I failed my Security+ exam: Here's my story
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I left to take the CompTIA Security+ exam on a lunch break. Everybody around me, including all my co-workers, thought I would pass with flying colors. I didn't.
Before the Security+ exam
Let me set the stage. I had a job as an identity and access management administrator, which is a fancy way of saying I granted systems access to those who joined our organization and terminated access for those who left.
When we didn't have tickets to process, we were allowed to pursue other professional interests, and mine was preparing for the CompTIA Security+ certification. The way I prepared was the same way I prepared for the ACT and SAT in high school. I took a countless number of practice tests.
When I took the ACT and SAT, I had high scores, and my primary method of preparation was to take practice tests — so I naturally thought that would translate to certification tests later in life. Boy, was I was wrong!
I was getting 95% to 100% on almost every practice test I took. I started to memorize the questions, and that gave me a false sense of preparedness. It wasn't until later I came to the realization I wasn't learning the building blocks I needed to truly understand the material.
Security+ exam day
My employer and co-workers witnessed this preparation daily for about a month. On exam day, my boss gave me an extra 30 minutes on my lunch break so I'd have time to get to the test center (which was five minutes away), take the test and come back without rushing.
Yes, I planned to dash over to the test center, take the test and come back to work. I greatly underestimated this test. Nobody thought that my failure was even a possibility, including myself. After all, I was absolutely killing the practice tests!
I got to the test center, but I didn't adopt the same test-day tips I learned back in high school because my confidence was at an all-time high. I took the test on an empty stomach because this is how I spent my lunch break — no time to eat. I didn't focus on wearing comfortable clothes, nor did I get a good night's sleep. I'm sure there are more "day-of-test tips" I didn't follow, but those were some big ones.
After the first five questions, I knew I was in for a rough 50 minutes. I didn't see any of the questions I memorized or saw on the practice tests on the actual exam. I was somewhat prepared for that, but I was not prepared for how the questions were worded. It was nothing like the way I studied.
Nerves set in. I began to sweat. Time seemed to speed up. The questions seemed like they were trying to trick me. This is not what I prepared for, is all I kept thinking. I powered through and relied on trusty "C" as my answer for all questions I was clueless about.
In retrospect, I did fairly well. I only failed by six points.
After failing the Security+ exam
Failing the Security+ was discouraging, even though I was already working in cybersecurity. I was used to things coming easily to me, and that failure really stung.
To make matters worse, I got back to my office, and I was welcomed by a banner that read, "Jerich, congratulations on passing the Security Plus!"
That was one of the lowest moments in my professional career. As a Type A person, I'm always trying to better myself, and there was no way I was going to let that failure define me.
Because of that experience, I was able to use that motivation to not only re-take the Security+ but to pursue and earn multiple other reputable certifications from organizations such as GIAC and (ISC)². I even went on to earn my master's degree. In many ways, I would say that this failure was the catapult to the success I've had since.
That is my Security+ failure story.
For more on the Security+ certification, view our Security+ certification hub.