Cisco CCNA Certification

By: Chris Bryant, CCIE #12933

One question I’m often asked by CCNA candidates is whether to take the “one big exam", or take the two separate exams required by Cisco to achieve the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam.

The question comes up because there are now two separate paths to the CCNA certification. Candidates may take a single exam, 640-811, or two exams, 640-821 and 640-811.

What’s the difference? The two-exam approach involves exams with different topics and therefore different preparation techniques. 640-821 is the Introduction To Cisco Networking Technologies exam. This course does introduce the candidate to Frame Relay, PPP, and other WAN technologies, but goes into little detail. Emphasis in the Intro course is placed on knowing how Ethernet behaves, how different types of cable are used for different purposes, and knowing what cable to use in a certain situation. The candidate should expect some questions involving binary math as well, but they will involve fairly simple conversions.

The 640-811 exam, Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices, goes into much more detail on WAN technologies. Routing and switching behavior are covered, and the candidate is expected to answer difficult questions involving binary math and subnetting as well. The candidate may also have to demonstrate ability to configure a router or switch via a simulator. Since the ICND exam goes into more detail, it’s generally considered the more difficult exam.

The approach I recommend to a CCNA candidate depends on their background. If the candidate is a relative newcomer to networking, or hasn’t taken a certification exam before, I recommend they take the two-exam approach. This allows the candidate to focus only on the Intro topics, and gives them a strong sense of confidence after passing the Intro exam. That confidence flows over into the ICND exam.

For those who have networking experience, and are very familiar with Ethernet behavior and cable types, I recommend the one-exam approach. This allows the candidate to focus on the more advanced topics they’ll be seeing in the single exam, while spending just a little time reviewing their Intro-level knowledge.

Regardless of the approach you choose, the path to true CCNA success remains the same. Get some real hands-on experience, either by renting rack time online or by putting together your own home lab. Understand what’s going on “beneath the command"; don’t use router commands when you don’t understand what they’re doing. Add to that a true mastery on binary math, and you’re on your way to having the magic letters “CCNA" behind your name!

Chris Bryant

CCIE #12933

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