Obtaining the CompTIA Security+ certification is an excellent way to build your knowledge of information security and show employers that you have an understanding of basic cyber security concepts.  But what about studying and preparing for the exam?

What is the best way to prepare for and pass the Security+ exam?  The best way to pass the Security+ certification exam is to set a hard deadline, find a reliable time in your schedule to study daily, space out what you study, use quizzes and exercises to test your knowledge, and go into the exam with the right mindset.

Now you may be thinking that sounds  “easier said than done,” but with a little practice these techniques will become second nature once you start down the path of earning your CompTIA Security+.  It’s all about staying motivated to see your success through and knowing the end result will be worth the effort.

Let’s begin by looking closer at the techniques that will help you pass the CompTIA Security+ exam.

Strategy #1:  Set a Hard Deadline to Take the Exam

Many people find that the hardest part about studying for a certification exam is procrastination, whether it’s not having the time to study or not having the focus. That’s why it’s important to set a hard deadline for when you are going to sit for the exam. Not only will this bring your goal better into focus by committing to a test date, but it is also a good way to help schedule and partition the content you will be studying.

Besides scheduling the exam, one of the best ways to keep you to a deadline is by telling another person about it and having them remind you about it and support you. Whether it be a friend, coworker, or the person that serves you your coffee in the morning, having another person hold you to your goals is a strategy that can help you stay motivated.

This is why I find it best to look for a group of people who are also interested in taking the same certification as you. Not only will you be able to share studying resources and quiz each other, but you also have a supportive group of like-minded individuals to help you stay on track and for you to do the same for them. A group is also a great way to network with other rising professionals in the industry and get their advice on other certifications, and sometimes employment opportunities.  If you do find a study group, make sure that they stay motivated and aren’t slowing down your progress. A study group should be a win-win for everyone.

Strategy #2:  Find a Reliable Time in Your Schedule to Study

You’re certainly busy.  You most likely having something other than studying for a certification that’s going on in your life. This can make it difficult to study for something that you aren’t getting graded on or paid for and that you are doing purely for self-improvement and a benefit down the line. This is the reason why it’s critical to find an ideal opening in your daily schedule to fill with studying for your certification.  Many people find the best time to do this is first thing in the morning.

When studying alone, I find it best to study for no more than an hour and a half at a time. Usually, studying for a period any longer than 90 minutes results in a steep fall in information retained.  The first 10 to 15 minutes should be spent reviewing the chapters or material you studied during your last session. This can take form in reading a chapter summary, reading the notes you took on the material, taking a quiz, or a mix of all three of these. This will help reinforce the information and “warm up” your mind to receive and process new information.

At the end of your study session, the last 10 to 15 minutes should be spent doing the same thing, but for the new information you just learned. The time in the middle is spent studying your chosen Security+ content.

When studying in a group, a good recommendations is that the session should be at least 3 hours long. In a study group, time should be taken after each section studied to discuss the topic learned. This helps ensure everyone in the group understands the finer points of the material as well as solidifies the understanding of information.  Make sure you take time to force yourself to explain some of the Security+ content you’ve learned to someone else. Forcing yourself to have to verbalize knowledge is a powerful way to reinforce it.

When working in a group, I also recommend using a whiteboard or some other larger writing surface to record notes or helpful study material that the group has developed to discuss or just for group use as a learning tool. This also helps the group understand more difficult topics by writing it out or drawing a useful diagram to better comprehend the topic.

Finding time to study with a group can be difficult because of the difference in schedules.  I find that confirming a weekly time to study with a group helps to get through more content than you would by studying individually, as well as having other people to bounce ideas and concepts off each other.

Having a mix between studying solitarily on a daily basis and studying with a group on a weekly basis is a great way to guarantee that you will learn and retain the information necessary for the CompTIA Security+ exam.

Strategy #3:  Space Out What You Study

The CompTIA Security+ covers a wide range of security concepts and technologies.  It is challenging material that can be theoretical and dry at times. Because of the nature of the Security+ content, and the best way that humans learn new things, you should consider spacing out and scheduling what parts of the Security+ you study for and when.

We all know not to study the entire book on the night before the exam, so this shouldn’t seem like anything new. The difference with exams like the Security+ is how to best space out the material in the most effective way.

Keeping a balance with what you study is important because it aids in how you learn and connect the various security concepts. How you decide to space out and schedule what you study largely depends on two things: What you’re using to study, and how long you are studying for.

You’ll find that not all books and study guides are arranged in the order or grouped in the same way.  Different study materials section off information in a variety of ways. A good strategy is to find a textbook that is well written and easy to understand, and use it as the pace for your study.  Then use other materials, such as videos and additional books by section to match what you’re studying in your main resource.

The length of time you study for also plays a part in how you should space out your topics. For example, usually you might study two chapters in a night but you realize that it would make sense to study the next three chapters in one night because they relate to each other but don’t pertain to anything else. In this case, it might be ideal to learn all of this material at once so you have a better picture of that information rather than section off one of the chapters with material it doesn’t relate to.

Strategy #4:  Use Quizzes and Exercises to Test Your Knowledge

It’s easy to read a book, but you truly don’t know what you’ve learned until you test yourself to prove it. The same goes with studying for the Security+ certification. It’s important to take time at the end of each study session to take a quiz or do an exercise that tests and reinforces the knowledge you just gained.

If you’re working in a group as suggested above, consider that discussing topics with the other members of your group is a great way to fill in the blanks that you and your group mates may have had with a topic. It is also an excellent way to gauge your own understanding of the topic and whether you have to go back at some point and review that chapter to improve your knowledge of the topic.

Whether you’re working alone or in a group, make sure the test questions you’re studying are accurate and come from a reputable source.  The Security+ seems to have a lot of study material on the market that is contradictory. Some online content that is free or unpublished is inaccurate or, in some cases, incorrect.  Be sure to pull your quizzes and exercises from reputable sources.

Strategy #5:  Go into the Exam with the Right Mindset

The first consideration for exam day is don’t stay up the night before the exam cramming.. Many people find it necessary to cram before they go into take the exam the next day, but often this works against the individual. The night before the test should be spent like any other. Eat dinner. Go to sleep at your usual time. Wake up at your usual time. Eat a normal breakfast  Its usually better to not deviate from your usual routine or do anything that would cause you any excess stress.

The day of the exam, you should make sure you get to the testing center at least 15 minutes early and bring two forms of identification for check-in. Most testing centers will supply you with some note taking material for during the test but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own.

Once you sit down in the testing center, immediately write down as many of the diagrams, terminology, and analogies as you can remember, so you have a written knowledge base to refer to if you freeze up or second guess yourself on a question. As the exam continues, write down pieces of information that the questions might stir from your memory. You have the knowledge, all you have to do is remember it.

These study techniques will help you not only prepare you for your Security+ exam, but they will help you retain the information for later use in your career.

Strategy #6:  Understand and Follow the Security+ Exam Objectives

CompTIA provides a guideline for objectives that they intend to cover on the exam.  While they may change these at any time and even claim that they may deviate from them, following the exam objectives is important so that you know that you have everything covered.  When you look at the Security+ exam objectives, you’ll notice that the bulk of the exam is focused on the threats and vulnerabilities that systems face, and the tools that we use to combat against them.  If you’re not currently working in the field and these things are new to you, make sure you focus heavily on them. You’ll need to go beyond just reading about these tools, too. You’ll want to install and use them.  Remember, doing something is far more effective than just reading about it.

We could go on, but at some point it’s time to get down to studying.  Take these six strategies and set out on your Security+ journey. Good luck!

Related Questions

Is the CompTIA Security+ hard?  All cyber security certifications are challenging, and the Security+ is no different.  Unless you’re an expert, you’ll want to dedicate at least 60 days to preparing for the exam.  Make sure you really know the material well enough that you can teach it to others, and get hands on practice with the concepts too.

Does the CompTIA Security+ require two years of experience?  CompTIA does recommend two years of experience as a background level, but thousands of people have passed the exam with no actual work experience, just through self study.  There are several ways to learn the material effectively.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.