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How John L. Cracked His CISSP Exam

On Saturday March 27, 2021 I passed the CISSP exam. The exam stopped at 100 questions with 90 minutes remaining. Given how instrumental Study Notes and Theory was to my success, I felt an obligation to share my study methodologies in the hopes that others may benefit from my experience.

After 26 years in the IT field and having acquired a few other certifications I can honestly say that the amount of material to learn, as well as, the concepts to grasp for the CISSP exam is definitely overwhelming. Over the 8 months what has worked for me was to make studying as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth.

Why this works is due to the concept that when we follow a routine long enough it eventually becomes a habit. And if you lookup the definition of the word habit it states; a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. This is definitely the mindset that you want to adopt while you journey towards acquiring your CISSP certification. After a few months in I found myself beginning to look forward to studying everyday. It became so much of a habit that when my Wife and I went to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico for our anniversary in September 2020, I brought a couple of CISSP books along to read.

Fortunately for me I have a very supportive and understanding Wife.

If you’re new to the Study Notes and Theory website make sure to explore as there are solid resources and recommendations as to what and how to study, so I really do not have much else to offer in that regard. I will, however, share my approach to scheduling the exam, what to do on the days leading up to the exam date and drilling with practice questions.

Set the right favorable conditions for yourself and play to your strengths. I’m not a morning person. Never have been. Keeping that in mind I chose to schedule my exam for 2pm in the afternoon as I know that starting at mid-morning my mental state is fully active. This was both setting a favorable condition, as well as playing to my strengths.

I’ve seen suggestions in regards to the approaching exam date state that you should take off the day before to relax and not do any studying on that, or the day of the exam. The thought being that either you’re ready or your not at that point so just relax. In my opinion, when it comes to the CISSP exam there is no such thing as too much studying. What worked for me was taking off Thursday and Friday prior to the exam on Saturday. I spent both days cycling (in this order) between reading, drilling practice questions using the Boson CISSP Exam Simulator and drilling practice questions on the Study Notes and Theory site. Then I would take a break for an hour or so and then rinse and repeat (stopping for meal and bathroom breaks of course). I did this up until around 9pm on both days and made sure to get a good night sleep each night. On the morning of exam day I slept in late, woke up and had breakfast with my Wife and then spent about an hour drilling questions before grabbing a snack (this is important as you do not want to be distracted by hunger and while you can take a break keep it in mind that the clock does not stop) and heading to the testing center.

With regard to drilling with practice questions I trained myself to be able to begin answering questions from a cold mental state. By that I mean developing the ability to be engaged in an activity that is completely unrelated to studying and then immediately going into drilling practice questions.

Why do this? Two reasons:

One is I attended a virtual CISSP webinar early last year and the instructor spent the bulk of it breaking down particulars about the CAT-based CISSP exam (it would be in your best interest to learn about the CAT-based CISSP exam). He stated that you can increase your probability of success, as well as set the tone of the exam by really focusing on correctly answering the first 5-10 questions (of course it goes without saying that you should focus on answering them all correctly). This is where training yourself to immediately begin answering questions comes into play.

Two is while you will be mentally preparing yourself prior to arriving at and\or entering the testing center you will have to go through a few processes (dependent on your locale) before sitting for the exam; check-in, show your IDs, read the rules of the testing center, have your picture taken, submit to a biometric palm scan, emptying the contents of your pockets into a locker, proceed to the testing area, being asked to turn out all of your pockets, pat yourself down, submit to another biometric palm scan, if you wear glasses you’ll have to place both them and your ID (you have to carry one with you as you move about the center) onto a scanner and finally you’re taken to your workstation to begin the exam. Void of training yourself to start answering questions cold, how do you envision your mental preparedness after going through all of the aforementioned processes and then finally sitting down to begin the exam? Since I trained myself to answer questions from a cold mental state, when I finally sat down and agreed to the NDA my mind instantly focused and I began answering the questions.

I intended for this to be brief as if you’re currently studying you’re already doing tons of reading and I didn’t want to add to that load, but that didn’t quite work out. But if you got something valuable out of it then that’s what really matters. As for some final parting advice. If you’re reading this and you’ve already attempted and failed the CISSP exam do not be discouraged. This was my second attempt at the exam. Everything that I shared is the result of my realization that failing just presented an opportunity to learn and understand what went wrong and then take that information and improve upon it to insure success on the next attempt. In all honesty, and this may sound like an odd statement to make, but failing on that first attempt ended up working out for the best. On the morning of the exam one thing that let me know that all that I’ve learned and the hours and hours dedicated to studying had paid off was when my Wife turned to me as I was about to leave for the testing center and said you look so relaxed. You’re really ready this time. With that I wish you good luck on your journey to becoming a CISSP. Also, even if you’ve already heard this before, it’s worth repeating; it’s all about the journey.


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