Friday, March 12, 2021

My Approach to Studying for Cisco's CCNA Certification

Recently I announced that I am starting my journey to study for the CCNA certification. In November 2019 I passed the CompTIA Network+ certification. I was super excited then as I am now. The Network+ certification is my first IT-related certification. After leaving the testing site I knew that I wanted to get back to studying for the CCNA. Now I did take a long break with this but I knew in the back of my head I wanted to and needed to continue my growth. Let me get started with what I have been doing so far.

Before I do I will say that I am not sponsored by any of the vendors or websites presented below. 

Remember these are just some suggestions that may or may not work for you. Do not overthink this and just start studying. Even if it is for fifteen minutes a day that is more than what you did yesterday. Also, if you have any experience or recommendations other than what I have here please share your success or challenges below in the comment section. 

Use a Book as a Reference and Guide

I am currently using the Cisco CCNA 200-301 Official Cert Guide in ebook form. I also have the previous CCENT book. I found an article on Wendell Odom's blog that talks about using the CCENT books to study for the current CCNA exam. When reviewing both books I noticed most of the content is similar but got tired of carrying the large CCENT book around back and forth to work. I never thought I would like to read a book online or my iPad but it has some great benefits. Especially when you have to create some flashcards in Anki. More to come on that later.  

Having this book is an essential tool for my studies and I would recommend you get the e-book. Carrying the book around is a bit much. I am not a book worm at all but I never will forget a quote by J.K. Rowling, 

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”.

Now, this is not the Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis' book but I think it is important to have. I review some things that I might have missed before and use them to create flashcard questions. Along with the book print out Cisco's exam topics. Although the book may not have the exact details from that it is still important to use that as a guide. Hence the title of the book. 

CCNA Course Online

One of my favorite websites to use is Udemy. The site provides many options, the layout is nice and easy to use. My favorite teacher as of now is David Bombal. He also has great content on his website that provides free subnetting and binary quizzes. The main reason why I like his teaching method is that it is at a reasonable pace and can easily be understood. 

I tried learning from another trainer on LinkedIn Learning and could not watch more than two videos. It might work for you but the trainer was a bit too fast and very monotone. I tried searching on that site but could not find anything else for what I was looking for. Another option is to see what local training facilities provide live video training. This can be a bit expensive but if you are currently in a company check to see how much they can reimburse you for the course. I will be going to a live instructor video training at the end of March into April. I hope to get a great experience from this as this will be my first virtual live training. 

Personally taking this approach is expensive. Most CompTIA courses with a live instructor are on the lower end but some vendor-specific certifications like Cisco and VMWare, are really expensive. So I would not entirely recommend it unless you have the funds and/or your company is willing to reimburse you for it. Do whatever you need to do to gain growth and knowledge but know this is not the only way. Personally go through the self-study route as you can change and evolve your study schedule each day week and month plus it saves you money and if you do not have the time to sit in front of training for eight hours a day for five days then the self-study route is best. 

Take Notes?

I like to take notes but understand that it is not the best method to retain information. Does it help? Maybe... I am not a great note-taker but I like to physically write my thoughts and goals. I am a little old fashion and like the composition-style notebooks where the pages do not rip apart easily. If you do not like writing your notes go the digital route. I recently switched to a more digital approach to note-taking.
I never thought I would like this approach but I like taking notes in Microsoft OneNote.  

Another application that I recommend is Notion. The application is simple that provides options to create sub notes within a category. The app is available for all platforms including Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. 

Taking notes is good but testing yourself is always best. What works for me is to write down what I learned and explain it in simple terms as though I am teaching a class. If I am reading the book I close the book after a chapter or paragraph and do my best to repeat what I read. I create my knowledge of notes from what I learned.

Use Flashcards!

While I am taking notes I will leave my flashcard application Anki open. If I find something that seems important or want to test myself later on it I will create a flashcard in the app. This is super important and a must-have throughout my studies. Also, a great reason to get the digital book to help copy and paste content. Use any flashcard app you prefer but I use Anki.

Repetition and Self Testing are Key!

One habit that I do daily to study takes my Cisco cert guide book with me to and from work. Every day I take it out from my book-bag and I set the book next to my keyboard on my desk. The same goes for when I return home. I take it out and put it on my desk next to my keyboard. This is a daily reminder that I need to study. Even if I don’t read every page in the book I am doing some reading online or working the flashcards to help remember what I have learned.

Another reason to continuously repeat is to engrave the content I have learned. This week in specific I set a goal to truly “master” subnetting and every day I did a little here and there. Not all days were great and I almost wanted to just get to where I felt comfortable but I knew that I had to work harder. Just like a bodybuilder pushes himself with repetition and gets to a point of muscle failure I too wanted to get to a point where I would “mastering” this new skill. 

My point is. Do not settle just for okay. Keep going just a bit more and repeat it. When you are learning something new it will take time to learn it but once you get the concept or idea you will see progress. When I started learning about networking when studying for the Network+ certification, I was clueless. It was not easy for me but now that I am studying the CCNA the content is easier to digest.  

Take Small Breaks from Studying

I have been working six days a week for almost a month and try to study every day at home and work during downtime. Even after just three chapters, videos and flashcards I felt burnt out. The other day I was so burnt out that I had to take a day off from studying at night when I got home from work.  
I almost felt like I did not achieve the amount of learning that I wanted. I want to push myself a bit more but know that it will take some time to grow. Then my wife told me to take the day off from studying. She said that even in college there is always a day in between classes to take a break from. So what I decided to do is to take at least one or two days a week to not study at night and to enjoy a nice movie, take a walk or play chess online. If bodybuilders have specific rest days for certain muscles we too should do the same for our studies.  

In conclusion. Just get up and start. Do not wait for someone to tell you to do it. Do not wait for someone like me to motivate you because you need to find your passion and sometimes it can be a bit to figure out what you are looking for in an IT career. Never tell yourself that you do not have enough time, because we all do. There is always enough time we just need to know how to prioritize it right and be consistent with it. 

Think about your goals. Right them down and start now. If you have any questions or comments please leave them down below and I will respond as soon as possible.

*These posts are of no intent to provide success in passing the CCNA certification. Everyone has their approach to studying for an exam and results will vary. These posts are my own experiences, opinions, and perspective. I always recommend people to seek professional guidance, training, and support for any IT-related studies or content.