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How Chris L. Cracked His CISSP Exam

Hi everyone, I’d like to share my CISSP Certification journey with you all. My journey started when I was a Communications Officer in the Marine Corps and I had always looked up to anyone who had any certs. I was blessed to have mostly really supportive leadership that allowed me to be able to do some hands- on learning. We had every piece of gear you could imagine. Everything from two-way radios to Satellite terminals, and firewalls and fiber optic cables. It was amazing that I got to work with all of this on a daily basis. This really was a prelude to knowing the “Bigger Picture”. When I ended my active service, I tried to find a job with my experience – it was hard. No certs under my belt really took away a lot of opportunities. I was fortunate enough to get my SEC+ bootcamp and voucher donated by vets in tech, a non-profit for transitioning service members. This really helped me, but really opened my eyes to the other opportunities in the IT World.

Fast Forward to 2020 – I was employed at a boiler company as a service manager; however, I was looking for a career change back into IT. I did some research and I knew that CISSP was the way to go. Thankfully, I was again awarded a scholarship for a bootcamp and test voucher through Onward 2 Opportunity at Syracuse University, around June of 2020. I would study by listening to the pre-recorded bootcamp on my 1-hour drive to, and from work, and that was really about it. Then I got laid off due to Covid-19. I stopped studying woke up at 10 every day, played call of duty for hours on end, drank a lot more than I used to. It was getting pretty bad. I enjoyed my 2 months of unemployment but I got bored around Christmas, so I decided to schedule my CISSP exam for April 2. I decided to YouTube some videos.

Wow there was more to this test than I originally thought. I ordered the Sybex OSG and practice test package from Amazon and when I received it I started reading it. I eventually read it cover to cover, started doing practice test and was doing pretty poorly, so I got the 11th hour book by Eric Conrad. I read that cover to cover. Still didn’t feel ready and its already March. I thought to myself, maybe I need another bootcamp so I got the Cybrary app and listened to Kelly Handerhan series. I felt better, but still not there.

I was wondering what else I needed so I looked on Facebook for some groups and found Luke’s Group. I saw a welcoming world of incredibly smart people. After a seeing a lot of posts about Shon Harris’ book I decided to get that and started reading. I got to page 550 or something then stopped. It was dense. Incredibly dense. It took me an hour to read like, 10 pages. I knew there was a lot of info there but it wasn’t efficient or really working for me. I was worried I’d fail, so I decided to reschedule my test until April 30 – the last day before the test changed.

I also got Luke’s book and read it, simple, and straight to the point. I liked this. So, I subscribed to SNT. I binged watched all his videos. Wow. Really good stuff. I started to finally feel ready, which is good because I had like a week until my test. When I stopped reading Shon Harris’s book, I re-read 11 th hour. With the time clock ticking down, what I really think helped me was that I went through the Sybex and Shon Harris book and read each chapter summary and exam objectives and quick tips. Great way to wrap up. The night before the test I tried to get a good night sleep, but found myself listening to Luke’s video on ”how to think like a manager” at like midnight. So, I only got like 6 hours of sleep.

My test wasn’t until 5:45pm so I tried to go back to sleep. I was restless and nervous so I got up slowly, took a long shower, combed my beard and just relaxed for the morning. Around noon I figured it would be a good time to go to the testing center. My wife is amazing, but distracting, so getting out of the house and being alone with my thoughts for a few hours before the test was really key for me to get in the zone. I got there about 5 hours early, and again, watched Luke’s Directors cut video, Eric Conrad's video a few times and some last minute topics I wasn’t 100% on. I went to Chick-fil-A about 3 hours prior so I wouldn’t be hungry during the test, but also enough time to not feel like there was a football sitting in my stomach while I took the test. I got a #2 with a diet lemonade if you were wondering.

I got back to the testing center, relaxed in my car more, listened to a few mindset videos about “why you will pass the CISSP” and was pretty pumped up. I went in an hour early (4:45) and asked what I needed to do to take the test. I conducted a recon of the area to be more comfortable there. They said its pretty simple and we have a seat open, so you can start now if you want. I said F*ck it, lets roll! I got into the test and did my best. I felt good and was waiting for the test to stop at 100 questions. It didn’t. I waited for it to stop at 110 questions. It didn’t. I waited for it to stop at 120, 130 . . . nope still didn’t. I was thinking to myself, “Jesus, put me out of my misery already.” The test finally ended at 150 with like 20 minutes left on the clock. Almost positive I failed, I walked out of the room. I was ready to tell my family I had failed but like a crazy person I was determined to try again in a few months. I checked out of the testing center and went to the front desk. My print out was sitting on the counter, face down. I tried to read it while the gentleman was talking to me about checking out, but I didn’t hear a word he said… it was like when the adults speak in Charlie Brown. I couldn’t read the words, but I didn’t see any bullets through the paper (still face down). I skipped the line, grabbed the paper and flipped it over.

I saw the words staring at me I had waited to see for months, “Congratulations.” I just stood there staring at the paper blankly, like Tom Hanks in the Normandy Landing scene in Saving Private Ryan trying to process that I had actually passed on the first try. I didn’t hear anything. There could have been a clown on one side of me, and a train wreck on the other side. I wouldn’t have noticed. I had major tunnel vision on that one sheet of paper. I looked up and talked to the guy about it for a minute or so and fist pumped the air and left. My wife had a bottle of Basil Hayden’s for me by the time I got home. I owe my success to the support of my wife, the groups, my mentors, and those who encouraged me along the way. I couldn’t have done it without them.

TLDR: Sybex, Shon Harris, how to think like a manager, SNT, Conversations with a few friends who are CISSP’s, 11 th hour, thousands of practice questions from all over, and hundreds of hours on youtube reviewing topics I wasn’t solid on.

This journey was the most fun that I never want to do again.

Time for a beer.

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