Is CompTIA Security+ Hard?: What You Need to Know

Is CompTIA Security+ Hard What You Need to Know

So, you want to know: Is CompTIA Security+ hard? Is it too challenging? And is it worth attempting this certification exam?

We will answer these questions and more as we dissect the difficulty of the CompTIA Security+ exam and what you need to know.

We will discuss what the Security+ certification is all about, the essential knowledge you should possess before diving into your study materials, and the difficulty level you can expect from the course material and the exam itself. 

Additionally, we'll provide you with five invaluable tips to help you prepare and succeed.

If you are ready to dive deeply into Security+, let’s begin. 

What Is CompTIA Security+?

Security+ is an entry-level cyber security certification exam provided by CompTIA that tests you on core security functions and concepts. 

It is designed to test you on foundation-level security skills and knowledge across five domains. It prepares you for positions such as security specialist, SOC (Security Operations Center) Analyst, and Incident Responder, among others. 

The CompTIA Security+ exam, as of this writing, is on version SYO-601, is 90 minutes in length, and is composed of a mix of 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions.

The exam uses a scale of 100-900 points. A minimum score of 750 points (around 83%) is required to pass. The cost of earning the CompTIA Security+ certification is $392 USD.

The computer-based exam can be taken at Pearson VUE testing centers or online proctored exams. This allows flexibility in how and where you can take the exam.

For more details, refer to our article “What Is CompTIA Security+?”.

What Is CompTIA Security+ About?

Let’s discuss what Security+ is all about. Security+ covers five distinct domains, which include:

  1. Threats, Attacks, and Vulnerabilities (24%)
  2. Architecture and Design (21%)
  3. Implementation (25%)
  4. Operations and Incident Response (16%)
  5. Governance, Risk, and Compliance (14%)
What Is CompTIA Security+ About

The exam comprises multiple choice and PBQs (performance-based questions). You can expect around five to 10 PBQs; the remainder will be multiple-choice. The number of multiple-choice questions will vary between exams, as the PBQs are often more heavily weighted or counted as more than one question when scoring.

Let’s break down the two types of questions you will encounter on the exam. And what you can expect to see and what they will be testing you on.

Multiple Choice

Most of the exam will consist of traditional multiple-choice questions with four answer options. These questions may require you to select either one answer or multiple answers from the list provided. These questions will test you on the following:

  • Your comprehensive understanding of cyber security.
  • Your ability to analyze data to choose the most appropriate answer.

Examples

1. Which encryption algorithm provides the STRONGEST protection for data in transit over networks? 

A) AES

B) 3DES

C) RSA

D) TLS

2. Which of the following are types of social engineering attacks? (Select TWO)

A) Phishing

B) SQL Injection

C) Tailgating

D) Brute Force

3. An organization is implementing a trusted network architecture. Which security control should be used to separate critical systems from the enterprise network?

A) VLAN 

B) IDS 

C) WAF 

D) DLP

Performance-Based Questions

These questions are more complex and often simulate real-world scenarios. You may come across:

  • Drag-and-Drop Questions: You'll need to drag elements to their correct positions, such as matching definitions to terms or dragging the correct security controls to the correct areas on a company's floor plan.
  • Fill-in-the-Blank Questions: For these, you'll be prompted to complete a sentence or terminal command by filling in the missing word or phrase.
  • Scenario-Based Questions: These require you to apply your knowledge and problem-solving skills to specific, often complex, real-world situations, such as applying firewall rules in a simulated system.

These PBQs will test you on the following:

  • Your ability to apply knowledge to simulated scenarios.
  • Assess critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Examples

1. You are given a network diagram and asked to check access control lists (ACLs). Make the necessary changes to allow workstation access to the internet.

ComTIA Example Simulation

2. Fill in information about the RAID configuration.

Fill in information about the RAID configuration

What Should I Know Before Starting CompTIA Security+?

Before you begin studying for the CompTIA Security+ certification exam, it is highly recommended to have some basic IT and cyber security knowledge and experience. You do not need to be an expert, but having exposure to key concepts and technologies will help you understand the material faster.

Ideally, you should have a foundational grasp of core networking protocols and concepts like TCP/IP, common ports, firewalls, wireless technologies, routing, and switching. 

Some hands-on experience in IT administration is also very helpful - things like managing user credentials, various operating systems, cloud platforms, backups, etc. 

You'll also want to possess general computer skills like installing software, using the command line interface, and editing configuration files.

These skills are covered in the CompTIA A+ and Network+. These certifications are a good measure to determine if you have the foundation skills needed to pursue Security+.

How Difficult Is CompTIA Security+ Material?

The difficulty of the CompTIA Security+ material depends on your background.

If you're new to IT and cyber security, expect the material to be challenging. It dives into cyber security concepts and builds upon foundational IT and networking skills. Gaining a strong grasp of these subjects will require significant effort and time if you lack prior experience in the field.

The material becomes a little easier with some IT experience, like networking or system administration. Your existing knowledge helps, but you still need to learn the unique aspects of cyber security.

For those already working in cyber security or with related certifications, the Security+ material may come more easily, as it focuses on foundational knowledge that can leverage your existing experience to help prepare you more quickly.

Overall, the preparation time varies:

  • Beginners may need three to six months to learn the concepts from scratch.
  • Those with relevant experience can prepare in about four to six weeks.

The material in Security+ is set up so that it builds on itself. Beginning with basic ideas like identifying threats, you'll move on to more advanced topics like putting security controls in place and understanding cryptography. Most of the time, each new topic builds on what you already know. This makes it easier to understand more difficult topics as you go along.

Compared to similar certifications such as SSCP (Systems Security Certified Practitioner)  and GSEC (GIAC Security Essentials), Security+ has a broader scope covering all security domains, while those certs dig deeper into specialized areas like operations, risk, and management. The Security+ material is likely not as difficult conceptually as SSCP or GSEC, though the exam tests a wider range of topics.

How Difficult is the CompTIA Security+ Exam?

The Security+ exam itself presents moderate difficulty that requires a good deal of preparation and study. Time management is critical, with only 90 minutes to complete up to 90 questions of varying complexity.

Tricky Questions

The exam tends to include tricky questions, so understanding the content is crucial when taking Security+. This is more important than merely memorizing practice questions. A good grasp of the subject matter will enable you to navigate multiple-choice options and tackle the hands-on Performance-Based Questions (PBQs).

Try to identify the right answer before looking at the choices, and eliminate obviously wrong ones. Understand why the correct choice is right and why the incorrect ones are wrong - this allows you to interpret questions correctly. Read questions carefully for hints like BEST, MOST, and LEAST, which indicate the type of answer needed.

Performance Based Questions

Security+ also contains another type of question known as performance-based questions - PBQs. PBQs cover the entire test area and have a reset button, allowing you to retry them if necessary. Something to note is that you can skip these PBQs and return to them later. If unsure, move on and come back. 

PBQs are often weighted more heavily than multiple-choice questions when scoring. For PBQs, there can be multiple solution methods that are scored appropriately. Partial credit may also be given. You will receive full credit if multiple methods can achieve the right solution.

Time Management

You have 90 minutes to finish the CompTIA Security+ exam. With about 90 questions on the exam, this means that you have, on average, one minute per question. The complexity of questions, however, can range widely from simple to longer simulations-based ones.

When answering each question on the exam, it's important to make good use of your time. Try not to get stuck on any one question for too long. If necessary, flag it for later review. The goal should be to move steadily through the exam by answering the easier questions first. Manage your time well between carefully reading the questions, figuring out the answers, and moving forward.  Our recommendation is to leave the PBQs until the end. Work on the multiple-choice ones first and come back to these later.

By planning your time carefully, you can ensure you have enough time to answer every question and still have time to review items that were flagged. Rushing can cause you to make careless mistakes, so it's important to find the right pace. 

Practice exams are useful for learning how to manage your time efficiently. Setting a timer when taking these allows you to simulate real exam conditions, helping you understand how best to allocate your time during the exam.

By setting priorities and being self-disciplined during the Security+ exam, you can score well within the 90-minute time limit.

Tips to Prepare for CompTIA Security+

Here are five tips that will help you prepare for the Security+ exam. 

  1. Review the exam objectives. Understanding the topics covered and their relative weight in the exam helps with your preparation. Initially, review the objectives and highlight the areas you already understand well. As you progress in your preparation, return to this list and mark off additional topics you've mastered. This approach helps you concentrate solely on the areas where you need improvement, making your study time more efficient.
  1. Use multiple study resources like books, StationX Security+ courses, practice exams, articles, or videos. We also have a great Security+ cheat sheet that can help you. Different materials explain concepts differently, helping you gain a more comprehensive understanding of the concepts. This multi-faceted approach can enrich your learning experience and increase your chances of success on the exam.
  1. Understand the technical skills and hands-on ability to configure, implement, and troubleshoot security controls like firewalls, IDS/IPS, encryption, access controls, etc. Acquiring this practical knowledge is essential for tackling the Performance-Based Questions (PBQs) on the exam. See our article “The 10 Best Cyber Security Labs for You” for places to practice these skills. 
  1. Take practice tests regularly to identify weak areas and get comfortable with the question formats and time constraints. Review what you get wrong. Practice tests also help you get used to the kinds of questions you'll be asked and the amount of time you'll have.  It's just as important to look over the questions you got wrong to figure out why you got them wrong. This will help you learn more and avoid making the same mistakes on the actual exam.
  1. Ensure you have a good understanding of the acronyms used for the exam. Many questions and answers use acronyms such as IDS (Intrusion Detection System) and VPN (Virtual Private Network). If you don't know the terms, it may be hard to understand the questions, let alone give the right answers. So, knowing these acronyms helps you move through the exam more quickly and lets you make better choices.

Conclusion

The Security+ exam can be challenging but achievable if you put in the required time and effort. 

In this article, we've outlined key aspects to help you prepare for the exam. We touched on the difficulty level of the material and the exam itself, explained the types of questions you'll encounter, and offered guidance on effective time management.

We've also shared five tips that we believe will be valuable as you prepare for the Security+ exam.

To further aid your preparation, we recommend the following courses and practice exams available to all StationX Accelerator Program members, and we wish you the best of luck on your exam.

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  • Richard Dezso

    Richard is a cyber security enthusiast, eJPT, and ICCA who loves discovering new topics and never stops learning. In his home lab, he's always working on sharpening his offensive cyber security skills. He shares helpful advice through easy-to-understand blog posts that offer practical support for everyone. Additionally, Richard is dedicated to raising awareness for mental health. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, or to see his other projects, visit his Linktree.

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