There are two ways to handle any exam.You can read and prepare to pass the exam and pass the exam and become certified without learning the real thing. Things like TestKing and Pass4sure might help in this. On the other hand, you can study,learn and prepare yourself for the exam along the way. And that’s something I might be helpful in managing.
I will not tell you things like “Take your CCNA in 3 days” or five days, because these are all mere lies. I will guide you through depending on my experience as a Cisco Academy instructor and having lots of students who passed the exam with grades from 950 to 1000.
Based upon my experience, a month would be adequate for understanding the CCNA materials as well as prepare yourself for the exam. First, I will go through the studying schedule and then I will go on further details regarding the exam and how to prepare for it and how to pass it.
First of all, prepare yourself for studying 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 4 weeks. This gives us an overall of 96 hours of study. And be careful not to pass hours from one day to another. DO NOT study for more than 4 hours a day. It will be tiring, and things you read after the four hours will have to be studied again because you will not be able to understand it. During these four hours you MUST have 30 minutes break. After the first hour and 45 minutes, you should take a 30 minutes break and go back for the other hour and 45 minutes.
For self study purposes, I recommend using the Cisco Press CCNA package. It has two books by Stephen McQuerry; INTRO (for the basics of networking) and ICND (Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices). These two books cover the CCNA materials well. It’s like a collection of the useful things from the CCNA academy materials.
If you are looking for a more brief coverage of the CCNA materials, you can use the Todd Lammle's book in its 5th edition printed by Sybex. But the problem with this book is that it doesn’t cover the whole story. It lacks the two very important subjects of NAT and DHCP, which are practically very important. And I have put together some simple documents about NAT and DHCP that can help students depending on Lammle’s book. You can find them here
And for practical training, if you cannot borrow an old router, you can use a simulator. Many type of simulator are out there in the market and lots of them are useless. Few of the good ones that I recommend are either Boson's or the one that is sold by Cisco Press. And to be honest, the best simulator that I have seen until now is called PacketTracer. This is the router used by Cisco Academies for thier student. And I don't think its available for public use outside the academy.
I will do the schedule based on subject titles and not on chapters so you could go either way with Lammle’s book or McQuerry’s books.
Introduction to networks and internetworks-getting to know the essence of networking and knowing the OSI layered model and the distinguished responsibilities of each layer-4
Ethernet-Understanding ethernet and its frame types, CSMA/CD and its cabling types-3
TCP/IP-Knowing TCP/IP layered model and Cisco Hierarical layerd model. Understanding the different type of protocols for each layer-5
Subnetting and VLSM-Subnetting is an essential part of understanding how IP networks work. Practice as much as you can-8
Cisco Routers-Knowing the pieces of routers and how they interact, types of interfaces and lines, how to connect to a router for configration purposes, and Basic router configration-4
Routing Protocols-Distance vector and link state protocols, what are the differences between them. Routing loops and thier avoidance is an important topic too-4
RIP & IGRP-Understanding the methods of operation, programming, testing, and troubleshooting of each protocol and what are the differences between them-6
OSPF & EIGRP-Understanding the methods of operation, programming, testing, and troubleshooting of each protocol and what are the differences between them-6
NAT & DHCP-What are they and how to configure, test, and troubleshoot them-4
Network Management-How to manage an internetwork, SNMP, telnet and all other things that helps to test and manage a network including password recovery procedures-4
Access-Lists-What are access-lists, how do they operate, how to decide which type and where and how to implement them. More and more practice is important in this subject-8
Switches-What are the types of switches and what are thier parameters. How to do basic configration of Cisco switches. Switching loops and STP are a key issue here-4
VLANs and VTP-Understanding the reason and operation of VLANs, trunking and VTP. Inter-VLAN routing is an important issue-8
WANs-In real life you will not find a network without WAN connection. You have to master the types of WAN connections and where and why each one is used. Configration, testing, and troubleshooting of PPP, FrameRelay, and ISDN are important-12
Exam preparation-Going through all topic and reading solved questions might be useful too-12
And this would leave you extra 4 hours that can be kept as a spare time.
After stating this schedule, I will start talking about the exam itself. The exam consists of 55 to 65 questions. Most of them are multiple choice questions with few simulation questions and drag and drops. You can take a look at Cisco’s CCNA exam webpage. It has details about exam questions and exam description. The exam time is 90 minutes and in the middle east is expanded to 2 hours because its in a second language.
The exam doesn’t have review ability, i.e., it has only “NEXT” button and no “PREVIOUS” button on the page. So, you will not be able to take a second look into the question you answer. And in my opinion, that’s a good thing, so your mind would not be occupied with previous questions. The exams usually have two or three simulation questions. These questions are the ones that take time. Not because they are hard or long or any of that, its because you are afraid of it. Especially if this is your first time in such a computer-based exam. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT spend more than 15-20 minutes on the simulation questions. It would make you loose many other questions. The most important thing about the exam is timing. The questions are never too hard.
The passing score, as you might know, is 849 out of 1000. The zero point of the exam is 300. And not all questions in the exam are marked as Cisco says in its copyright notice before the exam.
Keep in mind that CCNA is not the farthest that you can go. CCNA is the stepping stone to a much wider world where you can select a road in. After CCNA, you can go in many different ways; wireless networks, voice over IP, network security, or CCNP.