You have done your revision, you’re passing all the practice tests and you can recite the CISSP study guides word for word. It’s time for you to sit the exam and… now what? Read on to find out what you should expect and how to prepare for the big day.
If you are still preparing and revising for the CISSP exam, take a look at my last blog, How to pass CISSP first time. You will find my strategy for sitting and passing the exam first time.
Know Your Enemy!
I’m not going to spend too much time on the technical details of the exam, there are plenty of other blogs out there which cover that as well as ICS² own website. Instead, I want to talk about the real challenges that I experienced.
There’s no easy way of putting this. The CISSP exam is a beast. There are plenty of blogs out there which will tell you it’s easy and give you some examples of the simple questions you might encounter, but that certainly is not representative of ALL of the questions you are going to face. I would absolutely say, that if you have the real world experience expected of a CISSP, you will encounter some easy questions, but do not be fooled… I promise…ISC² have some curve balls lined up for you.
I have sat a handful of long 6-8 hour exams and found that each have their own challenges in addition to the questions themselves. For instance, the CISSP sounds straight forward, with almost all multiple choice questions and a hand full or interactive drag and drop questions.
Sure, that sounds easy compared to long form essay questions or live lab examinations however answering 250 multiple choice questions in less than 6 hours presents its own challenges, and here they are!
- 250 Questions! That is a lot of questions. The closest I have done is CREST CCIM which is 150 questions and that seemed like a lot on the day. After around 100, you can easily begin to feel that exam fatigue kicking in!
- 6 Hours Long. Sounds like a long time right?. What if I told you, it gave you less than 2 minutes per question!
- Need a break? Sure no problem, but that clock keeps ticking. You take 30 minutes for a break and time for a snack, now you have 90 seconds for each question, tick, tock, tick, tock…
- Losing concentration?, Maybe this is just me, but I find answering question after question for 6 hours, pretty exhausting and I know that it wont take long before I start to feel that exam fatigue coming over me.
I also had some pretty unique challenges during my CISSP experience which I expect were a little uncommon. The Pearson VUE test centre that I used is right in the centre of Sheffield(UK), which meant that it gets A LOT of foot traffic outside the windows. It’s not really much of an issue because the examination room is on the the third or fourth floor so you don’t really get disturbed too much.
That is unless a busking Opera singer turns up with a portable PA!. Thats right, I was very unlucky and had to endure almost 4 hours of LOUD opera singing while I was trying to navigate the CISSP exam. It wasn’t pleasant but the staff at PV were great, they logged my complaint and gave me an Incident number. I guess if I had failed I could have used this to rebook with a discount or maybe for free(Who knows?). Luckily I passed and so that was the end of it but just be forewarned, check out your test centre before the day and if you can, avoid ones that might be impacted by large amounts of outside noise.
On The Day
If you are familiar with Tech Exams, then you wont be surprised by what actually happens on the day. The format is very similar to most other exams. You will arrive on the day and be expected to present 2 forms of ID. You’ll need to make sure your ID conforms with ISC² standards which you can find here.
In the more modern test centres they will take your picture and take biometrics of your right hand. They use this for validating your identify at the beginning and end of the exam. You may also have to sign the code of ethics again.
Once all the paperwork is done, you will head on down to the exam room and be shown to your seat. If you manage to strike up conversation with an invigilator, you may be able to swing the best seat in the room since there may be others sitting exams which are much shorter in the same room as you.
My recommendation is to aim for a window seat. It’s great to sit back and gather your thoughts for a few seconds when you feel like you might be getting a little tired in the exam.
Now once you are shown to your desk and the timer begins, you are armed with only your experience and memory. The exam is closed book so there is no material you can take into the exam with you. You need to work through each of the 250 questions in the time provided. So now you need a strategy to get through the exam with a winning score.
Here is the strategy I used to pass CISSP first time.
- 1: Answer & Flag
- 2: Review Flagged
- 3: Review ALL
1 – I would highly recommend that you move through the questions as fast as you can answering the ones that you are sure you know, and flagging everything else.
2 – You should get to end of your 250 questions in record time and have answered a good amount that you are confident with. You can then go back to review the flagged questions and really think about your answers in more depth.
I personally found this helpful as I found I had lots of time left to use for reviewing my flagged questions.
3 – Once you have finished your review of the flagged questions, If you have time, I would highly recommend you review all your answers one last time. By now, you will be sick of looking at the screen but that’s exactly why you should take 1 last look. When I went back I noticed I had marked the wrong answer to questions I knew the answer too simply because of the dreaded exam fatigue.
Checking, double checking and triple checking your answers will help you to squeeze every mark you can out of the exam, and it could be one question that makes all the difference between a pass and fail!
Overcome Those Challenges
Earlier in this blog I listed 4 challenges that make the CISSP that little bit tougher. They all come down to finding ways to keep your concentration up for the duration for the exam which, if not properly prepared for, can cost you the “W”(sorry, UFC fan here).
Here are my tips on staying focussed throughout the exam:
- Bring Snacks! – You can keep them outside the room and grab them whenever you like. Just be sure not to bring anything too carb heavy thats going to make you sleepy
- Bring Water! – Staying hydrated is hugely important to keep those cogs turning. Drink plenty of water and keep a bottle handy.
- Plenty Of Rest! – Do not burn the midnight oil revising if you have an exam at 8am the next day. Go in fresh with plenty of rest.
- Caffein! – Either energy drinks or coffee can really help keep your focus and bring you back into the game when you begin lag.
- Supplement! – I can’t stress this enough. It is not natural to focus on something for prolonged periods of time and humans simply aren’t built for it. I use Alpha Brain to keep my focus during exams! Read my review of AB here.
Thats it, you have done your work and now it’s time to sit the exam! Let me know below if you found these blogs helpful. Share and subscribe for more updates.