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How Michelle Cracked Her CISSP Exam!

My CISSP journey began a year ago. My education and experience includes the military, forensic investigation, risk & fraud operations. I have worked for a technology company in the private sector for about 5.5 now and have been involved in almost all of the CISSP domains with the exception of network and telecommunications. I wanted to move from Biz Ops to Information Security Operations and that the way to make that happen was to obtain the CISSP credential. The CISO of our company has it and that means I need to have too it if I want his job one day!

I attended a series of 3 courses through a university in order to prepare. While taking these classes was helpful, I still wasn’t fully prepared for the CISSP. The text books I received were the CBK, Security +, CISSP for Dummies and one other that I can’t remember, but never used. I registered for a July 2017 test date. After the classes were complete in March and between March and July I listened to Skillset videos regularly while driving, took the CISSP for Dummies quizzes in an app on my phone and used CISSP Exam Cram questions to prepare.

Test time came and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Unfortunately, I received what seemed like countless questions in the network and telecom domain (my weakest area) and I didn’t pass the test. I also changed many of my answers at the end while reviewing and I believe this caused me to fail. This won’t really be a problem for future test takers with the new CAT method of testing, but at least you can feel better knowing your gut response is probably the best response. Just be sure to read the questions as many times as it takes to be certain you know what they are asking!

I felt defeated when I failed. I wanted my life back! I didn’t want to keep studying night after night, weekend after weekend, listening to CISSP material on the road, taking app quizzes etc. I wanted to get back to enjoying life with my one year old and family in general. Despite these feelings I decided to buckle down and learn the material. I was going to pass the CISSP!

I ended up attending a work sponsored boot camp at a local university which I felt was helpful from the perspective that it was primarily focused on how to take the test versus memorizing the material. Some material must be memorized, but the test is primarily scenario based. You must truly understand the concepts or you will fail.

From the boot camp I received Shon Harris All in One and access to Transcender. I ordered CISSP Official Practice Questions and registered for the online questions and downloaded the app. I reread everything from beginning to end and took test questions every single day. Some days only 50, but usually 100 or more per day... Probably close to 10,000 in total! I started from scratch on my notes, rewriting everything.

I made flash cards for each domain. I reviewed all the notes that members from this group sent to me. A huge thanks to those people! You know who you are! I continued listening to Skillset. Finally, my daily tests scores were consistently above 80%. I was starting to feel much more confident. I scheduled the test for November 2017. I reviewed questions in Luke’s group, became a member, reviewed his documentation and videos often.

Test day came and I felt good about it. I walked in confident. I planned on taking multiple breaks, but the questions seemed almost easy. I don’t think this was really the case, but rather they were “easy” because I truly understood the concepts. 125 questions in, I took a ten minute break. I came back and finished the remaining questions. I had about 20 questions flagged and changed 3. I decided not to take another break because I felt confident that there was nothing more I could do at that point to improve my score. After a total of 3.5 hours, I went to the desk and was handed that beautiful piece of paper advising that I had passed. What a HUGE relief!!!

My best advice for those preparing for the test is to know that regardless of the obstacles you are facing (personally or professionally) you can pass this test if you are truly motivated to make it happen. I work full time, have two children (including a one year old), I volunteer regularly and have a myriad of other responsibilities. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I made time to study regardless of what obstacles came my way. The CISSP Official Practice tests and McGraw Hill practice tests were most like the exam. McGraw Hill were slightly more challenging.

Again, the difficulty is all relative based on your level of expertise in the various domains. Taking tests daily, listening to Skillset, reading Shon Harris All in One, and reviewing all of the great info on Luke’s site I believe made the real difference for me in really understanding the concepts. On test day, read the questions multiple times. Eliminate the wrong answers. Know what they are asking. Don’t second guess yourself. Take breaks as needed.

Don’t give up!


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