I’m back from my self-imposed month of silence and am happy to report that I passed my CISSP exam.
I allowed for a hair over three weeks from my CISSP boot camp to my test date which seemed very aggressive but doable. What I didn’t count on was an unforeseen incident causing me to miss a week of study time. 4-5 days before my exam I was seriously considering postponing my test but the next available date for the local testing center was over a month away and I didn’t want this test hanging over my head for another month. Thankfully I was able to pass my test with no extensions.
Here is a quick overview of how I studied for the exam.
Step 1: Bootcamp
I choose the SANS 414 course for my CISSP bootcamp. I can’t say how it compares to any other CISSP prep course since I haven’t taken any others but I can say that I enjoyed the class and I passed the test. It’s redundant to say that a SANS instructor did a great job but Eric Conrad and Eric Cole are two of the greatest instructors I’ve ever had the privilege to learn from.
One thing I think I could have done better was take a few of the cccure practice exams before I started the bootcamp. I think bombing a few practice tests would have probably forced me to pay a little more attention to some of the minutia in the more mind numbing sections.
One HUGE bonus of the SANS bootcamp is that you get the entire course on MP3. I spent nights and weekends barricaded in the guest room studying but still got a lot of value from listening to the MP3s on my commute to work and while working out. I even listened on my way to the exam and one of the questions Eric Cole discussed was on the test. I’ve always enjoyed having a different instructor for the live class and the pre-recorded content because You get the same content but from two different points of view, different teaching styles, different war stories etc.
Step 2: CISSP study guide
Right after the bootcamp I started reading Eric Conrad’s CISSP study guide. I would definitely recommend that you visit a bookstore and pick a book you’re comfortable with but for me this book would have been an easy choice even if it didn’t come with the class.
A lot of the CISSP books on the market are well over 1,000 pages. Eric’s books cover the exact same material in 500 pages. It’s actually a really quick read with a lot of charts and practice tests at the end of each domain. The fans of the larger books point out that they cover each topic in greater detail but Eric’s guide absolutely provides the level of knowledge you need to pass the exam. On the few occasions I was interested in a bit more detail I Googled the subject, spent a few minutes reading and happily moved on.
Step 3: Practice tests
This is probably the most important step of them all. Most of the people that have problems on the CISSP don’t say that the exam was too technically difficult , they say they had problems with questions being poorly worded, having multiple “correct” answers etc. Practice tests help prepare you for the style of questions asked and force you to come to terms with the fact that you can’t change the questions no matter how badly you want to. The question may frustrate you, you make think it’s stupid, but you still have to try to figure out which answer is correct in CISSP land.
I started off by taking practice exams from cccure with varying results. I only had a week until my test so I got a copy of the Exam Cram CISSP Practice Question book and spent three evenings taking all ten of the tests in the book. I used the scores of those tests to dictate which domains I should be taking cccure practice tests for during the next two days. I would recommend the exam cram practice questions book and a cccure subscription to anyone preparing for the CISSP.
Step 4: The day before my test
I spent the day before my exam curled up with Eric Conrad’s other book, his 11th hour CISSP study guide. The book is around 150 pages of extremely concise CISSP information. It did a great job providing a final walkthrough of each domain for the exam.
All of this wasn’t cheap and it took an entire month but it accomplished the mission of passing the CISSP exam on the first attempt. The scariest part of all of this is how beat felt after spending a month straight studying for this thing. It definitely makes me wonder how much of a recluse I’ll become when I attempt the OSCP at some point in the next twelve months.