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Cracking the CISSP Exam

Why is the CISSP exam so Difficult?


The (ISC)² CISSP examination has a global reputation for being difficult to pass the first time. In theory, CISSP is just a written or online test of your awareness of the following eight information security knowledge domains:

  • Security and Risk Management
  • Asset Security
  • Security Engineering
  • Communications and Network Security
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Security Assessment and Testing
  • Security Operations
  • Software Development Security


It is designed to ensure that someone handling computer security for a company or client has mastered a standardized body of knowledge.   It requires professionals to have a minimum of 3-5 years of experience. This 6-hour exam will probably be one of the most difficult exams that you’ll ever take. With the following tips and pieces of information, you can approach the exam with a lot more confidence:


1 - Understand the nature of the exam.

(ISC)² included new innovative Drag & Drop and Hotspot questions in its flagship CISSP certification examination. Innovative question types provide several benefits over simple four-option multiple-choice items. Benefits of the new CISSP questions include:

  • Measures knowledge at higher cognitive levels
  • Measures a broader range of skills
  • Provides more realistic simulation of practice in the field
  • Provides opportunities for broader content coverage


2 - Practice as many full-length exams as you can, preferably under ideal exam conditions.

The usual preparation time is anywhere from 3 months to a year. After taking the requisite training from a training provider, such as TechEd360. They have a practice exam generator as part of their training program.  Follow the path of successful candidates by making and sticking to a study plan. It is highly recommended that you do this before you begin your preparation and after each domain. During your training, you might have had the opportunity to understand your strengths and weaknesses with respect to information security knowledge. Focus your effort on the domains where you feel you are the weakest.


3 - Approach the exam methodically, without spending too much time on a particular question.

Pace yourself and allow for scheduled breaks to refresh yourself. However, at the cost of rushing through the exam, do not forget to understand the long-winded scenarios. Often the difference between choosing the right or wrong option lies in understanding the nuances of the question and making the right inferences. Also, remember that the CISSP is touted as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’, so there may be questions on the exam that do not seem to be a part of what you’ve studied. Do not fret if this happens. Make an educated guess. Also, do not leave any questions unanswered. Two of the answer options are usually easy to strike off.


4 - Understand that this is an exam that can make you feel that your preparation is inadequate, no matter how much effort you actually put in.

The test doesn’t want you to know and regurgitate memorized text from the book. The exam tests your ability to apply information security concepts to real-life scenarios. This is part of what makes the preparation for the exam challenge. 


5 - Time management is very important.

At 6 hours for the CISSP certification exam might seem like a lot, but if you think about it, with 250 questions to answer, you only have around 90 seconds for each question. So do NOT spend too much time on any one question. If you haven’t got the answer even after spending 2 minutes on a question, it’s time to flag the question and move on. Always keep an eye on the clock.


6 - Read the questions very carefully and use the method of elimination.

Some questions will have options that are very close to each other. So make sure you read the question very carefully so you know exactly what is being asked. Use that in conjunction with the method of elimination and you should start getting more questions correct.


7 - Stay relaxed both before and during the exam.

Stay relaxed both before and during the exam: This is important – get plenty of sleep the day before the exam. There is no point in cramming till late and then feeling washed out 3 hours into the exam. Also, feel free to stretch and take 1-minute breaks every now and then (don’t overdo it though – you do have to complete the exam!). Physical comfort can go a long way in helping you focus.


Just keep the above tips in mind while preparing for CISSP Certification and taking the CISSP Exam and you should do well.