6 Essential CCNA Study Tools – on a $40 budget

Not too long ago, preparing for a technical certification like the CCNA exam meant spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on books, classes, and other training materials. Thanks to the rapid growth of online publishing, top-quality study resources are now available for a mere fraction of their former cost.

The CCNA exam itself costs between $150 and $250, so if you’re on a budget, the last thing you want to do is drop another $100+ on test prep materials.

These six resources will prepare you for the CCNA certification exam, on a total budget of less than $70 $40 (thank you, Cisco Press!).

1. Paul Browning’s Study Guide, Kindle Edition — $10
Paul Browning’s Cisco CCNA Simplified: Workbook and Lab Guide is an approachable, yet comprehensive, study tool for CCNA students. This study guide gets to the point without a lot of fluff or repetition. Cisco CCNA Simplified also features 27 lab exercises with full walkthroughs.

While you can find the dead-tree version of Browning’s study guide for around $40 used, budget-conscious Cisco students opt for the Kindle edition which retails for only $9.99. Don’t have a Kindle? Actually, you don’t *need* a Kindle. Instead, download Amazon’s official Kindle for PC program, use Amazon’s Cloud Reader, or choose from dozens of third-party software options.

2. Join Cisco communities offline and online — $0
Take advantage of the expertise and camaraderie that exists at online expert hubs like ServerFault, StackOverflow, or Communities @ Cisco. Members of these online communities often enjoy helping others learn new concepts, so don’t be shy about asking. There’s a lot to be learned just browsing these types of forums, and reading about how other people solved their problems.

If you’re skeptical about online communities, you owe it to yourself to at least take a look. These sites, and others like them, are truly helpful and collaborative places for learning and advancement – very low troll-to-human ratios all around.

Depending on where you live, there are probably several technical groups and associations that hold meetups for network admins and engineers. Check LinkedIn, Facebook, and local media to find these groups. The “human networking” factor is also a great boost to your future job prospects after you earn the certification. Even if you don’t know anyone or if you are not an outgoing person, don’t be intimidated about going to these functions. You’ll find that there are essentially two types of people at these functions: (1) technologists like yourself, many of whom are advanced in their careers, and (2) human resources professionals who are there to scout talent. Both groups are worth knowing, and both will be happy to meet you.

3. Find tutorial and test prep videos online — $0
On YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sharing sites, it’s possible to find videos for just about anything. When it comes to Cisco CCNA exam prep, you can find everything from highly targeted 3-minute overviews to full-length, hour-long university lectures.

You’ll also find a noticeable number of videos that are little more than advertisements for expensive test prep courses. But after a little searching, you’re sure to identify a few good uploaders or video channels that really meet your specific need.

Personally, I prefer using Bing video search because it searches multiple video sites at once, and allows all the videos to be played in fullscreen directly from the results page. But you could also visit YouTube, Vimeo, or other video sites directly and use their built-in search features.

Here are a few examples showcasing the range of quality CCNA exam prep videos available online:

4. Get the official CCNA exam cert library from Cisco Press — $25 or less
This isn’t the cheapest solution, but it’s the one you shouldn’t go without. The Cisco Press CCNA Official Exam Certification Library (Exam #640-801), 2nd edition
— let’s call it the Cisco Press CCNA library for short? — is still the best go-to resource, and the real gem is it includes a practice test simulation with more than 400 questions, plus hours of video instruction.

5. Download and install a free network simulator — $0
Network simulator software can cost as much as $200, which puts it way outside of our budget. There are several free network simulators with enough functionality to meet the needs of a penny-pinching CCNA exam student. Personally I recommend GNS3, a full-featured network sim that is useful for much more beyond CCNA exam preparation.

Router configuration is a very important part of CCNA. If you don’t feel like you’ve mastered it after using GNS3, keep studying and look for other options. This is an area where it really makes sense to take advantage of online and offline communities. There are other low-cost or no-cost alternatives out there.

6. CCNA Exam Flash Cards — $5
Flash cards are a really useful method for refreshing and reviewing, especially during the final week before you sit for the CCNA exam. These spiral-bound flash cards
retail for $3.99 and include a CD-ROM version, covering hundreds of test questions.