Like most certifications in the tech and cyber security industries, the CompTIA Security+ is not easy to pass. The Security+ is difficult for good reason, it validates your knowledge in the field of cyber security and tells employers that you’re adequately prepared to defend their environments.
If you are studying for the Security+, you have come to the right place. This guide compiles years of knowledge and experience in the field and provides it to you in an easily digestible format. I have tried very hard to provide unique insights that aren’t currently available in any other guide, so buckle up for the ride.
This Guide Includes:
- 12 Strategies to pass the Security+ on your first attempt
- Best Security+ Study Material
- Frequently Asked Questions About the Security+
- Security+ Success Timeline (Infographic At Bottom)
12 Strategies to pass the Security+ on your first attempt
Strategy 1: Understand the Exam
When you are taking on any challenge, the first task is to size up the opponent. Before you dive into any study material, get an understanding of the scope of the exam. Locking down the scope of the exam is the first step in creating your study strategy.
CompTIA releases a set of objectives for every exam they create. Familiarize yourself with this information in the beginning. Whenever you are studying and come across new information, identify how this relates to the objectives.
Strategy 2: Identify the Exam Objectives
Each objective that CompTIA outlines skills and knowledge that the industry has deemed important for candidates to be successful on the job. Using the objectives, and sub-objectives while you are studying will help you stay on track and ensure your learning the right material.
Strategy 3: Become Familiar with The Number of Questions and Time Limit
The Security+ time limit is 90 minutes. The test taker will have 90 minutes to complete a maximum of 90 questions. The 90 questions consist of both multiple-choice questions, and hands-on performance-based simulations. To pass, a test taker must score 750 on a scale of 100-900.
Strategy 4: Develop A Multiple-Choice Plan
The multiple-choice questions on the Security+ will make up a majority of the exam. Understanding how they are structured will help you better prepare to pass the exam.
The multiple-choice questions on the security+ ask you to choose the “best” answer out of the options. This means that you need to really have a good understanding of what the question is asking.
The questions on the Security+ will have each have 4-5 answer choices. Usually, 2 of these choices will be obviously wrong and you can simply eliminate them. Then comes the hard part, the remaining choices will be relevant to the situation and could easily serve as the answer.
Of the remaining questions, you then need to identify what answer “fits best”. At this point, it is best to re-read the question and make sure that you are understanding it properly.
Most people select the wrong answer because they misunderstand the question that is being asked. After you fully understand the question, this is where you need to call on your preparation.
If you are still unsure that you have selected the correct answer, go with your gut. According to Psychology Today, going with your first instinct results in the best decision. Trust your instincts and your preparation.
Strategy 5: Develop A Study Strategy
Everyone is different when it comes to studying methods, but here at Cyber Career School, we have really honed in on the approach of utilizing 3 main study methods.
- Reading the Book
- Watching the Video
- Taking Practice Questions
While it sounds simple, this proven approach is effective for visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and reading/writing learners.
Strategy 6: Selecting the Correct Study Material is Crucial
Like we said previously, everybody learns differently. For the Security+ we recommend at least one aspect of each visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. The Security+ covers such a broad amount of information that simply reading the book or watching a course will not put you in a good position to pass.
Properly Choose Your Study Materials
Our Recommended Books: Through studying for the Security+ ourselves and advising other students, we have identified the two best study materials available. CompTIA Security+ Certification Kit: Exam SY0-501. The full certification kit provides both a study guide and a book of practice exams. This satisfies 2/3 of the requirements for the Cyber Career School study method. We have personally taken these practice exams and can attest to their value come exam day.
CompTIA Security+ Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide Get Certified Get Ahead is arguably the most popular study guide on the market for the Security+. Darril Gibson organizes the content in a very digestible way and he also has a website with additional material. Getcertifiedgetahead.com really provides some great material on the CompTIA exams.
Our Recommended Courses: For a majority of our video courses, we recommend Pluralsight. Pluralsight has an excellent course on the Security+. One of the big benefits we see in Pluralsight is that there is a flat monthly membership price that gives you access to all of the awesome course they have available. When you’re ready to move on to another certification those courses will also be included in your membership. Check it out with a free trial and see if it is right for you!
Strategy 7: Hold Yourself Accountable.
Let’s face it, success in the Security+ depends on your long-term preparation. This requires holding yourself accountable. It is possible to pass this exam in a very short time-frame (depending on your background) but it is not a recommendation.
When I took the Security+ I passed it after three weeks of intense studying. I would certainly not recommend attempting to pass the Security+ in three weeks, but I can attest that setting a deadline for myself helped me pass.
Set Your Exam Date
I recommend scheduling the exam 30-45 days after you begin studying. I find this to be the sweet spot, any longer and you would procrastinate and any shorter and you would be too rushed to fully learn the important information.
So as soon as you crack open one of the Security+ books I mentioned above, you should plan out your exam date.
If scheduling the exam doesn’t motivate and hold you accountable enough, consider setting up some intermediary milestones. Some examples can be finishing the book in 3 weeks, finishing the video course in a week, taking 3 practice exams in a week, etc. Whatever works best for you, just make sure you develop a plan and stick to it.
Strategy 8: Take an Initial Assessment Before You Start Studying
The Get Certified Get Ahead book that I mentioned above includes an initial assessment. Set some time aside and treat this initial exam like the real thing. The most important advice in taking the initial assessment it to be honest with yourself. Set a timer and avoid using outside resources.
The initial assessment will serve as a benchmark and will help you focus in on the areas where you are week. After you have completed the initial assessment, it is time to see where you stand. Remember the passing score on the Security+ is 83%, if you score anywhere from 50%-70% you are in very good shape!
If you didn’t as well as you expected on the initial exam, don’t worry. A lot of people have a hard time getting used to “choose the best” multiple-choice questions.
After you have tallied up the score, note the questions where you struggled and read the explanations that are provided at the end of the book. Make sure you record this information somewhere so you can compare it to your final assessment that comes at the end of the book.
Bonus Tip: When I was taking the initial assessment and end of chapter quizzes, I treated every question where I did not definitively know the answer as wrong. This helped me avoid skipping topics where I may have had a lucky or educated guess. My reasoning behind this was that I did not want to have any question in my mind on test day.
Strategy 9: Focus on The End of Chapter Assessments
The end of chapter assessments are very important while studying. Each chapter will be followed by 15-20 questions on the material you just learned. As a general rule any end of chapter quiz where you get more than one or two questions wrong, you should note that this chapter needs review.
I took these quizzes very seriously and developed a list of chapters where I was weak. Closer to the exam date, I then took this list and re-read the chapters where I struggled.
The end of chapter questions is also another opportunity to get used to the way that CompTIA phrases their questions. No questions will completely prepare you for the exam questions, but those included in the recommended books and practice exams are very close!
Bonus Tip: Exam practice questions are very hard to come by. Even if you use all the practice exams in the Get Certified Get Ahead Book, and buy the practice exam book you will probably run out (Or at least I did).
One thing that I did that helped me a lot was to take every single available answer choice and define it and the reason why it wasn’t the “best” answer choice. If you don’t know why and the answer doesn’t fit but it just doesn’t seem right, google it!
This approach is time-consuming, but it is extremely beneficial for the exam. I even found myself doing it in my head during the actual exam.
Strategy 10: Prepare for the Performance Based Questions (PBQs)
What are the Security+ Performance Based Questions? In the Security+ exam, performance-based questions (PBQs) are tasked based questions that are meant to measure the test taker’s ability to perform hands-on simulations that test specific topic areas. PBQs are normally in the form of a drag and drop interface and simulate real-world scenarios like a firewall configuration for example.
The PBQs are difficult to prepare for. A solid understanding of the topics on the Security+ exam objectives will help a lot. Here are some example simulation topics that you should prepare for. We can’t say exactly what is on the exam but these will make sure you’re on the right track.
- Firewall Configuration
- Device Controls
- Access Controls
Bonus Tip: It is highly recommended that you skip the PBQs. Taking on the PBQs, in the beginning, can really bog you down right off the bat. I recommend that you initially look at the PBQs and think about them but then move on to the multiple-choice questions. You will have the PBQs in the back of your mind and you will find that some of the multiple-choice questions may be helpful for the PBQs.
Strategy 11: Link Relevant Concepts
While the Security+ covers a massive amount of information, it never really dives into one topic in too much detail. This can be extremely challenging because you have to familiarize yourself with so many topics from different areas.
The best approach to this is to create links between the topics. These can be mental links or you can actually map it out.
Focus on Understanding and Not Memorizing
The most important thing that you need to understand is that memorizing the material on the security+ will get you nowhere. Sure, you may pass the exam by a narrow margin, but in a week all that information will be gone. Our goal is to understand the material on the exam so we can use it in our careers. Ok, you may need to memorize the ports.
If you take the time to understand the material and make logical connections between the topics you won’t have to memorize at all. You know what that means, there is no last-minute cramming!
There is a bigger picture here, focus on understanding it, and not just remembering isolated facts.
Strategy 12: Phase Out Exam Day Distractions
I’m not going to beat the dead horse here. Everybody has their own exam day preparation and strategies. One thing that I would like to emphasize is to keep your cool during the exam. This sounds obvious but there are going to be a lot of factors under your control.
Every time I have taken a certification it was at a community college or similar testing center. Depending on your area some of these centers do not have the best equipment. If something goes wrong, keep your cool and tell your proctor. Do not let this stress you out and hurt your exam performance.
If you are taking the certification at home, you are in luck to set up the environment the way that works best for you!
One last note about the exam, during every CompTIA exam I have taken there, was at least one issue with the exam itself (mostly in the simulations). Do not let this stress you out, keep your cool and move on. You can report this issue later on to CompTIA or the proctor. Don’t let this knock you off your game!
After you focus on incorporating the 12 strategies, you can go into the exam with confidence. But you may still have some lingering questions. Next, I will answer the most common questions students have while studying for the Security+.
Common Student Questions
How Hard is CompTIA Secuirty+?
The Security+ exam is difficult for beginners. The Difficulty of the exam is related to the wide breadth of information that is covered by this exam. The individual topics are not difficult, but due to the wide scope of the exam, it can be difficult for most students.
What is The Security+ Passing Rate?
CompTIA does not make the passing rate of their exams public information. A score of 750 (83%) out of 900 is required to pass the exam. Due to the difficulty of the material, it is very common for students to score from 700-800. In the event that you fail the exam first try, you will not be penalized. CompTIA does not require any waiting period between the first and the second attempt.
Is There A Student Discount for The Security+?
Yes, there is a discount for current students looking to take the Security+. Active students enrolled in a four-year degree program will get a discount of 40%.
Does the CompTIA Security+ require two years of experience?
CompTIA states that students should have two years of experience before taking the exam. This is not a hard prerequisite. Most students take this certification with very little or no experience. This should not be a factor that holds you back.
Security+ Success Timeline
I really hope that this guide helps you out with the Security+. I put a lot of time into it and tried to provide novel approaches to common problems students face. If you are taking the Security+ soon, best of luck to you. You will do great!