We know everyone is different in how they approach exams and studying, but there are a few basic best practices, no matter your personal style. If you want to pass your assessments it is important to develop good, solid study habits, so here are a few tips as you prepare for your certification exams.
Build a Foundation
A good place to start is, of course, the Cisco Networking Academy. Taking courses that align with your certification path will be instrumental in you building your foundational knowledge. Getting your time with certified instructors, lab practicing, and learning from your peers.
Cisco also offers the Cisco Learning Network with a wealth of online resources including:
- Certification pages
- Exam topics
- Study materials
- Study groups
On the CLN you will also find online study forums which will expose you to Cisco certified professionals and other exam candidates; great places to ask questions, exchange information and get clued up about exam topics and approaches. You can team up with study partners, attend classes, or even register for a self-paced boot camp.
Another good resource is the Lab Exam Tutorial, which can help you understand the different kinds of questions you might come across in your certification exams.
Beyond CLN you will find a world of online groups and communities focused on Cisco certification. From social communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to Cisco User Groups, through forums, and even online study guides or books, it is a good idea to gain as much information and advice as you can. Following hashtags that are dedicated to the certification topics can be a great way to find a community.
Practice Really does Lead to Perfect
The best and most comprehensive means of embedding your learning, really honing those skills, and understanding is through hands-on activity.
For practical revision experience with CCNA, you can also use the Packet Tracer network simulator to work though topics and practice your trouble-shooting skills when you do not have access to real-life equipment.
And for the more advanced certification exams such as CCNP and CCIE, you can try out GNS3, which very cleverly emulates Cisco devices, giving you full access to power and functionality.
One piece of advice that we hear often from our former students, is that you need to lab every day. Practice as often as you can.
Plan Your Time
Organizing your time properly will pay plenty of dividends. Figure how long you have, to prepare for your exam and how you are going to make the best use of that time to review your materials.
Set study milestones. If you have six topics to cover, divide your time into blocks of six, and tick them off as you master each one before moving onto the next. Think about things like how much you have cover in each section. What kinds of things do you find more challenging? Allocate more time to more complex areas if that works better for you.
- Take notes, make charts, etc.
- Study with friends/peers – explain things to each other
- Get practical experience
Part of time-management is, of course, planning out your exam day. Ensure that your study plan brings you right up to the actual day itself, and that you have covered everything – including the materials and resources you need on the day.
Cover the Essentials
It is all too human to worry about the complexities and forget about the basics, but in networking you cannot afford to neglect the core concepts. If you focus on the advanced topics and ignore your foundation, you may set yourself up for failure. And by ignoring core concepts, you might be compromising on a skill that will be fundamental to your day-to-day career.
It is critical to make clever use of your study time. Divide your focus well between the essential and the advanced technologies to ensure that your preparation is as well rounded as possible.
Additionally, be sure to look up the guidelines for the certification exam. Make sure you understand the fundamental concepts – why and how it works. It is important you know why certain tools solve certain problems. If you feel confused by a concept, search for a community forum on that exam topic and ask your peers or instructors.
Be Creative with Your Study Combination
Try out different techniques that will help mix it up and keep your revision dynamic. If you learn best by writing notes, think about making a chart that you can pin to a wall covering essential ideas and concepts.
Do not be afraid to bring your friends or peers into the assortment too. It can be very helpful to work in study groups, testing each other, and supporting each other while studying.
Try different approaches to see what works best for you. Always bring it back to the guidelines and blueprint for the exam, be sure to cover all topics in your study plan.
Body as well as Mind
Exam time can be stressful, so it is important that you remember to take extra good care of you.
Ensure that your study area is as comfortable as possible. Think about what helps you to focus and to relax. Is your study area bright enough and properly ventilated? Is your chair comfortable? Are you taking the required breaks from studying?
Remember to eat well and take care of your body as you head into exam time. Try to eat nutritious foods and avoid the sugars that can send your energy levels soaring, only for them to crash just as quickly.
Preparing for exams is as personal as making the choice to get Cisco certified in the first place. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, just as there are many paths that you can take to get certified. But taking some time to identify the correct resources for you, and building a strategic plan, can really help relieve stress as well as quieten your mind. Having a calm mind because you know what steps you need to take, will be helpful in your success as you prepare to earn your certification.