9 CISSP Test-Planning Tips
Here are nine (mostly) long-term planning tips for helping you prepare for the day you take the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification exam.
Know your learning style
As you mentally anticipate your study and preparation for the CISSP exam, it’s important for you to understand your personal learning style. For example, you might prefer a long-term study plan as opposed to a one-week boot-camp style training course. And you may learn better in a study group, or by studying and reading alone in a quiet room. Your studying time might be more fruitful if you do it in short, frequent sessions (say, 30 minutes, a couple of times a day), or in less frequent and longer marathons (for example, four hours, a few nights a week).
Get a networking certification first
The Communication and Network Security domain is the most comprehensive domain tested on the CISSP exam. Although its purpose is to test your security knowledge, you must have a complete understanding of communications and networking. For this reason, you should earn a networking certification, such as the CompTIA Network+ or the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), before attempting the CISSP exam, especially if you don’t have at least a few years of experience with networking equipment including routers, switches, firewalls, and more. An additional benefit is that you then have another valuable technical certification in high demand within the computer industry.
If you already have one of these certifications, you should find most of the information in the Communication and Network Security domain to be very basic. In this case, a quick review that focuses on security concepts (particularly methods of attack) should be sufficient for this domain.
If you haven’t taken a computer-based examination before, getting a networking certification first will also help familiarize you with the testing center location and environment, as well as the general format of computer-based exams.
Go online and register for the CISSP exam — NOW!
Committing yourself to a test date is the best cure for procrastination, especially because the test costs $599 (U.S.)! Setting your date can help you plan and focus your study efforts.
Make a 60-day study plan
After you register for the CISSP exam, commit yourself to a 60-day study plan. Of course, your work experience and professional reading should span a much greater period, but for your final preparations leading up to the CISSP exam, plan on a 60-day period of intense study.
Exactly how intensely you study depends on your personal experience and learning ability, but plan on a minimum of 2 hours a day for 60 days. If you’re a slow learner or reader, or perhaps find yourself weak in many areas, plan on 4 to 6 hours a day and more on the weekends.
Regardless, try to stick to the 60-day plan. If you feel that you need 360 hours of study, you might be tempted to spread this out over a 6-month period for 2 hours a day. But committing to 6 months of intense study is much harder (on you, as well as your family and friends) than committing to 2 months. In the end, you’ll likely find yourself studying only as much as you would have in a 60-day period.
Get organized and READ!
A wealth of security information is available for the CISSP candidate. However, studying everything is impractical. Instead, get organized, determine your strengths and weaknesses, and then READ!
Begin by downloading the free, official CISSP Candidate Information Bulletin from the (ISC)2 website. This bulletin provides a good outline of the subjects on which you’ll be tested.
Next take the practice exam and review the materials on the Dummies website. Focus on the areas that you identify as your weakest. If needed, obtain additional references on specific topics as needed.
Finally, in the last week before your exam, go through all your selected study materials at least once. Review or read your personal study notes, and complete as many practice questions as you can.
Taking the time to make flash cards (or a mind map) and review them each day during slow times — such as when riding the bus or train — is a great way to help you study. You not only learn through repetition (looking at the cards over and over), but by making the cards themselves.
Join a study group
You can find strength in numbers. Joining a study group or creating your own can help you stay focused and provide a wealth of information from the broad perspectives and experiences of other IT and security professionals. You can find a study group, discussion forums, and many other helpful resources at CCCure.
Also, your local (ISC)2 chapter or a chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) may be sponsoring CISSP study groups.
Take practice exams
No practice exams are available that exactly duplicate the CISSP exam. And forget about brain dumps (actual test questions and answers that others have unscrupulously posted on the Internet) — in addition to possibly being wrong, brain dumps violate the CISSP exam’s non-disclosure agreement. However, many resources are available for practice questions. You may find some practice questions too hard, others too easy, and some just plain irrelevant.
Despite that, the repetition of practice questions can help reinforce important information that you need to know in order to successfully answer questions on the CISSP exam. For this reason, take as many practice exams as possible and using the results to help you focus on your weak areas. Use the Practice Test on the Dummies website, and try the CISSP Quizzes on the CISSP Open Study Group website.
Take a CISSP review seminar
You can take an official (ISC)2 CISSP Review or Live OnLine Seminar. The Review seminar is an intense, five-day session that definitely has you eating, drinking, and sleeping CISSP after you finish. Like the exam, the review seminars can be quite expensive and might require some travel. Similarly, the Live OnLine seminar gives you the same benefits of the Review seminar on a computer, without the exotic travel.
Take a breather
The day before the exam, relax and plan for a comfortable night’s rest. If you’ve been cramming for the exam, set your study materials aside the day before the exam. At that point, you either know the material or you don’t!