A Look at the Network+ Certification

Monday Sep 29th 2003 by Steve Rowe
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The networking market needed a general exam that tested an aspiring network professional's general baseline networking abilities and knowledge. Is the Network+ Certification the answer?

Network professionals are often the keepers of an organization's information backbone. Many problems, high stress levels, and tense moments can accompany the life a network administrator or support personnel. Yet, many moments of satisfaction can come with being able to get servers back up and running when the network "goes down," or get that deleted file or folder from a well-planned backup that will save the day of your customers. Network professionals can expect duties that range from designing a network to implementing and supporting network hardware, protocols, and troubleshooting network connectivity and usability problems. Many certifications exist to test the knowledge and skills of network professionals. One can attain certification with Microsoft, Cisco, Lotus, and Novell, to name a few. These certifications are, for the most part, examinations of ability with these groups' specific products. What the networking market soon found it needed was a general exam that tested the aspiring network professional's general baseline networking abilities and knowledge. An exam was needed that was not necessarily tied to a certain product line. Enter the CompTIA Network+ Exam!

Network+ Exam

The Network+ certification is one of CompTIA's best-known exams, as it rates second only to the A+ exam for number of people certified. CompTIA states that, to date, more than 70,000 hold this certification. Just as the A+ certification measures baseline abilities of PC support personnel, the Network+ measures baseline skills and knowledge of network professionals. (To learn more on CompTIA or the A+ certification, visit www.comptia.com or visit our certification article, entitled "A Look at the A+ Certification," that appeared here at www.developer.com last month.) Passing this exam validates your abilities as being equivalent to a network professional who has nine months of on-the-job experience. With that being said, it is advisable to have 6-12 months of actual on-the-job networking or PC support experience while working toward this certification. The more hands-on experience you have with the hardware, topologies, and protocols found on common corporate networks, the better your chances are of passing this exam. As with all CompTIA exams, the Network+ exam is vendor neutral. The exam came together with networking experts from educational, government, and corporate environments that established a baseline set of skills for entry-level network professionals.

What Does the Network+ Exam Cover?

You may be asking yourself what exactly do industry experts consider to be baseline skills? Which of these skills are important enough to be on an industry-recognized, vendor-neutral exam that is accepted by corporations worldwide? The following table gives you a topical breakdown by exam domains and the percentage that domain is represented on the actual exam. After the table, we will cover some highlights of each domain to see what topics you can expect to see on the Network+ exam. (To get specifics on what each domain expects of you, be sure to check out the Network+ objective domains on www.comptia.com.)

Domain Percent of Exam
Media and Topologies 20%
Protocols and Standards 25%
Network Implementation 23%
Network Support 32%

Media and Topologies

In this domain, you will have to be knowledgeable of and be able to work with common network hardware items and topologies. You will need to be able to differentiate among topologies such as star, bus, and ring. You will also need to be able to differentiate among, implement, and support common network hardware items such as hubs, routers, servers, gateways, and switches, to name a few.

Protocols and Standards

This domain requires you to be familiar with protocols and services used with LANs and WANs. Not to anyone's surprise, you will need to understand the TCP/IP protocol suite because it is such a mainstay across the Internet and corporate networks. Also, protocols such as NetBEUI, IPX/SPX, and AppleTalk will be covered. Services such as DNS, DHCP, and SNMP, to name a few, will be covered as well. You also will need to be familiar with remote networking protocols and security protocols as delineated throughout this domain. Understanding default gateways, subnetting, private networking vs. public networking, and a host of WAN technologies is also required.

Network Implementation

In this domain, you will be required to understand client connection and configuration fundamentals. Also, you will need to understand the fundamentals of server operating systems, such as UNIX, Windows Servers, Novell, and Macintosh. Topics on disaster recovery, fault tolerance, proxy and firewall technologies, network attached storage, and VLANs are also covered.

Network Support

This section of content will require you to work with given scenarios on the exam and be able to select the proper method of troubleshooting and/or tool set required to solve a networking problem. Topics include identifying a cause of failure in a small office or remote connection, wiring or infrastructure problem, client connectivity, and physical topology problems. You also will need to be well versed in TCP/IP diagnostic tools such as Tracert, PING, IPConfig, and Nslookup, to name a few. Lastly, you will need to be able to solve a given problem using steps from the general troubleshooting strategy list.

This is just a high-level overview of what you will encounter in the different Network+ domains, but it is always advised to visit www.comptia.com to keep current with exam objectives as you complete your course of study. Don't get caught off guard by an exam change you were not anticipating!

Network+ Facts

The following list highlights some of the important items related to the Network+ exam:

  • This exam consists of 72 identification and situational multiple-choice questions that you will have to complete within a 90-minute time frame.
  • To pass, you must attain a score of 646 on a scale of 100-900.
  • This exam can be taken through both VUE Testing (www.vue.com) and Prometric Testing (www.2test.com). The Network+ Test Code is N10-002.
  • The cost to take the Network+ exam currently sets at $145 for non-corporate members. Corporate membership and volume discount rates do exist for this exam. (See the CompTIA web site for more pricing information.)
  • If you need special accommodations for your exam due to disabilities, be sure to contact your testing center 30 days in advance to set up the requisite accommodations. Have your disability documentation available.
  • The Network+ certification can also fulfill requirements in the Microsoft MCSA and Novell CNA and CNE 6 programs. This certification can also count toward college credit in certain places.

Conclusions

The Network+ certification is a durable and exciting certification. As you have seen, being Network+ certified will prove your baseline skill and knowledge levels, but it also fills requisites of other popular certification programs—and even some college degree programs. If entering the world of networking is a goal for you, this is a very solid place to begin. If you are new to the IT world, it is advisable that you first achieve the A+ certification to build the PC foundations so critical to a career in IT. If you have the A+ certification already or your experience levels don't warrant taking this step, there are multiple ways to start your Network+ study course. Many computer-learning centers offer Network+ classes, along with some community colleges and adult learning programs in local public school systems.

If classes are not your cup of tea, there are plenty of good Network+ training guides and exam cram products you can purchase from amazon.com or your local bookstore. Be sure to select only the books that are current in their coverage of exam objectives. Also, select books that give you multiple learning opportunities through exercises, quizzes, practice exams, and relevant content.

Finally, truthfully assess the best way you learn. Don't short-change yourself by not following your best learning style. Find an effective study method; get your hands into real-world networking scenarios, and practice, practice, practice! Best of luck!

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