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(Requirements For A CISSP Certification): What Do You Need To Prepare For A CISSP Certification

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By: Charles Owen-Jackson

August 31, 2021

How to prepare for a CISSP certification

CISSP certifications are among the most sought-after in the cybersecurity space, but like any distinguished career path, earning one requires ample preparation

Summary: Sitting a CISSP exam costs $749, and it is only possible to retake the exam four times in twelve months, with each attempt demanding a new payment. Aside from the need to have four or five years of professional experience, candidates must also prepare extensively for the exam itself.

The CISSP certification is unlike many other certifications in the IT industry. Unlike those provided by major tech companies like Amazon or Microsoft, CISSP encompasses the entire range of best practices regarding information security, confidentiality, and integrity.

Not only does it require four or five years of professional experience – preparing for the exam can take months, as candidates refresh their knowledge of the eight domains covered by the certification.

With that in mind, simply attending a CISSP training boot camp or workshop for a week before taking the exam is not nearly enough, if only because the sheer amount of things candidates need to learn can quickly become overwhelming.

This is why candidates must have a well-paced and distinguished study plan that uses a broad range of learning materials and methods. An online CISSP course, preferably one that provides hands-on learning activities and practice tests, is an important starting point.

Understanding the CISSP mindset

Perhaps one of the most common mistakes candidates make when preparing for their CISSP certifications is ailing to adopt the right mindset. While they are undoubtedly already aware that certification is an enormously valuable addition to any résumé, there is much more to being a CISSP than learning and developing a broad range of technical skills.

CISSPs are distinguished professionals charged with making key business decisions in the real world, many of which have far-reaching impacts. Technical expertise is, of course, a given, but the true secret to success is adopting a managerial mindset. After all, becoming a CISSP is as much about managing security processes, people, and incidents as it is about the underlying technology systems.

To truly understand the CISSP mindset, candidates should try to put themselves in the shoes of the modern CIO or CISO. These are the champions of innovation in today’s enterprises, and a major part of their jobs involves educating others, communicating the need for cybersecurity, and driving digital transformation without adding risk.

Take security and risk management, for example, which is the first of the eight domains in the CISSP framework. It is not all about implementing technical controls that reduce risk but also about understanding what those risks are, which assets need to be protected, and why they need to be protected. This alone requires a business mindset, as well as a technical one. It is also important to remember that not all assets, such as brand reputation and customer loyalty, are easily quantifiable.

Being a CISSP is less about fixing things and more about getting a place in the boardroom to influence business decision-making from a risk-management standpoint. Failing to adopt this mindset is why many otherwise highly skilled candidates with extensive technical experience end up failing the exam.

Incorporate a range of study materials

For candidates who meet the prerequisites to enter a CISSP exam, such as a minimum of four or five years of professional experience, it might be tempting to assume they are ready to do a quick preparational course and book their exams. This is not the case.

Instead, candidates should have a comprehensive study plan incorporating up-to-date reading materials, ideally starting with the Official (ISC)² CISSP CBK Reference. However, with more than 1,400 pages covering many information security topics, such reading materials should not be relied on exclusively. Rather, they should serve as a reference throughout the broader study plan. This should also include hands-on virtual labs related to real-world use cases, practice tests, mock exams, and detailed analytics to track learning progress.

Pacing is also essential. Most people, especially those already in full-time employment, can easily take three or four months to prepare for the exam fully. As such, it should be treated as a marathon rather than a sprint. For example, a good approach is to spend a week or two focusing solely on one CISSP domain before taking a practice test at the end. In these tests, candidates who score sufficiently high marks, ideally upwards of 80%, can then consider moving onto the next domain.

Given the extensive scope of CISSP, candidates will almost certainly encounter topic areas that they do not fully understand. After all, it is highly unlikely that a candidate will have broad professional experience across every CISSP domain. This is where hands-on simulations and instructional videos can help enormously.

For those whose efforts are being sponsored by their employers, having the opportunity to learn by doing can be invaluable. In the end, preparing for a CISSP exam involves spending half the time studying and the other half practicing. Any learning plan should incorporate both elements and the training methods and materials to support them.

Since everyone has their preferred ways of studying, no two CISSP study plans look the same. As such, a flexible learning experience that allows candidates to learn at their own pace is essential for balancing other professional and personal commitments. It is still essential to take a disciplined approach by setting personal deadlines and sticking to them.

Finally, in the weeks leading up to the exam, candidates should take regular practice exams and refresh their knowledge of any areas they might still be struggling with. Then, once it comes to the big day, they should enter the three-hour exam with a high level of confidence and competence ahead of passing.

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