Taking the Cisco CCNA From Home, Trick Questions, & How to Prepare

The Cisco CCNA remains one of the top entry-level certifications used to launch careers in IT and Networking. 

Due to Covid-19, the testing environment of the CCNA has changed dramatically, and it is now easier than ever before to sit for your CCNA Exam. What exactly do I mean? What I mean is that we can now simply take the CCNA 200-301 exam from the comfort of our homes. In the past, we had to schedule our exam at a physical testing facility, so it is now much more convenient, and only requires an internet connection and a webcam for the proctoring service. It’s possible that some form of online exams may continue after the restrictions from Covid-19 have been lifted – that would be great!

There has never been a better time to get your CCNA than now, and it just so happens to also be the easiest time given the convenience. Once you are ready to schedule your exam just visit pearsonvue.com. Now, since I know you are going to work on your CCNA, I’d like to share with you a few tips that I wish I had known before taking the test remotely.

How to prepare the day before

    1. The day before the exam, you will want to test the link sent in the email confirmation after scheduling the exam.  
    2. If possible determine if there are any applications that run in the background on your PC/laptop.  The first check on the morning of the exam looks to make sure all applications are closed.
    3. Lastly, make sure you have a clean, uncluttered work area in a room where you can close the door.  Someone entering the room during the test will be grounds for disqualification.  If you have a second monitor, it must be powered off (I just unplugged it and hung the power cord over the front of the screen).

The Morning of the Exam

Cisco recommends that you sign in 30 minutes prior to the start time to begin the process of evaluating your workstation and work area.  It is highly recommended that you sign in exactly 30 minutes prior to make sure you get through the pre-test checks in time.  It is stated that your exam will be rescheduled if you do not begin the exam within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time.

The general process:

    1. You will sign-in on the Pearson Vue page using the URL in the email confirmation sent to you after scheduling the exam.
    2. You will have to run a pre-system check – this is different from the one you may have run while scheduling the exam. The initial check just ensures that you have the physical resources to support the testing software and that you have a functioning webcam and microphone.
    3. The check ran on the morning of the exam will also look for applications running in the background and require you to close them.  I had some “Snag-It” application running in the background and I couldn’t find it.  I looked under the task manager and it was not listed.  Being short on time, I went in and uninstalled the application to pass the check.
    4. During the sign-in process, you must supply a mobile phone number.
    5. Once your system is deemed ready, the proctor will contact you via chat in the Pearson application.
    6. You will be forwarded a message on your phone that will contain a link that you will use to upload photos.
    7. There will be at least 6 photos requested:  Your face, a close-up of your picture ID, and 4 of your work area – from the front, back, left, and right.  If any of the photos are unclear, you will be asked to redo and upload it again.
    8. Once your photos are cleared, you will be asked to place your phone physically out of your reach.
    9. The final request will be to lift up your laptop or camera and slowly take a 360-degree pan of the room – including where your phone is sitting.
    10. Then you will be approved to take the exam.

Taking the Exam

When you begin the exam, you have the option of viewing a tutorial.  It is recommended that you go through this – the clock for the exam does not start until you click “Start Exam.

There are 102 questions and the majority are all multiple choice with the balance being drag and drop. The question topics are spread fairly evenly among those listed in the blueprint published by Cisco.

The questions on the exam are worded to make them more difficult.  Look for key-words in the question that clearly identify the answer.  Sometimes, you may have to look at the answers to figure out what the question is asking!  When in doubt, use the elimination method to rule out bogus answers.  Also, when viewing the answers, look for “the odd man out”.  Often there is one answer that does not fit in with the rest. (e .g. 3 answers that contain IP information and a fourth on passwords, for instance.) 

Key Focus Areas

There are a couple topics that seem to be the focus of the largest number of questions.  They revolve around determining the route to a destination address when given a list of routes to choose from – and static routing (both IPV4 and IPV6).  Knowing Administrative Distances and floating static route syntax is important for both of these categories.  A common scenario used is 3 routers connected in a line where you are asked to choose the proper static route to get from a network on one side to a network on the other.  You must be able to correctly identify the destination network and the next hop or exit interface used to get there.  In some cases, a default static route may be the answer

Some Additional Topics to Review

    1. Know these things not mentioned in the Cisco Blueprint 
      • EIGRP
      • RIP
      • VTP
    2. Know CDP & LLDP 
      • Default Timers
      • Configuration syntax to enable/disable globally and per-interface
    3. Know Wireless 
      • Different AP Types
      • LAP Modes
      • Wireless Security
      • Wireless LAN Controllers
      • 2.4Ghz range – non-overlapping channels
    4. Know Security Fundamentals 
      • Port Security
      • Dynamic ARP Inspection
      • DHCP Snooping
      • Requirements for Configuring SSH
      • Know the difference between configuring an enable secret and pasting a previously encrypted password into a configuration
    5. Know Network Automation 
      • Traditional vs Controller-based (distributed vs centralized control plane)
      • Intent-Based Networking (Overlay, Underlay, VXLANs)
      • Spine-Leaf Architecture
      • SDA, SDN & SD-WAN
      • DNA Center, APIC-EM & ACI
      • REST APIs
      • Interpreting JSON Output (proper syntax format)
      • Key differences between Ansible, Chef and Puppet
    6. IPV4 Subnetting 
      • Subnetting calculations will creep into many different types of questions
    7. Command line syntax and “show” command output 
      • Make sure you know the command line syntax for basic configuration tasks such as access and trunk port configuration, ACL and Static route syntax, etc . . .
      • Cisco loves to give you the output of some show commands and ask you “why?”
      • Make sure you can quickly look through “show IPOSPF interface” and find the items that are preventing 2 routers from becoming OSPF neighbors.
      • Although there is no command line configuration required on the exam, there are many questions that are easily answered based on lab experience.  There are also some questions on Wireless LAN Controllers, for instance, that can really only be answered if you have accessed the GUI of a WLC.  Do not forget to include Packet Tracer lab simulations in your studies.

You will come across some trick questions

Lastly, I believe that nobody is supposed to get 100%. So, there may/will be a couple questions on something you have not heard of, or something so specific that only someone who has worked on a specific model of a device with a particular module installed and has performed the exact thing called out in the question could possibly answer it.  This should make you laugh and not panic . . .  

Time Is Limited

Remember that you only have approximately 75 seconds to answer each question.  Don’t waste time on the ones you absolutely don’t know.  Try to do a quick elimination of some answers, choose one and move on.  When you do get a question on a topic with which you have 100% confidence, re-read the question before answering to make sure you are not being lured into a trap.

Lastly, after you have answered the final question, you must click the “End Exam” button or your results will not get sent – and you never took the exam!

The format of the CCNA 200-301 is dramatically different than it used to be and is much more similar to the way that other vendors deliver certification tests.  The new exam incorporates more information from previous specialty certifications such as wireless and security than ever before. This is a difficult, fact-based exam – but is fairly representative of the Exam topics published by Cisco.  With proper focus and practice, this exam is definitely passable on the first attempt!

The best to you and Good luck on your exam! 

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