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How Ralph Cracked His CISSP Exam



STUDY NOTES AND THEORY STORY

I waited an entire year to write this story, but after everything that I went through in the past year after obtaining my CISSP, I felt that this was the right time to do so. I provisionally passed my CISSP exam on January 21, 2023, and officially certified on February 26, 2023, and I want to say sincerely, thank you so much to Luke Ahmed with your help and your motivation to help me pass and obtain my CISSP.


BACK STORY

But first, allow me to introduce myself to this world of hopeful CISSPs. My name is Ralph E., and I am from Long Island, NY. After spending the majority of my childhood there and a small amount of my adulthood, I enlisted into the United States Marine Corps in 2014 and spent 8 years serving as a Marine until after getting out in 2022. My journey in IT actually started in high school, where they had a special program for junior and senior students to go to a tech school for half the day, and that’s where I first learned about Computer and Network Technology. That’s where I first fell in love with IT.


After getting lost in community college and eventually dropping out, due to a lack of drive, purpose, and still feeling immature, I eventually enlisted into the Marine Corps in Jan 2014 to try to change all of that around, learn to stand on my own, and get away from NY for a little bit. But I was intent on doing something that would translate well once I decided to leave service, and I managed to land a System Administrator role as my main job in the Marines (unlike other branches, you don’t get to choose your job/MOS, just the general field/industry you will be working in.) I was lucky to deploy and travel around the world, but when I was toward my final year of service, I needed to prepare myself for the trials and tribulations of transitioning to the civilian side.


During my last year of my active-duty time, I managed to get myself the CompTIA A+, Network+, and most importantly, the Security+, before getting out and becoming a government contractor and doing work as a System Administrator and a Network Engineer for 7 months. After some time while I was working, I fell into a depressive and anxiety state due to the massive increase of responsibility from being in the military to civilian; cost-of-living increase and having to account for that (paying over $3k in car tax after moving to California); still not adjusting to this brand-new life after getting out.


During that lowest period, I discovered the CISSP certification and what it could do for me to launch my career in the cybersecurity industry. I discovered how many people in the world had the certification and how much value it brought to them. But once I figured out there were two friends, whom I worked with in the Marines who had the CISSP and could endorse me, I started to seriously study for the exam.


I was watching videos after videos, and once I discovered Luke Ahmed (who I am honestly blessed to encounter and honored to call a friend as well) and all his motivating videos about the CISSP, I just became obsessed with passing the exam and studying 4-6 hours every weekday, and almost 12 hours every weekend to increase my chances. I did not want to take the exam until I took over 3000+ practice questions, and I managed to get over 3500 before I took it.


RESOURCES


Books:

All-In-One CISSP Study Guide 9th Edition (Internal Practice Exams as well) -- Shon Harris

CISSP Study Guide 11th Hour (Internal Practice Exams as well) -- Eric Conrad

CISSP For Dummies -- Lawrence C. Miller


Videos:

CISSP Cybrary 2020 Edition Videos -- Kelly Handerhan

CISSP Certification Boot Camp Udemy -- Thor Pedersen

CISSP Mindmap -- Destination Certification Inc.

CISSP Exam Tips -- Gwen Bettwy

CISSP Exam Cram -- Pete Zerger with Inside Cloud & Security

How to Think Like a Manger -- Pete Zerger with Inside Cloud & Security

How to Think Like a Manger -- Gwen Bettwy


Practice Questions:

CISSP Easy/Mid (Per Domain) & Hard Practice Questions (All Domains) -- Thor Pedersen

Boson Exam Environment


Method:

I wrote everything down to make it completely stick, but I went and reviewed my notes from whatever books I had and whatever videos could explain it. I used a 5 Star notebook 200 pages version and jotted as detailed or quick notes as I needed. This worked for me, but your mileage may vary. I used Mindmaps for fast and straightforward explanations, but I would use AIO, OSG, SNAT, and Study Guide for my detailed description of topics.


I would study for 6 - 8 hours on the weekdays (as long as it didn't interfere with work), and it was all day on weekends. I went as far as even having Thor's Mnemonic Sheet plastered over the walls in my apartment. After I finished each domain, I would do around 250 practice questions per domain. That quickly got me to 2,000. Then I did 500 on SNAT, 250 Hard Exam Questions from Thor, and plenty of practice exam questions spread out with the books I listed above. Towards the final month of my studying, I found out about Kelly Handerhan's videos, and I was amazed at her simple and one-to-one explanation of exam topics.


Then I binged watched a lot of "How to Think Like a Manager" videos from the three I listed above, and I loved Kelly's "Why You Will Pass Your CISSP Exam".

This prepared me for how I needed to approach the questions in front of me.


Exam Day:

When I took the CISSP exam, it was a roller coaster of an exam. More than any other exam I have ever taken. When I did the first 50 questions, I thought they were too easy. Then it got exponentially harder. Around the 75-100 question mark, I felt deflated from the questions, and irritation was starting to kick in. Then once I was at 125, I thought it was going to be over, but once I saw the exam move to question 126...I felt myself die internally. Then I just kept answering questions the best way I could. Then I finally hit 175, and I was just over it. After that, I answered the last question, submitted my test, and immediately thought of ways of saving money to retake it and plan my studies a little better. I got escorted to the front, took my results paper, and refused to see it until I got into my car.


Once I gathered my belongings from the testing center, I went into my car and flipped the paper around, and I couldn't help but scream in excitement when I saw the congratulations. I could not stop myself from shaking from the drive home.


Aftermath:

A month after I got officially endorsed, I managed to land a System Engineer role that would increase my pay by 45% from my last role and I was in awe. Mind you, I STILL DON’T HAVE A BACHERLORS DEGREE YET. I thought it was a joke until I saw the offer letter and I was ecstatic. But after being there and realizing how I wasn’t a fit for that role, I managed to land an actual Cybersecurity Engineer role, for $5k less than what I was making, but the work was majority remote, and some onsite work as needed. And all this happened through my obsession and dedication to the grind and these opportunities coming after passing the exam.


For those who managed to stay this long and read my story, sincerely, thank you for reading this far. For those who are currently studying for the CISSP, it is a mountain to climb. A huge mountain. But you definitely can climb it, I’m sure of it. The key is to do this for something more than yourself. Maybe it’s to give yourself better opportunities, to create a comfortable lifestyle for your family, to further accelerate your career. Whatever it is, let it drive you and compel you to pass the exam, almost to obsession. But if you manage to land those five letters behind your name, a lot of opportunities will open up (NOT IMMEDIATE JOBS, let’s not get that twisted. You still need to pass the interviews.) Good luck, ford the path, and keep moving forward. Fair Winds and Following Seas, friends.

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