Professionals in the exciting cybersecurity world that want to up their game usually pursue the CISSP. This certification can open many doors and help advance your IT career. Known globally as the gold standard of cybersecurity, those with CISSP status are well respected and highly sought out by businesses and job recruiters.
The CISSP exam has a reputation for being difficult and challenging. Its registration fee is costly, so walking in unprepared doesn’t make sense financially. In addition to studying for the exam, savvy candidates opt for CISSP training to ensure they’re fully prepared.
What Does the CISSP Exam Cover?
Suppose you’re considering registering to take the CISSP exam. In that case, you’ve already been employed in the IT industry for at least 5 years with experience in at least two of the 8 domains of the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge. Anyone striving for CISSP certification already understands cybersecurity, but the exam is far-reaching and vast.
The CISSP exam consists of 125 to 175 multiple-choice questions and others that will be presented in various ways. Some are drag-and-drop style, while others require the test taker to click on specific points on flowcharts and identify areas with potential weaknesses. The time allotted for the exam is limited to 4 hours.
The exam requires CISSP candidates to prove their knowledge in the following eight domains:
- Asset security – 10%
- Security operations – 13%
- Security and risk management – 15%
- Software development security – 11%
- Security assessment and testing – 12%
- Identity and access management – 13%
- Communication and network security – 13%
- Security architecture and engineering – 13%
How Does the CISSP Exam Differ from Others?
The CISSP exam is a bit tricky because it’s presented in CAT (Computerized Adaptive Testing) format. This means that each candidate will not have the same questions as expected from a conventional, linear exam.
A CAT exam employs an adaptive algorithm that evaluates the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and presents questions and problem-solving tasks based on their previous answer. The more answers a candidate gets correct, the more difficult future questions will be. The adaptive algorithm will progressively test the candidate’s weaknesses, which makes it much more difficult.
However, a benefit of this type of exam is that if you haven’t completed all the questions when the allotted 3 hours have expired, the algorithm will base your test results on the last 75 questions answered. Unfortunately, you won’t pass the exam if you haven’t completed at least 75 questions.
How Long Should You Study for the CISSP Exam?
This question is incredibly common but also very difficult to answer accurately. Each candidate’s skill level and test-taking abilities differ, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Many different variables come into play, such as test anxiety, overall knowledge and experience in the 8 domains, and how well one retains and understands new information.
On average, most successful candidates for the CISSP exam begin preparing anywhere from 3 to 6 months before their scheduled exam date. Since you know you’ll be evaluated on your knowledge of the 8 domains of the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge, focus your studies on the areas you know the least about. Purchasing books relating to these areas can be beneficial, as can paying for CISSP online training courses.
After sufficient study, taking one of the many online CISSP practice tests can be beneficial to see how well you perform. This can help you identify which areas you’re weak in and need improvement. After brushing up on your weak spots, try taking the exam again.
Asking for advice from others who have taken the exam can provide insight into what to expect. You can gain valuable information from your peers by asking about their experiences and how they felt they could have been better prepared for the test.
Start Your CISSP Studies Well in Advance of the Exam
Most successful CISSP candidates prepare for the exam anywhere from 3 to 6 months before their scheduled exam date. Determining which areas of the 8 domains are your weak spots is key to passing this difficult exam. Since it’s presented in CAT format, it will present more questions related to the areas where you’re weakest.
Most beneficial for CISSP preparation is to take online CISSP masterclasses and other study-related materials. The exam fee isn’t cheap, and if you don’t pass on the first try, you’ll need to wait 30 days before rescheduling the exam.