How Hard is CCNA for Beginners? What You Need to Know


The Cisco Certified Network Associate or CCNA is one of the most important exams in the field of computer networking world. The current exam code of CCNA is 200-301. If you want to know previous versions of the CCNA, then you can visit the link. It is an entry-level computer network course designed by Cisco. CCNA certification will help install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot small to medium-size routed and switched networks. It is a certification that emphasizes more on practical work. Although, many topics are theory-based like OSI and TCP/IP model, Network Topologies, Network protocol and devices, IP and subnetting, etc. Due to its high reputation, many candidates often wonder “How hard is the CCNA?”

Understanding the CCNA Certification

Before discussing the difficulty of the CCNA, one must understand the content included in the certification. It covers a wide range of computer networking fundamentals, which are:

1) Network Fundamentals:

The network fundamentals include the topic of network topology, physical interfaces, cable types, OSI and TCP/IP model, IPV4 and IPv6 addressing, and subnetting.

2) Network Access:

It consists of Layer Two technology, such as LAN switching, VLANs, STP, inter-vlan routing, and wireless concepts.

3) IP Connectivity:

Layer 3 routing protocols include RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, and BGP, along with basic configuration and troubleshooting.

4) IP Services:

This section includes network services like DHCP, DNS, NAT, SNMP, and Syslog server.

5) Security Fundamentals:

Security is essential to any certification in today’s modern digital environment. The CCNA certification also contains the basics of security like ACL, Layer Three security such as router password, authentication, and encryption, and Layer Two security.

6) Automation and Programmability:

The last and emerging part of a CCNA certification is automation and programmability. It contains the basics of network automation concepts and network programmability. The main parts of this section are REST APIs, Puppet, Chef, JSON, and SDN.

Technical Complexity

One of the main reasons why the candidate considered it challenging is the technical complexity of its topics. Moreover, computer networking is a multifaceted field and the objective of CCNA is to provide a comprehensive foundation. Here are some‌ specific areas that a candidate often finds challenging:

1) Subnetting and IP addressing

Internet Protocol or IP addressing and subnetting is the core part of networking. Without IP, you can’t configure any type of network. Moreover, subnetting is another part of the IP addressing, which consists of calculating subnets and understanding subnet masks. Mastering in Ipv4 is essential, but with the growing adoption of IPv6, it is also necessary to understand its structure and addressing types.

2) Routing and Switching

The main objective of the CCNA is to teach routing and switching, which requires students to have a deep understanding of how data is transferred across networks. It includes configuring and troubleshooting routers and switches, understanding routing protocols such as RIP, OSPF, EIGRP, and BGP, and managing VLANs and trunking. All the topics are theoretically complex and require practical configuration and troubleshooting skills.

3) Network Security:

Security is paramount in today’s digital network environments. The CCNA certification introduces basic security concepts like ACL, router security, routing protocols, authentication and encryption, and Layer 2 security.

4) Automation and Programmability

SDN or software-defined networking is an emerging technology in the field of computer networking. So, the CCNA includes topics on automation and programmability. There are four network professionals to understand SDN, API, configuration management tools, and basic programming concepts.

Individual Background and Preparation

The difficulty of CCNA cal also depends significantly on the individual. The complication of the CCNA certification directly depends significantly on the individual’s background and preparation. Several important factors play a vital role in how challenging the certification might be for a candidate.

1) Prior Experience

           A candidate with prior networking experience might find a CCNA less daunting than those without experience. It will take a little more time for newbies to learn CCNA because they will have to start from scratch.

2) Study Resources

The quality of study resources will also impact the preparation time. Although, the easiest way is to join an academy or institution as a tutor makes it the concept very easy for a student. There are free as well as paid resources available on the internet. YouTube, Cisco site, and blogs are major resources available for every student without any cost. Also, you can get paid courses from Coursera, Udemy, network lessons, etc.

3) Hands-on Practice

CCNA focuses on practical labs and hands-on experience, which is crucial for mastering the concepts covered in the CCNA. You can practice yourself on Cisco Packet tracer, GNS3, Netsim, Cisco Viral, etc. If you have a budget for the networking types of equipment, you can make your own lab home by purchasing Cisco routers and switches. I recommend the Cisco Packet Tracer for the CCNA course.

4) Study Time and Commitment

The CCNA course is so easy that you can cover it in a few weeks, nor it so hard that it will take a year. Although, for an experienced person, it will take One month to two or three months. But, for a beginner, it will take from 3 months to 6 months depending on your study time. If you are preparing by yourself, then it will take more time than the candidate who is studying at an academy or institution.

Exam structure and preparation

If you have mastered the CCNA course, but you don’t know anything about the exam structure, then it can create a log of difficulties for you in the exam. So, to avoid this, you should study the exam structure. This exam consists of the following sections.

1) Multiple-choice Questions

           MCQS tests the candidate’s theoretical knowledge of computer networking concepts. These questions range from basic definitions to complex scenarios that require deep understanding.

2) Drag-and-Drop Questions

            Drop-and-drop questions test the candidate’s knowledge to organize the information correctly, such as matching IP addresses with their respective class or arranging steps in a configuration process.

3) Simulations and Simlets

It is the most challenging part of the CCNA exam. These questions require candidates to perform configuration or troubleshooting in a simulated environment. It tests the candidate’s ability to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios.  

Study Strategies for Success

           Effective study strategies are crucial for success due to the complexity and breadth of the CCNA. Here are some strategies to help candidates prepare for the CCNA exam.

1) Create a Study Plan

        A comprehensive study plan is necessary for managing the vast amount of materials covered in the CCNA. Break down the CCNA Syllabus into manageable sections and allocate specific time slots for each. Also, include the time for review and practice exams.

2) Focus on Weak Areas

Identity and focus on the concepts where you face difficulties. Use various resources, such as practice exams and quizzes, to pinpoint these areas and allocate extra time to improve them. Don’t neglect any topic that you find challenging; instead, seek additional resources and explanations to build your understanding. Physical lab or virtual environments like Cisco Packet Trace or GNS3. A hands-on lab workbook is a plus point to master configuration and troubleshooting concepts. Moreover, practice configuring and troubleshooting network devices regularly.

3) Join Study Groups and forums

Joining study groups, whether on social platforms or forums, can provide additional support and motivation. It helps to discuss topics with peers, share resources, and solve problems together can enhance understanding and retention.

4) Take Practice Exams

        It is necessary to practice exam questions according to the format and timing of the CCNA exam. It will help you to identify areas of weakness and simulate the actual exam experience. Use practice exams from a reputable source to ensure they accurately reflect the difficulty and style of the actual exam.

The Psychological Aspect

Psychology plays an important role in preparing for any certification exam. The pressure of taking a high-stakes exam, the fear of failure, and the stress of balancing study with other responsibilities can directly impact performance. Here are some tips to manage the psychology aspects:

1) Stay Positive and Motivated

To achieve a CCNA certification, it is necessary to maintain a positive attitude and stay motivated for the entire course. Set some small, achievable goals and celebrate milestones to keep motivation high. Remember how CCNA certification will advance your career.

2) Manage Stress

Explore the ways how to manage stress, such as regular exercise, meditation, or hobbies. Taking breaks during study can prevent burnout. It will help you to fresh your mind for study.

3) Develop a Test-Taking Strategy

Finding and developing a strategy for taking the exam can help reduce anxiety. Familiarize yourself with the exam format, practice time management, and plan how to approach different types of questions. During exams, stay calm, read questions carefully, and don’t rush.

Common Challenges Faced by CCNA Aspirants

While getting CCNA certification, you may face many challenges. Understanding and preparing for these challenges can increase your chances of success.

1)   Time Management

Balancing study time with other daily life activities is very difficult. Creating a comprehensive study schedule for yourself and sticking to it is hard work. Time management skills help make your consistent study easier.

2) Technical Jargon

A computer network consists of various technical jargon and acronyms. It can be overwhelming for those who are new to this field. Creating a list of difficult terms and revisiting it regularly can help him retain this information.

 3) Hands-On Practice

CCNA emphasizes that you must know the configuration of Cisco devices at the CCNA level. That’s why theoretical knowledge is not enough; hands-on practical familiarize you to configure and troubleshoot routers and switches. For this purpose, virtual labs and simulators can help you mitigate this issue, providing the practical experience needed for the exam as well as for the job.

Keeping Up with Updates

Cisco updates its certification exam after a certain period to reflect current technologies. Normally, the updation period is from 3 years to 5 years. The certification expires when the newly updated exam is released. That’s why you must know these changes to ensure success in the exam.

Passing Score

The CCNA exam has a total of 1000 marks, and the passing score is 825. You will have to get 825 marks or 85% marks in the exam. That’s why, you must prepare all the topics well for the exam to achieve so such high marks in the exam.

Exam Cost and Test Center

The exam certification fee is $300. Moreover, you can schedule your exam day and time at any authorized Pearson VAU Authorized test center. The exam date and time will be your own choice if your chosen time slot is available.

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