In Pursuit of the CCNA

Last week, after months of studying, I passed exam 200-101: Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 2 to earn my CCNA credential. It was a very tough exam, certainly, and more difficult than the fifteen other certifications I’ve earned combined. If you are preparing for the ICND1 or ICND2 exams, or if you are brave and experienced enough to attempt the combined 200-120 CCNA exam, make sure you know the material backwards and forwards, and then after that review it all again.

Studying for 200-101 ICND2 was difficult for me because I had already attempted and failed the previous version of this exam, 640-816, two years ago. I had earned my CCENT with exam 640-822 six months before that. However, with the new version of the exams many of the ICND2 topics were moved to ICND1, and many CCNP topics were moved to ICND2. I had a lot of catching up to do.

I would recommend being as strong as possible in basic IOS administration. Know how to configure switching, routing, RoaS, inter-VLAN routing, interface configuration, port security, ACLs, NAT, OSPF, and EIGRP by heart. Configure all of these things a million times until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Then do it all with IPv6. When working with WAN protocols, place your emphasis in frame relay. I found the best way to understand frame relay was to set up the service provider side as well–it really solidifies understanding of DLCIs.

These are the materials I used for studying:

  • Cisco’s Official Cert Guide by Wendell Odom
  • CBT Nuggets ICND2 by Jeremy Cioara
  • Transcender Practice Exam
  • GNS3
  • My own equipment procured off eBay
  • The CCNA Community on Cisco’s website
  • Numerous blogs by other individuals who studied for the CCNA

I found the Official Cert Guide to be the most helpful from a learning perspective. Though it’s certainly not an entertaining read, it succinctly explains how all of the protocols work. GNS3 and my own equipment were the most effective means of practicing what I learned from the book. I bought two Cisco 2600 series routers, an 1841 router, two 2950-T Catalyst switches, and a Catalyst 3560-48PS switch and used them to replace my cheap Belkin router at home. I created separate VLANs for my Wi-Fi traffic, my management traffic, and my server traffic. I routed them with RoaS on a 2600 series router, but after easily maxing out the bandwidth I started using inter-VLAN routing with the Catalyst 3560. I found interface errors that I had to troubleshoot before determining (with the assistance of Charter) that the cabling in the apartment walls needs to be replaced. Real-life troubleshooting makes all the difference, especially for those like me who don’t administer networks for their full-time job.

The Transcender practice exam was much harder than the actual exam, and I’m very thankful for that. I found the most beneficial way to use the exam was to run through every question in a given category, selecting the answer you think is right, then immediately grading it to learn why you got it right or wrong. It really helped to fill in any gaps I had between the book and using GNS3/my own equipment.

Jeremy Cioara is very good at holding attention in his videos, and perhaps they’re great introductions to any given subject, but I found them to be otherwise useless for attaining the knowledge and experience necessary to pass the exam. To his credit, he does offer a lot of irrelevant, but very useful advice for certain topics, such as summarization for multi-area OSPF. And it’s incredibly evident how passionate Jeremy is on the subject.

If you are attempting this credential, I wish you good luck! Take your time when studying – you can’t be ready enough.