At $300, the Cisco CCNA certification cost is around the middle range for IT exams. It's a long way off the most expensive but more than double the price of exams such as the Microsoft MTA Operating Systems. For most of us, $300 is a big chunk of change, so it's really important we get it right the first time. That's what this post is all about.
It’s been in existence for over 20 years now, but the Cisco CCNA is still a highly sought-after IT certification. Cisco makes it hard to pass on purpose and continually update the syllabus in order to reflect industry trends and, of course, what their customers tell them they expect associate-level engineers to be able to do.
But after teaching it for many years, I see many people making the same mistakes over and over. The three biggest mistakes I see people make time and time again are:
1. Buying too many study resources
2. Spending money on the wrong things
3. Not buying enough
When CCNA students post on forums, they often get some terrible advice which makes me cringe. I hate to see people going down a path that I know will ultimately lead to them wasting time, and money and then either failing the exam or just quitting in frustration. I think many of the people replying on these forums haven’t passed the exam yet themselves, so I’m not sure they should be giving advice yet, and others have an interest in promoting their companies solution. I try my best to keep people on track, but almost always get shouted down or my post deleted. This is because I think many of the posters work for companies selling their prep exams, and network simulators, and of course, they spend a lot in advertising on the platform, so they have a big influence on the moderators.
Since this is my blog, I can say exactly what I feel and hopefully steer you in the right direction. The cost of the Cisco CCNA certification exam as of writing is $300, and the average person takes two attempts to pass, so it becomes costly. If you work hard, it could take two to six months of your life in study time, so you want to be sure every hour, and every dollar counts. I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’m going to spell out precisely what you need to invest in as a minimum and then move up to a few optional extras, which will boost your chances of success. Can we agree, for example, that spending, say, $50 on a secondary resource to get you through on your first attempt would be money well spent if it saves you having to spend $300 on a second one?
Of course, this is my take on the subject. Take it on board, use what works for you, discard what doesn’t, and adapt what you need to. We are all different and have to make tweaks and adjustments to fit how our brains work and how busy we are.
Here’s my take on the CCNA Certification Costs you need to budget for. Oh, and bear in mind that you will more than recoup your costs in the first couple of days when you are working as a network engineer.
CCNA Exam Cost – $300
You can’t avoid this one. You have to book the exam online and then take it at a testing center or online if you meet all the requirements for remote testing. Please check the Cisco CCNA page for all the details.
Of course, you can speak to your employer and see if they will pay for a testing voucher. If you are lucky, they will. As a backstop, you might be able to recover the money from them after you pass. You just need to make a business case that helps you do your job. I do sometimes see people setting exam vouchers for the testing company Pearson Vue. You need to check that the voucher is valid and that the seller is legitimate.
CCNA Study Guide – $50+
I strongly believe that you need a printed CCNA study guide as your primary resource. There is nothing like being able to turn pages, write in margins, and—highlight important points. I also recommend you get a second study guide in Kindle format which will be a little cheaper.
The Kindle version will give you a second perspective on the topics. One writer will explain things in a different way and cover points missed by the first author. I've written Cisco CCNA Simplified if you want to check that out on Amazon.
If money is tight, you can usually find a used version on eBay. Don’t worry too much if it’s been written on because other people's notes may well help you.
Hands-on Lab Time – Free to Cheap
The new CCNA exam doesn’t appear to have lab simulations anymore, but this may change. Don’t think that you don’t need lab time. I see people posting this on forums, and then readers fall into the trap of not doing labs. BIG MISTAKE. Many of the questions presume you have spent many hours configuring syllabus topics from IPv6 addressing to NAT. You will need to know which commands give you which output for configurations and troubleshooting.
Cisco Packet Tracer is free to download. It simulates Cisco and other network devices, and it is the perfect tool for the CCNA exam prep. It doesn’t cover every command and protocol, so I always suggest getting some hands-on time with live Cisco equipment. That’s a little more tricky, so find a website that offers it. I’m afraid the only one I know of is mine, but if you find another one, drop a comment. Alternatively, buy a CCNA kit on eBay and then sell it when you pass (net cost is zero).
Of course, there are other tools you can use, so research GNS3 and Cisco VIRL. They can be a bit tricky to install or use, and I won’t cover them here as there are a ton of videos on YouTube.
Please do not use router simulators. I won’t mention the company name, but they have been on the market for many years. These programs let you type very limited configuration commands and will not prepare you for the actual exam. Also, you will want to create your own topologies in order to keep them fresh, and you can’t do this with simulators.
CCNA Practice Tests – Free to $99
This is a must-have. You have a near-zero chance of passing your Cisco CCNA certification exam if you don’t take practice tests. You must take them every day. DO NOT wait until just before your exam date to start. Use CCNA practice tests as a learning tool. If you start off doing them from day one, you will have done 60 or more by the time exam day comes. At the start, you might just get 20% or lower, but who cares? It’s just a study tool so treat it accordingly.
Please ensure you don’t attempt the actual CCNA exam until you are getting 95% consistently in your practice exams. This is another massive mistake I see people making. They wait until the test is upon them, score 50% in a practice exam, and then panic sets in.
There are a few options for CCNA practice tests. A few companies specialize in IT certification exams, but none of them are cheap. You can expect to pay around $99 for a quality resource. The best ones include explanations so you can see where you went wrong and what to read up on.
If you buy the right CCNA study guide, you may find that the book comes with a bank of practice exams. I made sure Cisco CCNA Simplified had an exam for every chapter and then added exams covering every topic to simulate the actual exam. If you aren't careful, practice tests can wind up being your biggest CCNA certification cost.
Video Training – $20 to 99/Month
Not so many years ago, there was no streaming video option. At best, you could buy a DVD set and watch it at home. There are now more CCNA video training courses than you can count on your fingers and toes.
If you don’t like learning by watching videos then you won’t need this option. If you struggle to wade through a textbook, then it’s worth considering. Make a list of the things that are important to you in a video course. Some courses are very cheap but don’t come with practice tests. Some come with them but have no labs. You can follow along, and others have labs but no exams.
Hunt around and look for a resource that has:
- Video training
- CCNA practice tests
- Follow-along labs
- Forum support
Some websites run at around $99 per month, others have a one-time charge, but the cheaper ones often skimp on quality or extras.
Remember that you might only need access to the training website for a month or two if you are studying hard, so it’s not a long time investment. If you are considering keeping up the momentum, then look into what else they teach. I highly recommend dipping into CCNP-level video lessons for the CCNA topic you are learning (such as STP). It expands your knowledge, AND when you come back to the CCNA lesson, it seems so much easier, like doing a 2-mile run a few days after a 10-miler.
Lab Book – $40
Hands-on lab time is crucial to your exam success. The current CCNA exam is the hardest iteration I've ever seen. You must be able to configure the protocols and services inside out and back to front, I'm afraid. I'm saying that as somebody who has written several Cisco books over the years, taught the CCNA for many years and taken the new exam!
At best, most CCNA study guides will show you a few commands or snippets for every protocol. This actually infuriated me because you get to the end of the book and still won’t be able to configure the stuff you are reading about. So, even if you did pass, you can’t do the job you are now qualified to do!
Sorry for blowing my own trumpet here, but I fixed it in my Cisco CCNA Simplified book and then created 101 Labs – Cisco CCNA, which is 100% labs, and no theory explained. It’s in its fourth edition. I think there are a couple on the market now, actually, so check Amazon.
I’ve listed a lab book as optional, but I also said at the outside that you might want to invest a little bit extra if it gets you a first-time exam pass.
CCNA Certification Cost Summary
You can get by, by spending around $100 to $150. If you can get your company to help out, then all the better. Consider using books and scanning around forums for people selling vouchers for exams they can no longer take (please do your due diligence).
At a bare minimum, you need books and practice exams; I strongly recommend you do a ton of labs on Packet Tracer.
If you want to check out our CCNA certification guides, then the links are in the books section above. If you want to check out our CCNA video course, the link is in the menu, or click the button at the bottom. Our CCNA course online includes:
- Video Lessons
- Follow along with labs with solutions
- Tons of practice tests
- Complete coaching program with ebooks and brain training
Drop a comment if you have a question or suggestion.