My Journey from doubting myself to CISSP Certified :)
I always wanted to share my success story because I have read so many of these stories in SNT group that I had promised myself that this is one thing that I need to do right after clearing the exam, so here it goes, it is a long one so please bear with me!
It first started in 2019 when we were going through an IT audit and I got interested in the cyber security field, started searching for the certifications and material such as CEH, ISACA, ISC2. Seriously speaking, this was the whole new world I was about to explore.
Some were very technical some were managerial but CISSP caught my attention, first it was
mentioned as a Gold standard in cyber space and secondly it was a blend of tech and managerial and was one of the toughest IT certifications, I took the challenge, later regretted it. I thought it won’t be a problem pursuing this certification as I already knew a lot of topics such as Databases, Operations (H/W, BCP/DRP, Incident Management), IDM, information Assets, encryption, but I was so wrong.
My First Attempt:
I was travelling in early 2019 to my Home country Pakistan and wanted to use this opportunity and found an instructor Mr. Qazi (Top level cyber specialist in the Pakistan or may be in the world). Took a boot camp of 6 days and frankly it was too much information in a very short span of time.
Right from the start we both noticed I am lacking big time on few of the domains and if you have to clear this certification you need to be on top of your game on every domain. After completion of the course I bought the Sybex 8 th edition with Practice questions 2 nd Edition and started reading it. It was a horrific experience reading 1000 pages, don’t even know how many times I slept in between during the 2- or 3-hours daily reading, but managed to finished the book after 3 months’ time.
I was low on confidence so bought a Simplilearn CISSP course. The trainers were Mr. Saaz Rai (very good instructor) and one more instructor (my apologies for not remembering the instructor’s name), actually in Simplilearn we can have multiple live classes and the recordings for 3 months or so. I started preparing for the exam and booked for 19 th Sep 2020, I did the following:
1. Completed the live sessions and then the recordings of the CISSP from Simplilearn
2. Sybex book 8 th Edition and practice test 2 nd Edition
3. Boson Very difficult first up, because it was more on technical side
4. Simplilearn questions
5. Sunflower notes
On the exam day I was very nervous and was not well prepared and failed the exam, took all 150qs. I took few months break because I was not able to give time to my young family. During the break it came to my notice that one of my very good friend Salman had cleared CISSP, this gave me some confidence and he also pushed me to go for the second attempt and recommended Luke SNT group, this was a game changer, previously it was like disconnection, with no interaction with people pursuing this certification, and once I joined Luke's group there were so many people interacting and studying, success stories, questions and discussion, it all made sense to me and then I started studying again for my second attempt. This time I did not even looked at the book, seriously :)
My Second Attempt:
The videos were very lengthy but it was very informative, I have to give credit to Luke
because his technical videos were awesome and it had cleared doubts on the topics that I
was not confident. I couldn't finish it, took domain 3,4 and 5. Well his quiz bank was from
hell :) mind bending but outstanding explanation, great work Luke. Completed 70% of the
quiz bank, but results were not convincing, passed in few failed miserably in many.
2. Cybrary – Kelly’s CISSP course
Kelly is an outstanding instructor, she clears the doubt or concept in an amazing fashion. I
took the old and new course as well with Cybrary quiz bank, not a fan of this quiz bank.
There were so many questions that had multiple answers which is not this exam is all about
3. Thor CISSP Course
I took Thor's CISSP course for the quiz bank, tried few videos but I was content with Kelly's explanations so only went through the quiz bank. Thor's hard questions were even tougher then Luke's one, I tried completing all of it with not so good results 50 to 60%
4. Took a 4 day leave from office and re-watched Kelly's video.
I failed in my second attempt, it went till 150 questions again
On the Exam day, I found out that I was getting one-line questions but personally I believe was not fully prepared for this attempt as well. My opinion, I was over relying upon Kelly's CISSP course and it seems that her course was very precise and does not cover all the topics (this is truly my opinion, I can be wrong), it has to be supplemented with other materials, but I ignored it.
In my second attempt, my study plan was all over the place for most of 2021, then eventually I took hold of myself and started studying in Jan-22 and booked the date of 19th Mar 2022. One more problem was that I assumed that if I don’t pass in 100qs then it’s dooms day for me because I read so many stories saying that people passed on 100q(old format), so when 101q came i panicked and was just thinking of my next attempt for next 50 questions and lost hope there and then just going through the motion.
The other factor of not studying well is that I was trying to balance my work and family life, this exam needs your full attention, my family was suffering and I wanted to give back the time that was due, there were days when I was not studying at all and this came to haunt me on the exam day.
My third Attempt :)
My wife knew that I was attempting the third time and obviously she is not into IT and doesn’t know much about the technology and security, but she was with me supporting the whole time and managing the kids. I had to make a choice literally, either to study in the morning and be with the family after office or study after office and forget about the family for some time. I am not a morning person and cannot study early mornings so the only time which was comfortable was the evening after office hours and this time I gave it all.
It took me 3 years and 3 attempts to finally clear the hell of a paper i.e. CISSP :) After 4 Hrs and all 175qs the Beast was defeated :) Initially when the lady at the counter gave me the result sheet saying congratulations I was shocked and asked her why, she said because you have passed, started arguing with her that I can not pass this exam it was a horrible experience and I think I was failing the whole time, anyways I looked at the sheet and was in tears and then started jumping and shouting, I could never explain this feeling.
I want to dedicate this success to my best friend (My Father) :) we lost him a few years ago, amazing person, he would have been so proud of this achievement, I wish I could share the success with him. I am thankful to Almighty Allah that he gave me the courage to fight and helped me to navigate the questions during the exam.
Secondly, want to give 100% credit to Prabh Sir for this attempt which was a successful one:) he was the one who had the method to this madness, wish him all the best in his life, my prayers are with him always, he is my mentor for life now, have never met such a genius and humble person in my life.
The preparation - Blindly followed Prabh Nair's plan to crack this paper:
1. I took a weekend batch which started on 24th Apr 2022 and ended in First week of Jul-22, it was delayed a bit but eventually came to an end. As Prabh mentioned initially that we have to go through the LMS (the recorded course) every time before coming to the Live session which I religiously followed.
2. As i said above that our Live sessions were delayed due to different reasons and i had already completed my LMS recordings, spoke to Prabh and he said to start the CBK, so once the Live sessions were over by first week of Jul-22 my CBK book reading was also completed, studied the following domains:
Domain 1, 2, 5, 6 ,7
Skipped Domain 3,4 and 8 as mentioned by Prabh
3. Once the CBK book completed I went straight to Prabh Notes, and unfortunately couldn't
finished the Domain 8 as I went to Pakistan for 10 days Eid holidays, and obviously it had
disrupted my preparations but came back on 17th Jul and the first thing I did was to book the exam on 3rd Sep 2022. I tried to finished the notes back home but fell short of completing so skipped Domain 8 notes completely.
4. 18th Jul onwards I only focused on completing the test banks which Prabh had mentioned:
Sybex Domain wise and 4 sets of Practice tests
Results were in between 70 to 78%
Shon Harris domain wise questions
Horrible results 55% to 65% average, Prabh told me that if you are getting 60% in Shon
exam then it is fine
Total tester (link in Shon Harris book) all quizzes
Mostly in 70% one or 2 quiz sets were in late 60s
5. Boson (Results were in late 70s for all 4 sets)
I had decided in order to prepare my mind to sit for 175q and 4hrs then i had to pick
one question bank which will prepare me for the actual exam, and i think boson 4 sets
175q each in 4rs did it for me, so I recommend this to every CISSP aspirant to use at
least one test bank for your exam preparation, otherwise if in exam question 126 pops
up then you may panic.
6. I took leave from office last week before the exam, this is very important because you now have time to study 10 to 12 hrs
My plan for the last week before the exam:
1. Completed domain 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 from the combination of LMS and our live class recordings with the speed of 1.5. Didn’t had time to complete domain 3, 7 and 8.
2. Completed Coffee Shots from Prabhnair.in website in 1.75 speed, this was the icing on the cake for me, it cleared lot more of my concepts, this is a gem, go for it.
3. 2 days before the exam, destination certification mind maps with 1.5 speed, awesome
4. last day before the exam, skimming through Prashant Mohan memory palace
5. Prabh told me just go through the Kelly (Why you will pass the CISSP) and Larry Greenbelt video (CISSP 2020 Exam Tips) whenever there is free time, i had reviewed these two videos endless times even before going to the testing centre, highly recommended
What to do when you are in the exam Center from Prabh Nair, i followed his plan:
1. The mindset to complete 175 questions not 125 questions.
2. Read the questions carefully, reread it and then read the answers, try to eliminate 2 wrong
3. Take two breaks, one after 50th question and when you see the 126th question, just stand up and take a 5 minutes break. I did that and came back charged up to go for next 50 questions and gave it all
1. The exam was really hard for me, i was thinking during the time that i will completely fail this. There were situations-based questions from the start, descriptive questions, there were one-line questions but very few, it was way tougher then my second attempt.
2. I was pounded with domain 5, 7 and 8 questions because initially i may not have answered these domain questions correctly, may be that’s the reason
1. After 3 attempts i have come to this conclusion that there is no point in discussing which topic or questions came because i was shocked to see questions in the exam which i thought are not part of the CISSP syllabus :). In my second attempt i got 70% one-line questions and this time it was around 70% situation or more descriptive questions, i had to wait and think for 90% of the questions
2. Every person receives different type of questions so just make sure you prepare well, rest leave to Almighty
3. Please communicate with your mentor, for me it was Prabh, and from day 1 till the penultimate day i was in contact with Prabh. You will see the difference, you have to be true to yourself and with your Mentor, tell him/her everything about the preparation and surely you will get the correct guidance
List of people to thank:
1. Prabh Nair, he believed in me, and i want to apologise to him for all the late calls and messages. Thank you Prabh, without your support it was not possible
2. My Mom, she is one of kindest person and very down to earth, without her prays I don’t think I would have passed, she was praying for me day and night, I cannot thank her enough.
3. My brother and his family supported me throughout, he knew what I am up to because of his techi skills.
4. My Lovely wife who couldn't understand what i was doing :) but she supported me throughout this journey (3 Yrs) and I could see her how relieved and proud she was after i broke the news about passing. She took care of our children without a full-time support. Two boys age 3 and 5yrs not easy. Now she is having problems telling people about my job role and certification plus remembering the name CISSP and what it stands for haha...but hey, she is a textile and Fashion designer and amazing in arts and crafts, running her own small home based business named Mellow Marshmellow (insta and facebook) very creative and I’m really proud of her, this is some marketing
5. My beautiful 12yr daughter who also supported me completely and was overjoyed after hearing the news.
6. My friend, Mentor and Manager Saurabh, who was after me to clear the exam, he was backing me throughout.
7. My ERP and IT colleagues / friends for life who all knew about this and supporting me through out.
8. Special mention to My cousins, especially told them to pray for me during Hajj (In Saudi Arabia) and to mention CISSP when praying for me, they did that :) You know who you are
9. My first trainer way back in 2020 Mr. Qazi, Cyber security expert in Pakistan, he gave honest feedbacks of my lacking in few domains
10. Special mention to Luke for the amazing work he is doing and obviously SNT community helped us a lot and motivated me when reading those success stories.
11. Thor Peterson, his quiz bank was awesome especially the hard ones (mind bending questions), can’t thank him enough.
12. Kelly’s new and old course videos were out of this world. She is been instrumental in my
preparation for this exam
13. Prabh again to get me to the finish line on my third attempt
14. The telegram community, shout out to Pooja (from our training batch), Manish Walia and
Naresh Giri who I had lengthy discussions of how to approach the exam and also Chetan, thank you guys.
15. Atif from our batch and my study partner, we never get going for some or the other reason, but I made a new friend If you are pursuing CISSP and are doubting yourself then this article is for you, if I can do it then you can too. GO FOR IT, it is totally worth it seriously, the respect from the Peers and the community is no match, it is a humbling experience.