How long does it take to prepare for the CCNA exam?

I get lots of e-mail promising various tricks for mastering the CCNA exam in a very short timeframe, and it makes me mad. Lately I’ve been seeing variations on a plan to “Prep for the CCNA in Two Weeks” or even shorter timeframes. This really bothers me, because it’s potentially a huge disservice to those who spend significant money on the course and the exam, only to find that their preparation was insufficient.

Undoubtedly there are a few exceptional individuals who are able to master the intricacies of CCNA in a short time period, but for the rest of us, it’s a good idea to plan on eight weeks to up to five months of preparation. Even Todd Lamle’s CCNA Fast Pass (one of the few “fast” CCNA resources I endorse) stresses that CCNA tests are not the sort of thing you can cram for.

Even my recommendation of “eight weeks to five months” is a wide window. The biggest factor going into a CCNA exam depends on your previous experience. If you have no previous hands-on experience with Cisco routers, it’s crucial that you spend time (maybe even a few weeks) just working on those skills. If you’re currently working with Cisco technologies with lots of hands-on experience, eight weeks might be enough — but consider that your hands-on experience probably doesn’t cover all aspects of the CCNA tests, so don’t allow yourself to become arrogant or complacent about test preparation.

Another factor is which exams you’ll take. It’s possible to earn a CCNA by taking the 640-801 exam, which is pretty intense, or by taking two exams, the 640-811 and the 641-821. Those two exams are no cakewalk, either, but each is shorter than the 640-801, and you can sit for the exams separately. For more detail on what’s in those exams, see our CCNA guide.

Need a roadmap for Cisco CCNA test prep? Here you go:

  • Decide which test strategy you’ll pursue – the 640-801 or the 640-811 and 641-821. You’ll study a lot of the same things regardless, but knowing the order and types of tests you’ll take will help you prioritize your study.
  • Purchase a quality study guide and other test prep materials. This can be done inexpensively, as noted in my post
  • Read the test prep books and take a few practice quizzes. Hone in on the areas where you had trouble.
  • Make certain you understand how to configure Cisco routers, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
  • Shortly before you sit for the exam, consider buying a “refresher” guide like the excellent CliffsTestPrep Cisco CCNA. (Incidentally, this is where a lot of people go wrong – they get a guide like this and consider it sufficient preparation. Cliff’s notes might have been sufficient for learning King Lear in an hour, but trust me, there is a big difference between the CCNA exams and high school English Literature class.)
  • If you perform poorly on practice tests, keep studying. If you’ve already registered for the exam and are scoring poorly on the practice tests, then reschedule the exam– in most cases, rescheduling is possible as late as 24 hours prior to the exam.

I hope this post has been useful in taking the right approach toward the CCNA exams. As always, I look forward to your questions and comments – fire away!

In my next post, we’ll talk about test-taking tips and strategies, and how to make the most of the allotted test-taking time.