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How Tony Cracked His CISSP Exam

MY PREPARATION: To set the stage, I accepted a new job that required the CISSP certification so I had to commit to earning that within 6 months. I started that job on April 6 and on that day, the organization started mandatory teleworking due to the Covid pandemic. That was actually a blessing for me in a way because I had tons of “free time” since we couldn’t go anywhere. I did the tasks that were required for my job and spent the balance of my time studying. Some days were 12-14 hours long but I knew there would eventually be an end to that after the exam. I did try to take some time off on weekends to spend time with my wife and family, take care of our parents and work around the house. My initial plan was to use Sybex for self study to build a foundation then take a week long boot camp and follow that with final round of studying before taking the exam. I used the following resources: Text: Sybex Official Study Guide, 8th edition; Sybex Official Practice Tests; 11th Hour

Online: Luke Ahmed Study Notes & Theory; Mike Chappel (CertMike) video’s on LinkedIn

Boot Camp: TrainingCamp with Instructor Joe Barnes (my new job agreed to pay for training so I chose this ISC2 vendor)

Practice Questions: Sybex Official Study Guide has 20 questions for each of the 21 chapters (420 questions) and six practice tests with 150 questions each (900) for over 1300 questions total.

The Sybex Official Practice Tests book had tests for each of the 8 domains ranging from 100 to 115 questions each and also had four Practice Tests with 125 questions each for a total of over 1300 questions. The practice tests from both Sybex books are available online.

Study Notes & Theory has 27 tests with 25 questions each. I took 16 of those tests (A-P). Those questions are probably the most difficult you will find and will make you think but also explains the answers in such a way that you learn with each example. I was concerned with how low my initial “scores” on the SNT tests were but Luke and Joe assured me not to base progress on scores. That was good advice. I would sometimes have an initial score in the 70’s but most often they were mid-60’s and occasionally 50’s. My repeat scores would be in the 90’s for what it’s worth but it’s more important to understand the concepts than to get a high score from memorization. Prep Timeline April 6 – April 13: I began by reading the 11th Hour. This is easily read in a week, possibly less. No notes, just reading for introduction.

April 13 – May 15: I began reading the Sybex text. My goal was at least 1 chapter a day. I read the chapter, took the chapter test, then made note cards for the chapter and took the chapter test again.

By the end of the text, I had approximately 400-500 note cards. Writing the concepts helps me tremendously. This has been one of my biggest aids in studying for a long time. During this time, there were interruptions as there usually is with life but we simply made the necessary modifications and pressed on. May 15 – May 21: After I finished reading the Sybex and taking the chapter tests, I then started taking the Practice Tests from that same Sybex text. I also studied the note cards. May 22 – June 2: I took the Practice Tests in the Sybex Official Practice Tests Book. I also studied the note cards. As I took the Practice Tests, I would note the concepts that I was missing on a sheet of paper and follow up by Googling later to reinforce the explanations. I also referred to these sheets during later studying to make sure I was familiar with those weak spots. June 8-12: I debated doing this all as self-study to save the company money but since they had already agreed to pay for training I researched available “boot camps” and chose TrainingCamp because of the reputation that I read about online and through (ISC)2.

I made the decision to take that course to reinforce what I had been reading. The Instructor, Joe Barnes, was highly knowledgeable and definitely added to my knowledge base. I possibly could have made it without taking the boot camp but one thing for sure it helped with the end result of me passing the exam. It accomplished what I wanted and reinforced the concepts plus it enlightened me to other resources, particularly the Study Notes & Theory site.

TrainingCamp had its own “notes” with fillable sections. During the course, I filled a separate 100 page notebook with the major concepts that were covered. A lot of this info was a repeat from my note cards but repetition helps as well. At the end of the course I looked at openings for the CISSP exam. There was an opening about 100 miles away for the next week but that only gave me 4 days of prep and I didn’t think that was enough. There was an opening two weeks later on June 29 on our local military base so I booked it. At that time two weeks didn’t seem like enough either. LOL But it was booked. Jun 13 – 25: I registered on Study Notes & Theory and began abusing myself with Luke’s questions. I watched many of his video’s as well, particularly Domains 1, 3 and 4 which I thought were my weakest. I also came across Mike Chappel’s site (CertMike) and his videos on LinkedIn. I watched his videos for Domain 3 and 4 as well. I took another few tests from SNT and Sybex but stopped that on Thursday, June 25 to concentrate on my notebook and selected note cards from my weak areas. Over the weekend, I referenced those notes and also lightly read the 11th Hour text again. I wrapped that up Sunday evening and tried to relax a little. Honestly, I felt confident, or at least accepting of the fact that it was happening the next day regardless. LOL June 29 – Test Day! Total of 12 weeks from beginning of studies to exam day…and I had to start back to work on site the next day. What timing! It would be remiss of me not to mention my wife and thank her for her support especially dealing with unforeseen circumstances that required attention. There were times when I was totally out of the loop and focused on completing this. Without hesitation she took over and picked up the slack and protected my time which allowed me to continue on this endeavor.


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