When it comes to information security certifications, the CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional—issued by (ISC)2 is widely considered to be the gold standard. The credential is awarded only to those with at least four (with a college degree) to five years of experience in information security who can pass a rigorous exam. The exam is challenging even to those who have a great deal of experience, and because it’s not inexpensive (each test costs $599 to take) most people want to pass it on the first try.
The good news is that the majority of CISSP candidates do pass the exam. The bad news? If you want to achieve the minimum score of 700, you are going to have to put some work into preparing for the exam. Your knowledge and experience will go a long way toward your success, but you also need to spend some time focusing on the details and shoring up your knowledge in areas where you might not have as much experience.
While there is no “magic formula” that guarantees you’ll knock your CISSP exam out of the park, you can drastically improve your chances of passing on the first try if you follow a few important pieces of advice from those who have been there.
1. Take a Prep Course
Even if you have multiple years of experience under your belt, it’s unlikely that you are going to know everything that will appear on the exam in great detail. After all, the exam covers 10 major domains (Security Management Practices, Access Control, Cryptography, Security Models and Architecture, Telecommunications and Networking, Applications and System Development, Business Continuity, Law, Investigation and Ethics, and Physical Security and Operations Security) and chances are you aren’t an expert in all of them. By taking a CISSP course to prepare, you can fill some of the gaps in your knowledge while also brushing up on some areas where you might need to review.
2. Take Practice Quizzes
A major part of succeeding on any exam is understanding the test itself and knowing what to expect. Familiarizing yourself with the type of questions you can expect to see on the exam, and how well you do in each subject area can help you improve your performance. Some experts recommend taking practice quizzes multiple times until you score at least 80 percent on each subject area, which will put you in a good position to perform well on the actual exam.
3. Focus on the Right Domains
According to experts who have analyzed test scores and providing training to CISSP candidates, the most important domains on the exam, where you will find the most questions, are Telecommunication and Network Security, Access Control, Security Models and Architecture, Security Management Practices, and Business Continuity Planning. That’s not to say that you don’t need to worry about the other domains, but these tend to be the most important when it comes to your score. Again, you aren’t expected to be an expert in all areas, but performing well in most areas can limit the effect of a lower score in another area. If you focus your study on these domains and ensure that you can answer most questions related to them, then you should pass the exam without a problem.
4. Develop a Study Schedule
Most successful CISSP candidates allow at least six to 12 months to prepare for the exam. Avoid cramming in the last few days before your scheduled test date, but instead break up your study into manageable chunks, devoting two to three weeks to each domain, or more if necessary. By devoting an hour or so each day to studying and practice tests in the months leading up to the exam, you will be more than prepared to do well.
5. Wait Until You Are Ready
A CISSP designation can be a boost to your career, but don’t rush it. Most CISSP’s say that while you have six hours to complete the exam, you should only attempt it if you can complete the exam in four hours or less. If you need your entire time allotment, you probably aren’t ready. Take your time, complete a training course, study, and practice, and you will breeze through the exam.
Earning the CISSP credential is challenging, but the payoff of the hard work is more opportunities for jobs and higher salaries. If you meet the qualifications, follow these tips and you’ll pass the test on the first try.