The Security+ exam is used to assess candidates’ knowledge on basic security concepts and best practices. This is considered an entry-level exam, but is not an easy test to pass. Follow these nine tips for Security+ certification exam success.
1. Become Familiar With the Security+ Exam Domains
The six Security+ domains include:
- Domain 1 – Threats, Attacks, and Vulnerabilities (21%)
- Domain 2 – Technologies and Tools (22%)
- Domain 3 – Architecture and Design (15%)
- Domain 4 – Identity and Access Management (16%)
- Domain 5 – Risk Management (14%)
- Domain 6 – Cryptography and PKI (12%)
Create a list of the domains and individual items to review within each domain. For example, under network security, list a few bullets for firewalls, IDSs, routers, etc. Then gather study materials that best fit your study needs. If you have an area that you are weak in, study that first.
It is often best to start with the most challenging concepts. Once you master them, it will set the tone and pace for the rest of the domains you need to study. Ensure you have mastered one domain before moving to the next. As you move through the domains, many concepts will overlap, which can speed up your study process.
2. Create a Study Plan
Now that you’ve identified what you need to study, it’s time to create a study plan. Be realistic about your work and life obligations. Try to schedule study time during your down time, or in conjunction with times when you may be using some of the material you are learning. For instance, if you are scheduled to attend a technical seminar or brief that is focused on discussing current network security trends, plan to study networking techniques before, during and after that seminar.
Other factors to consider while creating your study plan include:
- How soon do you intend to take the examination? Check the Pearson VUE website to find a time that works for you.
- How much can you spend on preparation material and training courses? Look for official, certified study materials and training to make sure you have a thorough understanding of each topic covered in the exam.
- What training method best suits you? Some people prefer self-learning, while others think there is no substitute for the classroom. Use your past learning experiences to help you pick the method to help you prepare best.
- How well acquainted are you already with the exam subjects? Your personal experience can save you some studying time, but you should take into consideration factors such as the exam length and question logic. Relying too much on experience alone is a poor strategy that will likely lead to bad results.
3. Take Practice Exams
Because this is an entry-level exam, many candidates may not be familiar with test taking strategies or how it feels to take a timed exam. Taking multiple practice exams will help you assess how much time you will need for each question, as well as your overall knowledge level. Taking practice exams based on single domain subjects is a good first step. Once you’ve mastered each domain area, take full-length practice exams to ensure you are ready for the actual exam experience.
As for practice exam test results, do not be discouraged. Unless you are an experienced test taker, it is quite common for things to go sour during the first round of questions, especially if you are not done with your reading and prep course. Take your time to study and use every resource available to clarify any doubts. By the end of your study plan, you will see consistent results on practice exams.
4. Get Plenty of Rest
This may seem like a no-brainer, but this was the best advice I received before taking the exam. Try to schedule the exam close to your home or work so you don’t have to worry about being stressed by traffic to get there. I took my test at 10 a.m., less than a mile from my home, and did not go into work until after the exam. The morning of, I did a light review of some of the concepts to ensure I hadn’t forgotten them overnight. These included the OSI model, the CIA triad and some of the most used ports and protocols. But that was it. I wanted to give my brain a break before taking the test.
I ate a nice breakfast that wasn’t too heavy, but enough to make sure I wouldn’t get hungry during the test. If you’ve studied well, being comfortable while taking the exam can make all of the difference.
5. Get to Know Your Exam
The CompTIA website provides essential information about the Security+ exam. It will also provide links to a lot of useful information, such as official training providers, exam topics, practice questions and study material.
It also contains essential details such as an overview of the certification and the exam, including its prerequisites, how many and what type of questions you are about to face, time allotted for examination and the passing mark.
6. Leverage Free Exam-Prep Resources
CompTIA’s Security+ exam objectives and practice questions are available for free online. Use these as a starting point to evaluate your understanding of the Security+ exam. Reviewing these materials can help a lot, especially in constructing your study plan.
7. Get Involved In an Exam Prep Course
Deciding to use a self-study-only approach may seem like a bold decision, but it may not be the best strategy. Going through a certification preparation course lets you spend time with an experienced instructor, with actual knowledge on how to beat the exam. It is an excellent opportunity to get all your questions answered, share experiences and strategies, and even network if it is in-person training. This results in a greater success rate on any certification exam.
8. Join a Security+ Online Community
A simple Google search will find several Security+ forums, wikis and personal websites where both candidates and certified professionals share their certification experiences.
As usual, it is important to verify the credibility of any source you are using. For instance, if you are looking for a formal definition of a concept that is covered in the exam, the best approach is using official material, e.g., books, guidelines and other official publications. But, if you are looking for general advice, posting your question to an online forum such as reddit or TechExams can be quite helpful.
Many candidates visit online forums and search for “Security+ success.” This can serve as both preparation and motivation for the upcoming exam. If you are feeling confident, searching “Security+ failure” posts may also give you some important advice, as learning from the mistakes of others is way less painful than from your own.
A word of advice: Unless you have time to help others, stay away from toxic people and posts. Many unfortunate exam takers go online to vent their frustration and this can be discouraging.
9. Clear Your Mind and Relax
Use these tips to clear your mind and stay focused during the exam:
- Be aware of time. During the exam, you may reach a high level of concentration I like to call “the zone.” This means a greater focus, which is good for problem solving, but can cause you to lose track of time. What may seem like seconds can be precious minutes; hours tend to pass at a very fast rate, so make sure you have time to go through every question on the exam.
- Take your time reading the questions. Even with limited time, it is important not to rush. Take your time, pay attention to each question and answer option and make sure you understand what is being asked. Watch for distractors (options that are obviously false) in multiple-choice questions that can be quickly eliminated. It is also important to pay close attention to terms such as MOST, LEAST, NOT, ALL, NEVER and ALWAYS, since they can entirely change a sentence.
- Try to relax. Remember to stretch and relax your muscles during the exam. A relaxed mind can help you solve difficult questions.
- Remember, there is no reason to panic. Remaining calm will improve your concentration. If you followed your study plan correctly, your results will likely be great; if not, you will have a lot more experience during the next try!
10. Take an Online Security+ Training Boot Camp
InfoSec Insistute’s Security+ Training Boot Camp SYO-501 is a great place to start! The Security+ boot camp teaches you information security theory and reinforces that theory with hands-on exercises that help you “learn by doing.”
In the end, the Security+ certification is a great way to advance your cyber security/infosec career. However, as expected, such benefits come at a cost: only the most dedicated candidates will succeed. Plan ahead and use these ten tips as a basis for your study strategy.