Michael Bennett Cohn writes "Cisco Press' CCNA Self-Study Certification Library by Wendell Odom consists of two books: the ICND guide and the INTRO guide, corresponding to tests 640-811 and 641-821, respectively. Passing each of those tests will make you a CCNA; so will passing combined exam 640-801. I passed exam 640-801 in one try, with no real networking experience and having taken no classes. The ICND and INTRO books comprised my primary training materials." To sort out a bit of that alphabet soup, CCNA stands for "Cisco Certified Network Associate" and ICND for "Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices," though if you're in the market for this book you probably already knew that. Read on for the rest of Michael Bennett Cohn's review.
Although it is possible to enroll in official ICND and INTRO courses created by Cisco, the books that make up this "library," apparently, are not the books used in those courses. Within the ICND book, Odom refers to "the ICND course, on which the exam is partly based," suggesting that what you have in your hands is a reverse-engineered study guide: a study guide for an exam that is based on a course that does not use said book. Odom occasionally presents tables that he claims come from the ICND course. Clearly, some parts of the course are not fair game for the study guide.
In other words, don't think that just because you are reading the official Cisco press CCNA study guides, you are dealing with a set of information that is as close as possible to the set of information from which the test was drawn.
Studying these books will prepare you for the CCNA in the same way that reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z will prepare you to identify the capital of Nairobi. It goes without saying that a CCNA candidate should not be studying just to pass a test, she should be studying to qualify herself for a job. But in this case, the difference between the material presented and the material actually making up the test is excessive.
Odom goes to a lot of effort to make the reader feel like he is being spoken to by a friend. "Fun, isn't it?" he writes, after presenting an illustration of function groups and access points that I had to re-draw for myself several times in order to understand. Later, he describes Inverse ARP as "another case of learning by listening, a great lesson for real life!" Gee, thanks. The subtle condescension in the non-humorous asides, the gleeful overuse of exclamation points, and the fable in which Pebbles Flintstone invents networking is compounded by the persistent contextual encapsulation of every single topic in the book. Odom tells you what he's going to tell you, then he tells you, then he tells you what he's told you, much more than necessary.
A better way to put the flustered reader at ease might have been to proofread the books. The ICND guide, especially, is so full of typos that it is often embarrassing to read. In some cases, these are nothing more than obvious misspellings that can be passed over without much more than a little annoyance (e.g. ICND p. 472, "status enquiry messages"). In other cases, the meaning of the sentence is muddled. Worse, the configuration examples have obviously not been proofread either, resulting in, for example, the prompt "R1(config)#" when the appropriate prompt is "R1(config-if)." The difference may seem trivial, but understanding its significance is the kind of stuff the CCNA is all about.
Each book comes with a CD containing a practice test engine and a router simulator (both from Boson). The mistakes in the ICND book pale in comparison to those in the CD test engines. In fact, an argument could be made that studying with those practice tests will hinder more than help the CCNA candidate who has not read the books thoroughly enough to recognize the mistakes. Many multiple-choice questions count correct answers wrong and vice versa (and some of these are taken directly from the books, which usually give the correct answer). A configuration entered into the CLI on a simulator question will be graded as wrong, and the user will then be presented with an identical configuration as an example of the correct way to solve the problem.
None of these problems change the fact that these books will, if used correctly, absolutely help you pass the CCNA. But do it this way: Read the INTRO book. Take the exam right away. If you don't pass, flip through the ICND book and find the areas that you actually need to work on. You'll save months of study time that could be better spent working on your CCNP.
I give the library as a whole 3 out of 5 stars.
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