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How I Prepare for Cisco Certifications

Over the last few months I’ve received many question about certifications, two of which were;

How do I prepare for certification exams and what material do I use?

Instead of replying to everybody on an individual basis, I have dedicated this article to answering your questions.

This article will focus on the methods I used to pass Cisco certifications.

How do I prepare for certifications?

This is quite a personal question I think, it’s like someone saying how long does it takes to pass an exam? This all depends on the individual and commitment to training. Nevertheless, let me give you an insight into what I tend to do when I start to prepare for certifications.

  • I set myself a goal of when I would like to achieve the certification. I don’t book the exam right away but I pencil in a desired date.


  • I dedicate set hours to studying, working and family. Now this might seem like common sense but it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes when you actually set time aside for studying rather than ‘doing it on the fly’.


  • I acquire all the books, videos and courses that I feel will help me learn the content and pass the exam. Having more than one reading source and different outlooks on technologies can help a lot, especially if you feel that one source doesn’t quite give you all the information you require.

Once I am committed to working towards a new certification, I prepare the material I plan on using.


What materials do I use?

Assuming the certification I am working towards isn’t brand new, I can often find some really useful materials to aid in my studies. Below are some of the materials and tools I tend to use when working towards certifications.

  • Official Certification Guides: Considering the exams are often focused on the material in the official certification guides, I always make sure I get a copy. You can buy digital versions (eBooks) of these books at a cheaper cost than the hard copy, however if you’re like me and prefer the hard copy, then you often find yourself paying a little more but also benefit from being able to build a nice book collection. You can the official cert guides from many eStores, however keep in mind that normally have some good deals so you might end up getting your materials cheaper from there.


  • Command guides: Cisco do a good job of providing you with small books they like to call ‘Portable command guides’. These books are brilliant for studying, labbing and even in the working world. If portable command guides are available, I always try get one whether that be the digital copy or the physical copy.


  • Additional books: When studying CCNA R&S and Security, I found the ‘31 days to….’ books really good. These books are the same size of the portable command guides and are useful to quickly review certification topics on a daily basis. As the name suggests, these books are designed to be used on a daily basis, 31 days before your exam. The cool thing about these books is that they contain a lab challenge at the end to which you can build and test your skills.


  • Labs: Personally, I feel labs are really important if you want to fully understand the technologies and how they work. I find when I am struggling to understand some concepts or why a protocol works a particular way, I build a lab to help me understand.


Now I hear you say “What do you use to lab?”


While it’s nice to have physical equipment, I have to take into consideration my family and for those that understand, fans on older devices tend to be loud. Then you have to consider the cost of purchasing devices and licenses (if required). So for this reason I tend to use virtual environments.

  1. GNS3
  2. Virl
  3. Packet Tracer
  4. UNetLab

All four of the above can be used to create virtual environments but features, cost and ease of use between the four differ. To give you a quick overview, out of the four I have used the top three.

Packet Tracer was used at the very start of my networking career, it is good for CCENT & some CCNA tracks but that’s about it.

Virl is a virtual environment offering by Cisco and personally I think it’s really good. Virl is a paid, subscription based offering and you will need a powerful server or computer to run Virl locally as it’s quite resource intensive.

GNS3 is a free offering and allows you to integrate virtual machines, older versions of Cisco IOS and other vendor devices. GNS3 has served me well and I continue to use it today, the downside to GNS3 is that software updates can fail and cause you to loose previously applied settings.

Thank you for reading and I hope this article has been useful. The methods I use above work for me and won’t necessarily work for everybody else. If you feel you have a good working method, feel free to share it with the community by leaving a comment on this article.


Kelvin is a Cyber Security professional with years and experience working with organisations in different verticals, both large and small. He enjoys contributing to the Network Wizkid knowledge base and he also creates technical content. Kelvin enjoys learning new things and often does this by working on achieving new technical certifications. He holds many professional certifications and academically, he has achieved a Bachelors and Master's degree in both Computer Networks and Cyber Security.

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