Today I Passed the CWNA Exam

I have been involved with both wired and wireless networking for many years. My original wireless setups were from the early 2000s, shortly after 802.11b became popular. I remember at one point I had a PCMCIA card with a pigtail and external antenna attached to it.

As my career started taking a focus more toward networking, I became intimately familiar with just about every aspect of wired networking. Having worked with wireless for so long, I knew a decent amount about how the technology works, but not nearly to the level of familiarity I have with Ethernet.

Occasionally, I look at various job listings just to see what employers generally expect within different levels of networking careers. I kept seeing wireless networking as a general skill, and in many listings, I saw the CWNA as either a requirement, or a “nice to have”. I decided it was time to finally bridge the divide in my networking knowledge and learn some wireless topics at a deeper level.

I feel like the CWNA exam is absolutely perfect for this. This exam is not so introductory as to have no value whatsoever, but it is not so deep that you have to devote a significant amount of time toward it to pass. I am not yet looking to devote myself to wireless networking, but the CWNP program does offer more advanced certifications for those that are. If I ever decided to pursue an even deeper level of wireless networking knowledge, I would definitely come back to the CWNP program and work on those additional certifications.

I started studying for this certification, and took and passed the exam on the first attempt, within the course of just a little over a month. I will admit, with me already having CCNP-level knowledge, there were a lot of topics on the CWNA that I was already familiar with (and even a few topics that I disagreed with!). This made studying for the exam go by a little faster.

My process was to first read the Official CWNA Study Guide all the way through. This took a couple of weeks, reading one or two chapters each day. In the past, when studying for a certification, I would have taken tons of notes, which end up being somewhat useless to me. It took me a long time to break this habit. This may work well for some people, but I found out through time that this process doesn’t work for me. I still have all of the notes I’ve ever taken for all of the certifications I’ve studied for, but simply reading my notes doesn’t really do much for me. This time, I took no notes while reading.

For this certification, after reading the entire certification guide, I took all of the chapter questions from the book, and all of the entries in the glossary, and made flash cards out of them in Anki. Using Anki, I was able to very quickly separate what I already knew from what I still needed to retain. After two weeks of spending an hour or so each day reviewing flash cards, I took the first of three online practice tests. I made new flash cards out of the questions that I missed, and continued to study. A week later, I took the second of three practice tests and did much better. Once again, I made cards out of the questions I missed.

Since I did so well on the second practice exam, I decided to schedule the real exam for the following week. I continued to review cards, and a few days before taking the test, I took the third of three practice exams and did very well. I didn’t do as well on the third practice exam as the second, which shook my confidence a little bit, but it was still a passing score, so I proceeded to review the cards and keep the exam as scheduled. In the end, my flash card deck contained about 1100 cards.

The online practice exams are included as part of having access to the textbook. I have a subscription to Safari Books Online (best money I’ve ever spent in my life!), and I was able to register for access to the practice exams on the Sybex website. These official practice tests, along with using Anki, absolutely transformed my method of studying and more importantly, information retention. I actually found the practice tests to be a little more difficult to pass than the actual exam, which was a nice bonus.

There are a lot of little details that you need to memorize to pass the CWNA exam. These are details that will definitely be forgotten after the test is over, unless you keep reviewing the material. But, the CWNA also teaches many different concepts and methodologies that revolve around the world of wireless networking, and this is the most important information that I believe will stick with you if you study for and pass the exam.

For example, if you are setting up a brand new 802.11ac wireless network, when previously there was no wireless network (a Greenfield installation), you might not need to remember what the Modulation and Coding Schemes are that 802.11ac uses, but knowing essentials such as the fact that 802.11ac operates only in the 5 GHz bands, and how the 5 GHz frequency bands operate a little differently than the 2.4 GHz bands, will be excellent knowledge to have when you need to troubleshoot the wireless network post-installation.

The pricing of the CWNA-106 exam isn’t too bad ($175 as I write this), at least not compared to Cisco’s recent price hikes, and the process of studying for and gaining the credentials has been well worth it to me. I will now absolutely be able to more intelligently discuss wireless networking, troubleshoot, and plan and make appropriate proposals when needed.

General Network Challenges, and IP/TCP/UDP Operations

Having fundamental knowledge of what affects TCP, UDP, and IP itself helps you to better troubleshoot the network when things go wrong. I feel like most of the lower-level network-oriented certifications barely touch on these topics, if at all. However, the current Cisco CCNP and CCIE Routing & Switching exams do expect you to know this. This post is geared toward Cisco’s implementation and defaults regarding the various topics. However, whether you are studying for a certification or not, this is all good information to have.

This mega-post covers the following topics:

Continue reading “General Network Challenges, and IP/TCP/UDP Operations”