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9 Tips for Taking The CISSP Exam

You may prepare for months for the CISSP Exam, spend big dollars taking CISSP training, and then travel to the exam site. After all that effort, you want to stack the cards in your favor.

Here are 9 tips to pass the CISSP exam I've learned from taking it myself, helping others prepare to take it, and talking to lots of people who have taken it both successfully and unsuccessfully.

1) Spend the night near the exam.

That probably means you'll stay in a hotel. If it's given in a hotel as mine was, consider staying in that hotel.

I don't care if it's only 30 minutes away and you know the route inside out. Something might happen that day. I've talked to people that have had flat tires, accidents, natural disasters, road and transportation delays, and more on the way to the exam!

If you're late, you cannot take the exam. They won't let you in.

2) Get to bed early.

You wouldn't believe the number of people I've spoken to who have taken the test tired and in many causes hung over. Yes, I'm serious. Don't stay up until 3AM doing shots of tequila for example, even if you're near old friends you haven't seen in a long time. See them after the exam.

3) Arrive early.

Yes, hopefully you are staying where the exam is given, or extremely close, but arrive early anyways. Pick a seat you like - it may be cramped in some of the inside seats at the tables, the lighting may differ throughout the room, part of the room may have a cold breeze etc.

Remember you'll be there a long time.

4) Bring whatever you think you might want or need.

I didn't bring a sweater or other warm garment as it was summer, and besides I rarely get cold. Guess what? The room was uncomfortably cold to me.

Bring food and drink. Too many people say, "Hey, it's only 6 hours, I can make it." Why? If you're hungry, eat. If thirsty, drink. Being hungry or thirsty will not help you pass the exam, but may hinder you.

I drink coffee so I brought some. The two times I poured a cup, the guy next to me looked like he was going to crawl out of his skin - I'm pretty sure he really wanted coffee too.

Many exam sites only allow you to keep a drink on the table if it has a cover, so prepare accordingly. When I took the exam the proctors didn't care, but I still had a couple of bottles of water and a coffee cup with a top.

I also brought extra #2 pencils. The caffeine deprived guy next to me asked to borrow one before the exam.

There is no penalty for bringing something you don't use.

5) They give you 6 hours for the CISSP exam - use them.

OK, I'll admit I left about 15 minutes early and had to fight myself to not rush through the exam. Rushing is not going to help you pass.

I'm willing to bet the people that left after 3 or so hours almost all failed.

I don't care if you're a fast exam taker (I finished my 90 minute Security+ exam in 20 minutes for example), take the time they give you, the entire 6 hours or very close to it.

There is a reason they give you 6 hours. You need it for the exam!

6) Read EVERY answer before choosing the best one.

There may be more than one correct answer, and choosing the first correct one is a loosing strategy.

If you start speeding through the exam, not reading all the answers before choosing one, they own you and you have already failed. That's the reality of the situation.

7) Answer every question.

There is no penalty for a wrong answer, and leaving questions blank is simply stupid. Maybe they should subtract points for not answering at all?

8) Your first answer is usually correct.

Certainly review questions you found difficult when you've completed the exam, time permitting, but don't change your answer unless you're sure it's wrong. For most people, their "first guess" is usually their best.

8) The CISSP exam is long. Instead of considering it a 250 question test, treat it as several shorter tests.

For example, after every 75 questions I forced myself to take a break, usually going to the back of the room for a snack, visiting the restroom, or grabbing a drink. This helps a lot of people mentally.

9) I know, I said 9 tips, but here's a tenth: Relax!

The hard part, all the studying, is over. Smile. Most people pass, and if you don't it'll be easier next time. I found myself in a room full of grimacing people. I was smiling. One of the proctors actually commented on it!

Oh yes, I passed too. I estimate I got 85% right, but who really knows? All that matters is that I passed, and I'll never have to take the CISSP exam again.

Make it more likely that you'll pass your CISSP exam. Of course you need to study, but also follow these tips to stack the deck in your favor.

Two excellent and recommended CISSP study guides are:
CISSP Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 4th Ed by Shon Harris
The CISSP and CAP Prep Guide: Platinum Edition by Krutz and Vines

Official (ISC)2 Guide to the CISSP CBK ((Isc)2 Press Series), the "official guide" is a good reference, but don't plan on studying from it. It's like eating cardboard or reading a dictionary. Good fiber and educational, but not a "study guide."

CISSP Self Study Resources

Ted Demopoulos at Caesars Palace
Ted Demopoulos,  Caesars Palace