in the series for free: see if his style is right for you.

The Palo Alto Certified Network Security Administrator is a great certification for a cybersecurity career, but it's also a challenging exam that takes several weeks of preparation. The CBT Nuggets PCNSA course has practice exams, virtual labs and all the best expertise you need to prepare for the exam in as little time as possible. You can even try a free week and see if a course from one of the CBT Nuggets experts is the fastest way for you to prepare for the PCNSA. There's no harm in trying, and thousands of IT professionals agree it's the quickest way to your PCNSA.

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