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CompTIA Security+: Is Security Plus Easy?

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By: Cybrary Staff

October 25, 2021

CompTIA Security+: Is Security+ an easy certification to obtain? Earning the CompTIA Security+ certification is not easy, but candidates can significantly increase their chances with ample preparation, including focused training.

Summary: Like any other exam required to earn a professional accreditation, it is not easy to pass the CompTIA Security+ test. However, those capable of meeting the challenge will open the door to many lucrative job opportunities in the cybersecurity space. This guide looks at how the exam stacks up against similar options regarding difficulty and required study.

While the CompTIA Security+ is an entry-level cybersecurity certification, that does not mean it is an easy one to earn. CompTIA recommends first achieving the Network+ or an equivalent accreditation before pursuing Security+. This path ensures that candidates already have the foundational knowledge needed to specialize in cybersecurity, such as an understanding of network configuration, administration, and troubleshooting.

What are the CompTIA Security+ exam requirements?

Because Security+ is an entry-level certification, there are no formal prerequisites for taking the exam, and a pass will result in formal accreditation regardless. That being said, CompTIA recommends candidates have two or more years of experience working in a related field, such as network administration or risk management, ideally with a focus on cybersecurity.

A candidate’s readiness to pass the exam hinges greatly on their knowledge and experience in cybersecurity and related fields. This knowledge and experience will help close the knowledge gap between what they know and what they are expected to know ahead of the exam. Those with adequate experience should only require minimal additional studying to prepare for the exam, while those starting from scratch may take a few months to get up to speed.

Closing the knowledge gap with self-study or formal training

There is a vast portfolio of official and unofficial study materials available for those pursuing Security+. These include self-paced online courses and virtual practice labs, as well as more traditional options, such as in-person seminars, bootcamps, and study books. Online self-study is the preferred option for most candidates since it is readily accessible and ideal for candidates already in full-time employment.

An introductory course, which should get candidates up to speed with the fundamentals of the Security+ accreditation, should not require more than 8-10 hours of study time. However, full preparation for the exam should also include hands-on training, either by way of virtual labs or in-person workshops. Gaining hands-on experience across the full range of areas covered by the exam, such as penetration testing and risk management, should take between 25 and 30 hours. Candidates who already have extensive experience in the cybersecurity space can expect to spend a lot less time closing the knowledge gap ahead of the exam.

What is covered in the CompTIA Security+ exam?

The exam covers five core domains, each of which counts for a percentage of the exam content. Candidates should familiarize themselves with the particular exam they are taking since choosing between the current or previous iteration is possible. Currently, however, only the current SY0-601 exam is available in English. Most candidates will want to take the current iteration unless they have recently completed studying for the previous one. Here are the domains and their respective exam weights in the most recent version:

  1. Attacks, threats, and vulnerabilities (24%)
  2. Architecture and design (21%)
  3. Implementation (25%)
  4. Operations and incident response (16%)
  5. Governance, risk, and compliance (14%)

The exam consists of a maximum of 90 questions spanning the domains listed above, and candidates have 90 minutes to complete it. The maximum possible score is 900, with 750 or more points being considered a pass.

The exam questions either follow the traditional multiple-choice format or are performance-based. Performance-based questions (PBQs) are a departure from the traditional approach since they test the candidate’s ability to solve real-world problems in a simulated environment.

Investing plenty of time in virtual practice labs before taking the exam is highly recommended. CompTIA also advises that candidates quickly move on to the next question if they do not feel confident answering a particular PBQ, given the time limit provided. However, most PBQs appear at the beginning of the exam, which is why candidates should also take care in managing the amount of time they spend on each exam item.

For how long is a CompTIA Security+ certification valid?

A Security+ certificate is valid for three years from the date of passing the exam. However, it is easy to renew the certification by participating in CompTIA’s continuing education program. Candidates will only have to retake the exam if they allow it to expire or do not meet the other prerequisites for maintaining the certification.

The three-year validity length is standard across cybersecurity and related certifications because it helps ensure certificate holders remain updated with constantly evolving adoption cycles of new technologies and emerging threat vectors. CompTIA also reviews and updates its exam content every three years to reflect these changes. This update is a requirement for maintaining its ISO/ANSI accreditation status and meeting the certification requirements of the US Department of Defense.

There are three main options for renewing a Security+ certification. The most popular option is to take an approved training course, which should take 6 to 8 hours for those already working in the field. Another popular option is to complete qualifying activities that earn continuing education units (CEUs), such as those that align with one or more of the exam objectives. The third option is to take a recertification exam by completing the most recent iteration of the exam content.

Finally, it costs $50 per year, or $150 for the whole three-year period, to maintain the Security+ certification. This is in addition to the $370 exam fee.

However, after gaining three years’ experience as a certificate holder, candidates may want to take the next step in developing their careers by pursuing a more advanced option, such as the PenTest+, CASP+, or CySA+ accreditation. Alternatively, there are numerous competing certifications available from other bodies, such as (ISC)2.

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