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How to get my CCNA
How I did it: There are three basic ways to approach the CCNA. The first option is to take a bootcamp course. The second option is to take courses either offered from colleges, the Cisco Networking Academy, or other 3rd party trainers. The final and most affordable option is the self study route.
I went the self study route.
Initially I borrowed Richard Deal's book CCNA Cisco Certified Network Associate Study Guide (Exam 640-802) from a local library. I also purchased Todd Lammle's CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associate Study Guide: Exam 640-802 6th edition. Later, I picked up a copy of Wendell Odom's CCNA Official Exam Certification Library (Exam 640-802), Third Edition.
I would highly recommend Wendell Odom's books. The books are really comprehensive and there's a lot of additional exercises and questions available on the CDs that come with the book (printed copy). I would recommend Todd Lammle's book. Todd presents information in a clear and straightforward manner. I would not recommend Richard Deal's book. I got caught up on what appeared to be errors in his book and I wasn't able to find an errata for his book.
It is critical to supplement book reading with practice. There are a few options here which include using actual Cisco equipment, emulators, and simulators. I used a both hardware routers and Wendell Odom's CCNA 640-802 Network Simulator. I regret purchasing the Network Simulator because that could have been money spent on used hardware. The license for the simulator isn't transferable and now that I've completed the CCNA exam the simulator has no value. I cannot use the simulator for a future certification like a CCNA specialization or to pursue the CCNP. The routers I used were 3620s that I was able to borrow from members of my local Cisco users group.
After reading through the various study guides and working through the labs that came with the Network Simulator I felt ready to take the exam. Then I took one of the practice exams that came with my study guides and I failed. Miserably.
The practice exam revealed that my knowledge on several topics was shallow. I focused my study to improve on specific weak areas. I found that if I was weak in a topic/area I would not be able to explain the key ideas or concepts to another person. If I could not write out a configuration on paper without using references or the CLI help, then I didn't know the commands well enough.
I wanted more time to prepare before taking the exam. I'm glad that I didn't take more time because I had a target date to complete this goal.
Overall I spent $420.57 to complete this goal. Here's the breakdown:
$250.00 exam fee
$106.47 CCNA 640-802 Network Simulator
$25.00 Wendell Odom's CCNA Official Exam Certification Library (pre-owned)
$31.10 Todd Lammle's CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associate Study Guide: Exam 640-802
$8.00 RTD light rail transportation costs to the testing center
Lessons & tips: Some concepts take a while to grasp. It can be helpful to have more than one perspective on the more difficult subjects.
Schedule study time.
Practice configuring hardware or use a simulator or emulator.
Resources: Keith Barker's How to pass CCNA
Cisco Learning Network - ask questions, get answers
The Bryant Advantage - some CCNA videos and recommendations on hardware equipment