To give yourself the best chance of passing Cisco Certification Exams, all you need is:
- Study material
- Study tools
- Learning technique(s)
With these four things on your side you’re putting yourself in the best position to pass the exam. Let me elaborate on each of these points and why I feel they’re so important.
I know I’m stating the obvious here, but good study material is must when it comes to passing an exam. However, what you might not know is that you will never find a single resource that gives you the answers to all of the questions on an exam. For the best results you should always use multiple resources, such as:
- Cisco Press and/or a Safari Book subscription
- Videos (INE and CBT Nuggets are great, as are the videos on Udemy, YouTube and GNS3 Academy)
- Internet forums (Cisco Learning Network, INE and networking-forum.com)
- Blogs (PacketLife, INE as well as blogs which relate to the specific certification that you’re studying)
- Practice exams (Cisco’s Learning Network Store)
The types and number of resources you use is completely up to you. If you’ve already got a solid understanding of all the topics contained in an exam, then using all of the resources listed above is probably overkill. Conversely, if you’re completely new to a subject, using only one of the resource is probably a bad idea.
Another reason why it’s crucial to use multiple resources is because no resource is without its mistakes. Whether you’ve purchased a book or you’re taking advice from a user on a free internet forum, there is a chance that the information you’re being given could be incorrect. By using multiple resources you are able to identify discrepancies and ensure that you are retaining the correct information.
Side note: Resources such as Cisco Press books provide corrections to their books through errata‘s. It’s a good idea to check if any have been released for your library.
When I say Study Tools I’m referring to lab equipment such as:
- Packet Tracer (free)
- GNS3 simulator (free)
- Cisco Virtual Internet Routing Lab (VIRL)
- Physical lab equipment
Using the ‘Study Material’ in conjunction with the ‘Study Tools’ listed above is a killer combination. The study material gives you an understanding of the technologies while the study tools put that knowledge in practice. I strongly advise people of using one and not the other as you simply won’t get the maximum out of your studying by doing this. Plus you’ll miss all the fun of seeing theory applied to practice (i.e. real world)!
Another scenario where study tools show their worth is when you’ve consulted multiple study materials but they provide unclear or conflicting information. Labbing is the perfect way to determine which is correct as the equipment never lies. I know what you’re thinking – there is a chance that the equipment’s software will contain bugs. That is true, however, it is unlikely that a bug will give you the same results as an unrelated resource and that the exam will have an answer which also aligns to this incorrect information.
Side note: used physical lab equipment can often be purchased for little money on eBay or similar websites. The Cisco Certifications are often based on pretty standard and long lasting router and switches, stuff that is most likely to be outdated for the use in a production network, hence available for cheap on the second-hand market.
We all learn and retain knowledge in different ways. What works for some might not work for others. What you need to do is find what works best for you and go with it. If you’re not sure what works for you, Cisco has a fantastic series of videos which cover this very subject. Alternatively, speak to friends, family and colleagues about what they find works for them. Another option would be speaking to other students on the internet forums listed in the ‘Study Material’ section above.
For me personally, I find Flash Cards with spatial repetition invaluable. There are a few options available but the one I find most useful is called Anki. Over the years I have written hundreds, if not thousands of Anki Flash Cards and have been able to recall massive amounts information as a result. If you haven’t given spatial repetition a try yet, I highly recommend you do now.
If you work long hours, have regular family commitments, and/or do other activities which take up large portions of your time, don’t set an unrealistic time frame for yourself. Doing so will cause unnecessary stress which will cause you to retain less information and make more mistakes. Then, when you realize time is running out you will experience more unnecessary stress and make more mistakes and the vicious cycle will continue. By setting a more reasonable goal you’ll be much more relaxed and your study sessions will flow a lot easier.
If you’re having trouble organizing your time or the order in which you’ll study the topics on the exam, creating a Study Plan is an excellent solution to these problems.
At the end of the day it’s important to remember that studying for an exam should be fun. If you’re not enjoying it, ask yourself why and see what you can do to remedy the situation.
There is one other subject I want to touch on, and that is cheating: DO NOT DO IT ! You’ve got nothing to gain from it. Sure, you’ll receive a certificate but it will be for technologies you know nothing about. Too many times I’ve seen people with a list of impressive certifications to their names but no knowledge to back it up. These people apply for high-end roles but never make it through the interview process because they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.
Instead of spending their time trying to memorize the answers on an exam dump, their time would have been much better spent on genuine study instead. It might take longer but it is definitely worth it. At the end of the day, do you want to be a Network Engineer able to work in the field? Study, practice and dedication is the only way to get there!
See the How to Pass the Cisco CCNA or CCNP Exam post for more certification related information.