You're about to embark on one of your cyber security career's most challenging and exciting journeys: conquering the CISSP exam. Successfully tackling this exam requires a combination of effective learning, a thorough understanding of the exam material and structure, the appropriate resources, proper preparation, and effective guidance.
So, if you're wondering where to start, how to pass the CISSP exam in first attempt, and where to get all the help you need - we've got you covered! Along with the key techniques and CISSP exam tips we'll share in this article, we'll introduce a great collection of resources and tools that can be your secret weapon for success.
Setting clear and realistic goals is the foundation of success in any undertaking, and preparing for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam is no exception. You've already decided to sit for the CISSP exam, but now it's time to define or refine your goals. Consider the following factors to plan for the journey ahead effectively:
- Define a Timeline: Determine a realistic timeline for your CISSP preparation process. Do you plan to take the exam within three months, six months, or a year? Setting a specific date will help you structure your study schedule.
- Assess your knowledge: Each CISSP domain is a universe in itself. Begin by evaluating your existing understanding of these domains. Identify the areas you are good at and those that require more attention. Next, set a target date for significant improvement in these weaker areas, and as you move through your study material(s), track your progress. This initial assessment is the foundation for crafting an efficient study plan and CISSP exam strategy.
- Craft an Effective Study Plan: Consistency is crucial to passing the CISSP exam. How many hours can you commit weekly to your study? Your decision depends on your time available, your current knowledge level, and how soon you wish to write the exam. There is no “right” number of hours per week for everyone - consistency is the key. Set a schedule and stick with it.
- Practice questions: These questions are a handy tool and vital for successful CISSP exam preparation. Incorporating them into your study program will help you understand the CISSP language and pinpoint areas that need more attention. Always review the explanations provided for correct and incorrect answers to grasp the concepts truly. In addition, maintaining consistent scores during these exercises provides measurable proof of your understanding of each Common Body of Knowledge.
Guest what? Writing down your goals can boost your success rate from 42% to a solid 60%!
Note Taking Advice
Efficient note-taking is crucial for effectively preparing for the CISSP certification exam. It can significantly enhance your learning experience and retention of key information. As you dive into the extensive CISSP study materials, consider the following note-taking strategies:
- Flashcards: While studying, focus on extracting the most critical information. Select key concepts, definitions, acronyms, and important facts from each CISSP domain. Concentrate on areas where you need more training or find remembering challenging. Keep your flashcards concise and organized by CISSP domain to ensure a systematic review. Also, engage actively with your flashcards rather than passively reading them. Quiz yourself, recall answers, and explain concepts in your own words.
- Constantly Updating Notes: Create a dedicated notebook or electronic document for your CISSP notes. Organize it into sections that correspond to the CISSP certification domains. As you progress in your preparation and learn from the explanations provided in the practice tests, remember to update your notes with your newfound understanding.
- Mind Mapping Concepts: Mind maps are particularly useful for understanding the relationships between CISSP domains and their subtopics. Interact actively with your mind maps: explain concepts aloud or teach them to someone else. Regularly revisit and update your mind maps as you advance in your studies, adding new insights and connections.
Feeling overwhelmed? Are you looking for a handy outline reference to jog your memory and connect all the important exam concepts? Let our CISSP cheat sheet from guide you.
Beyond memorization lies real understanding, a crucial factor for CISSP certification. Here's where StationX steps in with the Accelerator Program, meticulously designed to lead you to success, equipping you with essential learning skills, complemented by guidance from mentors, a collaborative study environment, and a vibrant community..
Below are as some of the resources available to you via the Accelerator Program:
Seasoned professionals serve as mentors, giving personalized advice, answering specific queries, and helping you navigate the often challenging and intimidating waters of CISSP preparation.
2. Mastermind Groups
Mastermind groups bring together like-minded people driven towards the same goal. It's a space for collective brainstorming and knowledge exchange, exposing you to diverse perspectives. Joining one of our mastermind group will help you keep momentum, foster accountability, improve your understanding, and achieve your goals.
Did you know personal accountability can boost your success rate to 64%? Add the weekly meetings with StationX mastermind groups, and watch your goal completion reach an impressive 76%.
3. Focus Groups & Study Partners
When surrounded by motivated learners and like-minded people, diving deeper into complex topics becomes significantly easier. Focus groups provide opportunities for in-depth discussions on various CISSP topics. These discussions help clear up any doubts you might have and introduce you to angles you hadn't considered before.
Study partners, meanwhile, bring about the classic 'two heads are better than one' scenario. Whether breaking down a tricky concept or bouncing ideas off each other, having someone alongside you can be reassuring, motivating, and beneficial.
4. Teaching Others
We all know that the best way to understand something is to teach it. StationX encourages peer-to-peer teaching and provides a platform to do so. This practice allows you to strengthen your understanding by taking on the role of a teacher. Explaining concepts to your peers reinforces your knowledge and highlights areas for further clarification.
It's been observed that simply discussing what you're learning can increase your memory retention by 50%. By teaching someone else, that retention jumps to a remarkable 90%!
5. StationX Community
This community provides connections with experts, as well as individuals who have successfully passed the CISSP examination. Such an environment offers guidance and camaraderie, making the journey significantly less overwhelming.
6. Blogging, Recording Videos, and Sharing Resources
You are encouraged to write about and share your CISSP experiences within the community. Not only does this provide a reflection space for you, but it also provides a resource for others who aspire to take the CISSP certification exam.
Creating explanatory videos is another avenue. Visual learners benefit greatly from videos that break down complex topics into digestible bits. Moreover, sharing cheat sheets and quick reference guides can be useful for final-minute revisions.
Get the help you need by joining the StationX Accelerator Program today!
Knowing What to Expect
The CISSP exam covers 8 domains, known as the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK), that are cleverly crafted to evaluate your understanding and expertise.
- Security and Risk Management: As the backbone of information security, this domain delves into security governance, compliance, and professional ethics.
- Asset Security: This section addresses information classification, ownership concepts, asset protection, and privacy protection.
- Security Architecture and Engineering: Think of this as the blueprint of security, where you'll engage with encryption, security models, and cloud security
- Communication and Network Security: From secure design principles to network attacks, this domain is all about keeping virtual communication channels safe.
- Identity and Access Management (IAM): Dive into identity services, access control attacks, and identity as a service.
- Security Assessment and Testing: This is where you'll behave as an auditor and evaluate the effectiveness of security controls.
- Security Operations: Here, you learn about incident management, forensic investigations, and disaster recovery.
- Software Development Security: This domain explores security in the software development lifecycle, ensuring that software is built securely from the ground up.
The CISSP exam is a lengthy process. According to the (ISC)2 official website, Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) is used for all English exams. You'll have 4 hours to answer 125-175 questions. Most of the test consists of multiple-choice questions. Still, you'll also encounter some advanced innovative questions that test your analytical skills, problem-solving ability, hands-on experience, and manager-like mindset. A score of 700 out of 1000 is essential to pass.
Regarding the CAT system, (ISC)2 mentions that “...following a candidate’s response to an item, the scoring algorithm re-estimates the candidate’s ability based on the difficulty of all items presented and answers provided. With each additional item answered, the computer's estimate of the candidate’s ability becomes more precise…”
In other words, the questions' difficulty is adjusted based on your proficiency, and there's no going back to previously answered questions. If you answer a question correctly, the next might be harder, while a wrong answer could lead to an easier question.
One benefit of the CAT system is that you might only need to answer some of the 150 questions traditionally set out in the CISSP exam. Depending on your performance, the exam could end after 100 questions or take you up to 150.
Types of Advanced Innovative Questions you might come across in the exam:
- Hotspot Questions: They describe a scenario using a visual representation like a diagram or image. Your task is to identify and select the graphic's relevant part(s) that answer the question. Such questions can come from any CISSP module. For example, they can be about identifying vulnerabilities within network diagrams or determining the position of a specific role in an organizational structure. Take some time with these questions, even if the CISSP certification exam is time-sensitive. Before clicking on any area of the graphic, make sure you understand the question and the presented scenario completely. See an example of a hotspot question below.
- Drag-and-Drop: These questions require moving items to their correct position or category. Drag-and-drop can cover any CISSP domain, from security management methods to software development security. Once items have been dragged and dropped into their chosen positions, you can quickly review and rearrange them before final submission. However, it's essential to be swift, confident, and accurate, as time is of the essence in the CISSP exam. Make sure you understand the instructions. Sometimes, the task might be about sequencing, while other times, it might be about matching or categorizing.
During your preparation, we recommend practicing diverse hotspot-style and drag-drop questions to familiarize yourself with the format and the logic behind these types of questions.
While it may sound cliche, make sure you get a good night's sleep before the exam day.
Here are a few elements to be aware of on exam day.
- Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): Candidates are required to sign an NDA stipulating that they won’t disclose or reproduce any exam content and materials. Failure to accept the NDA can prohibit you from taking the exam. Discussing exam content post-examination can also lead to penalties.
- Whiteboard: Depending on the test center, you might receive a whiteboard, marker, or paper and pencil for notes. Once the exam is over, you must give back these materials. Any notes taken during the exam should be erased or returned at the end. It is prohibited for any exam materials to leave the testing room.
- Testing Center Rules: Candidates must present a valid and up-to-date identification with a photograph and signature before being allowed to take the exam. Personal items, including bags, books, phones, and notes, are typically not permitted in the testing area. Depending on the center, you might get access to a locker or storage. Eating, drinking, smoking, or disturbing others is prohibited in the examination room. Not adhering to these rules could result in dismissal.
Visit (ISC)2 website to find out what you need for exam day.
How CISSP Is Different
In the cyber security field, several aspects set the CISSP apart from other certification exams, as detailed below.
CISSP is considered a "mile wide and inch deep" as it covers a broad range of security topics organized into eight domains, without going too deep into the ultra-technical details. Instead, it ensures you can tackle different security challenges at a high level and truly grasp the vast interconnected landscape of cyber security.
This may sound similar to the style of CompTIA Security+, but is much more advanced. See “CompTIA Security+ vs CISSP: Which Is Best for You?” for more details.
This certification is known for combining technical knowledge with managerial insights. This exam isn't just about tech talk. Although candidates must understand technical concepts, the real focus is on managing risk, making informed security decisions, and running a security program while keeping an eye on costs and business objectives. You should know how to use what you've learned from the eight domains in real-life situations.
During the exam, step into the shoes of a manager or risk advisor. Instead of fixing problems quickly or turning to technical solutions, see the bigger picture. Think beyond the immediate by considering cost-benefit analyses, integrating business goals, and ensuring security components fit into the organization's overall posture. Remember that all decisions start with risk management.
To better understand how thinking like a manager is different from thinking technically, check out our “CISSP vs CASP+: Which Is Better?” article.
The CISSP looks into security frameworks, laws, and regulations - exploring how they work, their benefits, and limitations. More than surface-level knowledge, cramming facts, or memorizing key articles and clauses, it is important to understand how these laws and regulations impact everyday cyber security tasks and how you can ensure compliance without compromising efficiency.
As laws and regulations change over time, It is vital to understand how organizations can adjust and thrive.
As you delve into your CISSP preparation, remember that it's not just about passing an exam; it's about developing skills to move your career forward, opening doors to more rewarding opportunities, and making a statement of your commitment to the ever-growing world of cyber security. During the exam, the goal is to take time to finish all questions while demonstrating a consistent understanding across all security domains.
Even though the CISSP journey is undeniably challenging, with resources like those offered by StationX, it becomes a more manageable, engaging, structured, and fulfilling experience. With determination and persistence, how to pass the CISSP on first attempt won't just remain a goal – it will become your story.
Check out our selection of CISSP certification and strategic test-taking courses below!
Don't miss out on the opportunity to join our Accelerator Program to connect with experts and access a large collection of exam preparation resources.
Good luck with your CISSP exam. You got this!