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Cisco CCNA Exam Tutorial: How To Spend Your Study Time
To pass the CCNA exam, you must create a study plan. Part of this plan is to schedule your study time, and make that study time count.
You have scheduled your exam, you have created a document to track your study time, you have planned exactly when you will study. Now the plan must be carried out, without exception.
What exception do I mean? Cell phone. Television. iPods. Other people are important. The list can go on and on.
It is one thing to have a plan, and one important thing now you have to make sure that you bring it out to its full potential. That’s easy to say until you’re studying and a friend calls, or you remember that the TV show you wanted to watch is on tonight, or you start surfing the web for Cisco information and end up playing a game.
You MUST make these small sacrifices in order to achieve your main goal, CCNA. Any worthwhile accomplishment requires some sacrifice.
TV will be there when you finish studying. Your significant other will be there when you finish studying. And believe it or not, people once existed without cell phones! Turn off the phone. Turn off your instant messaging service. Turn off your text pager. Despite what we think, the world can do without interacting with us for 90 minutes. Remember, it is better to have 90 minutes of intense study than 180 minutes of interrupted study. Studies show that while a single phone call causes an interruption of 11 minutes on average, it takes more than 20 minutes to return to what you were doing with proper mental focus. This is true in the office and at home!
How to spend your study time CCNA candidates generally spend their time divided between book study, practice exams, and lab time on real Cisco equipment. The best study is done by a combination of these, not by relying too much on one. Let’s take a look at each method.
Studying books – I’ve never understood why some people (usually the trolls we were talking about earlier) talk about studying books like it’s a bad thing. “You can’t learn about technology from books.” What a load of shit. You must learn the theory before you can understand how a router or switch operates. The best way to learn the theory is to read a good book.
At the CCNA level, you no doubt know that you have dozens of choices when it comes to books. Some of the best known books really gloss over some important topics, such as binary math and subnetting. Make sure you choose a book or books that go beyond just explaining the theory and give you plenty of router setup explanations and real-world examples as well.
Practice Tests: Practice tests are good in moderation, but don’t use them as your main focus of study. Occasionally, candidates who have taken the exam a few times and still haven’t passed ask me for study advice. I asked them what they were doing to prepare, and they provided a list of companies they had purchased practice exams from. (You see a lot of this on Internet forums, too.)
Don’t fall into this trap. Practice exams are good if used as a readiness check, but some candidates just take them over and over again, which makes them basically useless.
In addition, some of them cost hundreds of dollars. This is money you would be better off spending on Cisco equipment to practice on.
Again, I am not against practice exams as a supplement to your studies. Just don’t make them the main focus of your study. Taking practice exams over and over and expecting the exam to be just like the practice exam is a recipe for disaster. As I tell my students, when you’re standing in front of a rack of routers and switches during a job interview (or at 2AM when you’ve been called to solve a problem), the correct answer is not “D”. You have to know what to do.
And how do you learn these skills? Funny you should ask…. Lab Time on Real Cisco Equipment. Again, talk about experience: This is the most important part of getting your CCNA, succeeding on the job, and going on to get your CCNP.
Getting hands-on experience is important to developing your networking skills, especially your troubleshooting skills. Although the simulators are better than they used to be, they are still not Cisco routers, and they never will be.
You do your best learning not only when configuring your routers, but when you screw something up.
This is so important, I want to repeat it – out loud: You learn best when you screw something up. Why? Because then you have to fix it so you develop your troubleshooting skills. You can read about all the debug and show commands in the world, but you don’t really understand how they work until you find out why your Frame Relay connection isn’t working, or your RIP configuration isn’t working.
This is true at every level of the Cisco Learning Pyramid. I can show you the IP protocol output or what you get when you run debug ip rip, and you might remember it for a while. But when you use it to troubleshoot a lab setup, you’ll remember it.
Putting your own hands-on lab together will also help get you on what I call “anxiety simulators”. If you spend any time on the CCNA web forums, you’ll see discussion after discussion about these exam questions. At a certain point, this argument is justified. Simulator questions carry more weight on your exam than any other question as you get partial credit on them, you have to get them right or you will most likely fail the exam.
There is no reason to worry if you are ready. You don’t want test takers to be afraid of having to create a VLAN or access list you want test takers to be confident in their ability to do any CCNA task. The best way to have this confidence is to know you’ve done it – on real Cisco equipment.
There are several vendors that sell routers and switches on eBay, most of them sell CCNA and CCNP kits that contain all the cables and transceivers you will need. (And how will a simulator help you learn about cables and transceivers?) Keep in mind that you can always sell the equipment after you’re done with the CCNA, or you can add a little equipment to it going after your CCNP. .
Whichever of these methods you use (and I hope you will use them all), make sure you keep them in balance with each other. Don’t depend too much on one.
On the topic of learning how to troubleshoot… while you’re running labs on your Cisco equipment, you’ll run into questions or problems that you don’t yet know the answer to. Get used to using Google (or your favorite search engine) to find answers to these problems – but try to figure it out first!
There’s nothing wrong with asking someone else a question if you can’t find the answer yourself. Trying to find the answer yourself is another important troubleshooting skill you need to start developing today. Don’t be one of those people who posts a simple question on a forum without trying to find the answer yourself. Plus, you get more satisfaction and build more confidence when you determine the answer yourself.
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