Achieving the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching is a rite of passage for networking professionals aiming to prove their ability to work with Cisco kit. It’s an ideal certification for entry-level network engineers and validates the skills needed for network support positions. It’s also essential for advanced professionals who already possess the qualification because recertification must be achieved every three years.
Many professionals may not realize that there are two distinct paths to achieving the CCNA. For experienced professionals, Cisco offers the CCNAX, an accelerated version of the CCNA that could cut the time it takes you to get certified in half.
CCNA vs. CCNAX
There are two routes to achieving the CCNA Routing and Switching; the two-exam route is by far the most popular and is a path you’ll likely be familiar with. By taking this route, you’ll first achieve your Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) by passing the ICND1 exam. To achieve your CCNA Routing and Switching certification, you’ll then need to successfully pass the ICND2 exam.
The second route requires you to pass just one exam: Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices: Accelerated (CCNAX) 3.0. The CCNAX merges ICND1 and ICDN2 content together into a single accelerated format. The typical route to CCNA includes some overlap between ICND1 and ICND2; this is eliminated from the CCNAX, resulting in a shorter and more condensed course. Despite its shorter length, the CCNAX isn’t missing content.
Cisco’s recommended course length for ICND1 and ICDN2 is 10 days. Compare that to the CCNAX, which is just five days and it’s clear how much time you’ll save. The structure of the CCNAX curriculum and the way it is taught by Cisco instructors is also different, ensuring a better flow for students.
As a reminder, the ICND1 and ICND2 exams are both 90 minutes and contain 45 to 55 questions each. While the CCNAX exam is also 90 minutes, you can expect 60 to 70 questions, meaning you’ll have less time for each question.
And as you’d expect, the exam questions could cover content across the entire CCNA curriculum, unlike the mostly distinct curriculums of ICND1 and ICND2.
Are you a candidate for the CCNAX?
Don’t read too much into Cisco’s official prerequisites; the CCNAX course is intense and built for networking professionals with buckets of experience. While not recommended for beginners, if you’re experienced with Cisco kit or your CCNA is expiring soon, the CCNAX is your fastest route to certification.
If you’re not experienced with Cisco kit, you might want to avoid the CCNAX in favor of the typical two-exam route. Both routes result in the certification, but the two-exam course provides the luxury of more time to spend on each topic and tests your knowledge individually across two exams. Inexperienced students may find the CCNAX exam extremely difficult versus the two-exam route; it’s easier to take two smaller exams that you can prepare for individually.
It’s also worth noting that you shouldn’t attempt the CCNAX just because you’ve invested in self-study prior to your course. Avoid treating it as exam prep, especially if you lack experience in Cisco technologies.
“The main issue is that there are so many concepts. It is mentally exhausting to absorb all of the content at once,” Paul Stewart, a system engineer and blogger at Cisco who holds the CCIE, wrote in a blog post.
While there are differing opinions across the networking community, the CCNAX remains a valuable time-saver when recertifying and is ideal for uncertified experts to quickly achieve their CCNA for the first time.
Cisco recommends that professionals on the CCNAX path opt for instructor-led training from official Cisco learning partners. CCNAX courses are five days, delivered in both virtual and classroom environments. Most will not include the exam, which may need to be arranged separately.