Cisco CCNA

CCNA vs. CCNP: Which exam is more difficult?

Muhammad Furqan
November 25, 2020 by
Muhammad Furqan

The Cisco certification program provides a path for anyone interested in making a career in technology. Cisco makes continual changes to its certification program to keep it aligned to job roles. 

In 2019-20, the program underwent a major overhaul. CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional), two of Cisco’s most popular certifications, changed too. This article provides up-to-date information, taking recent changes into account.

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How do CCNA and CCNP fit into the Cisco certification program? 

The Cisco certification program has five levels: entry, associate, professional, expert and architect. CCNA, as the name says, is the associate level networking certification. Beyond CCNA, you can achieve a professional-level CCNP certification to specialize in a technology area. CCNP also prepares you for the coveted CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) certification.

What is the Cisco Certified Network Associate Certification?

CCNA is Cisco’s flagship networking certification. CCNA exam topics include network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services and security fundamentals, along with automation and programmability. 

CCNA offers a broad introduction to modern networking. It covers wired and wireless network access in some detail. It introduces routing principles before covering IPv4/IPv6 static routing, OSPFv2 and FHRPs (First Hop Redundancy Protocol). It covers several IP services, including NAT (Network Address Translation), DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) and QoS (Quality of Service). It introduces network security and covers topics like VPNs (virtual private network), ACLs (access control lists), AAA (authentication, authorization and accounting) and secure wireless network access. 

Automation and programmability is a newer topic on CCNA that includes network management, controller-based architectures and use of APIs (Application Programming Interface) in SDN (software-defined networking). CCNA covers a lot of ground but the focus is on switching, routing, wireless and to some extent, security.

What is the Cisco Certified Network Professional Certification?

CCNP is Cisco’s professional-level networking certification. It validates the breadth and depth of your knowledge in a technology area. CCNP is offered in five tracks: Enterprise (think routing and switching combined with wireless), Data Center, Security, Service Provider and Collaboration. You need to pass two exams to achieve CCNP in any track: a core exam and a concentration exam.

CCNP Enterprise is by far the most popular CCNP track. The CCNP Enterprise core exam tests your knowledge of implementing enterprise network technologies including dual stack (IPv4 and IPv6) architecture, virtualization, infrastructure, network assurance, security and automation. CCNP Enterprise has five concentration exams that cover advanced routing, SD-WAN, network design, wireless design, wireless implementation and automation in enterprise networks. You need to pass one concentration exam, in addition to the core exam, to achieve CCNP Enterprise certification.

CCNA vs. CCNP: Differences and similarities

CCNA is an associate-level certification that tests your knowledge in a range of networking fundamentals. CCNP is a more advanced certification at the professional-level that requires deeper understanding of networks. There are no specialized CCNA tracks. There is one CCNA and there is just one way of achieving it — by passing the 200-301 CCNA exam. 

CCNP is not a single certification like CCNA. CCNP is offered in five different tracks. To achieve CCNP in any track, you need to pass two exams — a core exam and a concentration exam. Each track has its own core exam and its own selection of concentration exams to choose from.

The CCNP track resembling CCNA the most is CCNP Enterprise. Like CCNA, CCNP Enterprise focuses on switching, routing and wireless though in much greater depth. 

Depth or breadth: When to pick CCNA over CCNP

Many people choose to begin their certification journey at the associate level with CCNA, which is by far the most popular Cisco certification. That makes perfect sense, especially if you want to have a networking certification on your resume to land an entry-level IT job. Even if you already are in the industry, CCNA is a valid choice for your first Cisco certification. 

However, if you are already working in a networking role with a few years of experience, you may instead choose a CCNP certification aligned to your job responsibilities. If that’s you, chances are that you would already have done your CCNA a few years back. In other words, it starts with CCNA in almost all situations.

CCNA and CCNP exam difficulty levels compared

The associate-level CCNA is easier to achieve than the professional-level CCNP. You need to pass one exam to achieve CCNA, compared with two exams needed to achieve CCNP. Also, CCNP exams cover advanced topics in much greater depth. 

However, keep in mind that CCNA is technically not an entry-level certification. It is an associate-level certification. Cisco’s entry-level certification is CCT (Cisco Certified Technician). The breadth of technologies covered by CCNA makes it equally challenging. You have to be well-prepared for your CCNA exam to avoid a surprise and having to retake your exam.

CCNA and CCNP exam requirements

You can achieve your CCNA by passing the CCNA 200-301 exam. Remember the entry-level Cisco certification called CCT? While CCT is technically lower than CCNA, it is not a prerequisite for CCNA. In fact, there are no formal prerequisites for taking the CCNA exam, apart from having a good understanding of exam topics.

Each CCNP certification requires two exams: one core exam and one concentration exam. For example, the core exam of CCNP Enterprise is 350-401 ENCOR. There is more than one concentration exam for each CCNP track. For example, there are five concentration exams available for CCNP Enterprise. You need to pass any one concentration exam, in addition to the core exam, from the same track to achieve CCNP. The choice of concentration exam allows you to customize your CCNP according to your interest, job role and career goals. 

There are no formal prerequisites for CCNP. You do not have to earn CCNA before attempting a CCNP exam.

Passing the core exam of a CCNP track also qualifies you to take the CCIE lab. For example, passing the 350-401 ENCOR exam qualifies you to take the lab for CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure or CCIE Enterprise Wireless. There are no separate written exams for CCIE any longer.

Earn your CCNA, guaranteed!

Earn your CCNA, guaranteed!

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CCNA and CCNP are two of Cisco’s most popular certifications at associate and professional level, respectively. CCNA covers a broad range of networking technologies at the fundamental level. CCNP is specialized with five tracks and more advanced coverage of specific technology areas. You need to pass one exam for CCNA and two for CCNP. 

CCNA is a great starting point for your certification journey. Once you achieve your CCNA, you are ready to venture farther by doing CCNP and beyond.


Training & Certifications, Cisco

Muhammad Furqan
Muhammad Furqan

Muhammad Furqan, CCIE Routing & Switching, currently works as an engineer at a global provider of networking and information technology services. He has a degree in Computer Engineering and enjoys writing articles and tutorials on networking and related topics. Reach him at or connect with him on Twitter @MuhammadFurqan.