Certification Prep: Taking the stress out of testing

So, you’ve decided to pursue a certification? Great! It can be very stressful to spend a lot of money on a certification attempt. Ask anyone who has taken a Cyber Security cert of any kind and they’ll likely tell you that it can be nerve-wracking. Many will even tell you that they were scared they had failed their exam at the end, only to realize that they passed.

Typical testing preparation:

  • Get plenty of sleep prior to testing. You’ll want to be at your best when taking on a certification exam.
  • Eat a good breakfast. Having a good breakfast before the exam will ensure that you don’t get distracted, tired, or hangry during your exam. Nobody wants to be hangry while stuck in an exam, right?
  • Don’t load up on caffeine or sugar. The sugar crash is real. The last thing you want is to crash mid-exam and struggle to retain your focus on the exam at hand.
  • Arrive early to your testing center. Many testing centers are strict on the timeframe in which you must be present to take the exam. Arriving early will help ensure that you don’t miss your testing window.
  • Hydration & bathroom breaks. Ensure that you understand the bathroom policy for your particular test. Some will allow a bathroom break, some may not. Plan ahead to ensure that you use the restroom before testing, if needed.

Recipe for success: Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.

William A. Ward

Successful studying tips:

  • Dedicate time to study. This is a hard one for many as work, school, family, and other responsibilities can often drastically reduce the time someone has available to study for a certification. However, if you don’t specifically set time aside each week to study then you will not be as prepared as you can be for the test. Ensure that you set enough time aside that you can read all the study material prior to taking the test.
  • Schedule your exam. Why should you schedule your exam ahead of finishing your study? Because a set timeline to study in will provide motivation for you to actually do your studying. This motivation will help you with the tip above. However, you should be realistic with your timeline, give yourself plenty of time to read all the materials, watch any videos, and do practice exams.
  • Buy study materials. Many certifications, such as the CISSP, have books that come with them full of the material that the exam covers. However, there are other certification guides that offer condensed versions of these same materials. One of my favorite authors for Security+ material is Darril Gibson, his site linked here has links to his newest study guides. One of my favorite authors for CISSP is Eric Conrad, link to his books on Amazon provided here. I would encourage you to find a good study guide as well as practice exams for your certification.
  • GIAC testing with indexes. If you’re taking a GIAC exam, your exam is open-book. This might sound easy at first, but know that without an index you’ll spend far too long looking up an answer in the book. I personally used the advice of Lesley Carhart from her site linked here. Lesley does a wonderful job walking you through how to make an excellent index. I’ve used this method twice for GIAC exams and it’s worked amazingly both times.
  • Studying regimen. Personally, I’ve found that I’ve spent about 50% of my study time on reading the material and watching any accompanying videos and then the other 50% of the time with practice exams. Once I’ve read all of the study material, I will then take my first practice exam. Based on that practice exam I then determine my weak areas and will read more into those areas and refer to my index if it is a GIAC exam. Once I feel comfortable, I’ll then re-test and gauge the improvement. With the Security+ exam, I tested until I was averaging in the 90%+ range on score and then went to take my test.
  • You’re never 100% ready. The last tip I would give you is that you’ll NEVER be 100% ready. You will be anxious, nervous, and scared that you will fail. We all have those feelings, at least I do. So, don’t delay your exam until you’re 100% ready. You’ll only end up second-guessing yourself and not taking the exam. Get to a spot where you’re doing well on the practice exams and then go take it. In my opinion, I’ve seen a lot of practice exams that are actually harder than the actual test.

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe


  1. Better GIAC testing with pancakes – Lesley Carhart’s guide to GIAC exams using indexes, this really works!
  2. Security+ Study Guides – The new SY0-601study guide is out. Here is a list of study guides for it by different authors. I recommend Darril Gibson. Security+ Practice tests.
  3. CISSP Study Guides – These CISSP study guides should help you condense the massive CISSP CBK into a more digestible book that you can use to study. I recommend Eric Conrad. CISSP Official Practice tests.
  4. GIAC Study Guides – GIAC has multiple certifications. Here is a collection of study guides by various authors.

I’ll continue to add more resources to the list above over time. If you have any recommended resources, please feel free to respond to this post and let me know. Please note that I did not directly link all of the practice exams, there are quite a few available through Amazon or other retailers. There are also online sites such as Udemy that provide online practice tests for certs like Security+ and others.

Some of these tests can be daunting. However, you can definitely pass them if you invest in the time to really study, learn, and know the material. Give yourself every chance you can by reviewing these tips. I wish you all the best of luck with your studying and testing! You got this!

Good luck on your journey and feel free to let me know how your testing and studying has been!

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