What is the Right Way to Prepare for a Cisco Exam?Every candidate who embarks on the journey of becoming a Cisco Certified professional  will come face to face with deciding how best to prepare for their exams. There are many study resources on the web, but the question is “What’s the best way to prepare for your exam?”  Well, our answer is…it depends! Each of our candidates are different; some are technically strong in one area, but less so in another; some have many years of work experience, others only a few. Thus, there will always be differences in the way you approach your studies, including how long you study, what content you focus on, and your study environment. Understanding your study style will also affect the way you go about learning the material. With that said, it is almost impossible to come up with a cookie cutter solution. However, we spoke with our own Exam Program Managers (EPMs) Zia Hussain and Anne Usal to gain their insight and expertise from years of working and speaking with candidates. Below are a few tips to consider when preparing for your Cisco exams.


Where do you start?

It is essential to decide which exam you are studying for and how it directly aligns with your career goals. Once you select your technology track and certification level, your next stop should be studying the appropriate Exam Topics (i.e. blueprint) on CLN’s certifications pages. Familiarize yourself completely with the Exam Topics listed as these provide the best overview of the content included on the exam. Each exam has multiple content domains which encompass the topics on which candidates will be tested. Anne advises that candidates should use the Exam Topics as a guide and should gather as many resources surrounding the top level domains as possible.


Use Your Resources

One of the best resources that many candidates early in their careers choose is the Cisco Networking Academy. For those who don’t follow this path, there are multitudes of resources to meet everyone’s learning style and accommodate their lifestyle. Some of the most convenient places to begin are the authorized study resources readily available on the Cisco Learning Network (CLN). Many candidates immediately purchase their exam’s corresponding study guide from Cisco Press. These guides are a great place to start, but you should also consider additional study resources to ensure you get a broad range of perspectives for understanding the technology. The online forums and discussions on CLN are a good way to get in the know. Your fellow candidates and Cisco certified professionals are often some of the most valuable resources you may encounter on your journey. There is a fine line candidates must tow when visiting online forums, however. Be vigilant, and stay away from websites or other candidates claiming to distribute exam content as the use of unauthorized material could compromise your certification status.


Resources on CLN and cisco.com provide all of your exam topics, study groups, study materials and more. You may even be able to find a good study partner to share knowledge with, and you can keep each other accountable for achieving your goals. There are multitudes of classes that you can attend through authorized Cisco partners, or you can register for one of the self-paced-boot camps.


Cisco documentation is essential to aligning information accordingly to your Exam Topic.  You can find whitepapers, case scenarios and configuration guidelines on cisco.com.  “Think about the routing protocols and find a complete case study and all the possible features that they may have. Read the list of features and compare it to what you expect out of the blueprint. Once you do this, you know you have covered everything end to end and won’t be surprised” says Zia. This is a very good method of understanding your exam topics more thoroughly. He also notes one important thing for lab candidates: you should know how to browse the Cisco documentation links. You can access the documentation during the lab exams, and knowing in advance how to navigate through the documentation before your exam will save you time.  Also take time out to review the lab exam tutorial prior to taking any of the Cisco certification exams.  The tutorial can better prepare you on how to approach the different types of questions you could possibly encounter during your exam.


Give yourself the best possible chance of passing

To sum it all up – the level of certification you are seeking is directly related to the real world experience you must have to pass that exam. According to Anne, building your own lab at home could provide enough practical application to pass many of the entry level exams. In significant contrast however, “there is not enough scholastic training you can acquire without real world experience and expect to pass the lab exam,” says Zia. Working on the technologies, configuring them, and troubleshooting (which may be more difficult than configuring) are skills that can only be developed through real life experience. When a customer’s network is down, troubleshooting to get it up and running as quickly as possible on the job will allow you to learn invaluable skills while under pressure. This can easily translate to a CCIE lab exam setting or figuring out which protocols are applicable during an associate or professional level exam. How much on-the-job experience you have can affect which certification route you choose. You may be able to purchase the appropriate lab equipment or register for sessions in the Cisco Modeling Lab and pass an entry level or associate exam, whereas you may want to have several years of real-world experience under your belt before attempting a professional or CCIE level exam.


Remember, there is no one thing that you can do to prepare yourself for an exam. But doing many things to identify your resources and build a solid study strategy will position you much more effectively. Although testing can be intimidating, knowing your technology and finding the study methods that work for you can relieve most of the stress and help you earn your certification.