Thursday, October 21, 2021

Resources that helped me pass the CISSP exam

Summary: List of helpful resources for CISSP exam.

After four months of intense study (and about a year since I started) I passed the CISSP exam. Here is the list of resources I found useful (and some that weren't).


Feedback from my colleagues who went to bootcamps varies but the general consensus is that with some exceptions they are not really worth the cost. There is only a handful of trainers who are exceptional and you can find them online for cheaper than $2K+. Yes, most bootcamps can give you a voucher to repeat an exam if you do not pass, but it's still cheaper to pay for two exams than for one bootcamp.

The digital versions of the bootcamps I used and found helpful include:

  • Thor's CISSP Udemy course. I have a Udemy subscription through work, so I watched this course 3 times: first, in the very beginning of my studies (and did not really like it), then after the 2021 update, and finally on the week of the exam at 2x speed (now, after watching it three times, I can say, it's excellent).
  • I lost the link but there was an old audio version of Kelly Handerhan's Cybrary course posted on Reddit. I watched a couple of video episodes when they were free at Cybrary, but mostly listened to the audio while driving. Overall, I think I listened to the whole series 2-3 times (at x1.7 speed). Kelly is one of (if not) the best instructors out there. The audio version is a bit outdated, but the fundamentals are still there. Highly recommend. Also, make sure you watch Kelly's Why You Will Pass the CISSP [exam] video. (UPDATE: Found links to the audios here.)
  • Destination Certification's Mind Map series. Excellent coverage. I would recommend also watching the supplemental videos, like the one that explains how Kerberos works and there are others.


I first planned to use O'Reilly Digital Subscription (through work), but the digital versions did not work for me, so I switched to paperbacks (for casual reading, I prefer digital).


When practicing tests, the point is not to remember, but to try to understand why an answer is right or wrong. Yes you need to memorize a few things, but generally, memorization will not take you too far.

  • Boson Practice Exams. Must be used on a desktop (Windows, not sure it the environment works on a Mac). Very good overall. Explains why the correct answer is correct and why each wrong answer is wrong. I think it expires after 6 months once you start using it, so keep it in mind. I also tried a couple of practical labs (not the tests), but did not find them particularly useful. If you have no practical experience with the concepts (like hashing, etc), they may offer some value, though.

I'm using Android, but assume Apple store has the same apps:

  • (ISC)² Official CISSP Tests. Good app with some limitations. A few questions had wrong answers. There is no way to mark a question when you are taking a practice test. Once you are done with the practice test and exit the app, your results are gone.
  • CISSP Practice Tests. Use the free version. Found a few errors, but overall good.

I used a number of other free apps but as I'm checking now, they are either discontinued, or were not very good.


  • Chegg Prep. Used it for building flashcards for the topics I needed to review. Terrible app, but it's the one I started to use and it was too late to switch. It can get you by.


For every topic that I struggled with, I just searched the Internet for the best resource (in most cases, video) to cover it. There are too many to list, but I want to mention this one because it helped me a lot to learn about networking (one of my weak areas):


Spent a lot of time here:


How I passed the CISSP exam

Best of luck to all learners. You can do it!

How I passed the CISSP exam

Summary: How I studied and passed the CISSP exam.

On April 17, 2021, I passed the CISSP exam. The exam seemed easier than I had expected it to be, but the road to it was long and hard. I studied intensively for almost a year and practically had no life for four months before the exam. After passing the exam, I shared some insights on the CISSP Exam Preparation - Study Notes and Theory group's Facebook page. This is a slightly redacted copy of that post in case something happens to Facebook. If you are planning to take the exam, check it out along with my other post summirizing the list of resources that I found helpful.


I took the exam today [April 17, 2021] for the first time and was done after 100 questions. Having not taken any exams since my college days (20 years ago) and understanding that there are still many areas where I was not fluent, I was about 50% certain I would not pass (actually, considered rescheduling a few times), so it was short of a miracle. Many thanks to Luke [Ahmed] and this [Facebook] group for helping me get ready. It was invaluable. Best of luck to everyone who is going to try it again. Here are some thoughts that may help others.


Frankly, it was not as hard as I had expected it to be after hearing horror stories. Maybe I got lucky and should just praise God. Or maybe after all the training I had done I was finally in the right mindset. Or maybe both. Anyway, as people say, the questions were indeed not like the questions in the prep tests, but not necessarily in a worse way. I have seen a lot more difficult questions when using Boson and prep apps. I think I had five or so questions that I did not get at all and just picked the answers by gut feeling. I was not sure about a dozen or so questions were, but mostly I felt pretty good. Since they don't give you the answers, it's hard to say what I did right and what I did wrong, but for a few, the answers seemed more revealing than the questions. I was surprised that all abbreviations were spelled out (I thought only ambiguous abbreviations would be spelled out, so could've saved time not learning them and not freaking out about not being able to remember them all). Didn't have any questions that would require calculations or using the pen and paper. Yes, there were questions about some basic laws, regulations, and frameworks but they were all in the context of a described scenario. Did not have to do crypto much, but a few questions required understanding of the basic concepts and algorithm names (but nothing like "how many rounds and block sizes RC6 supports"). Overall, with a couple of exceptions, questions made sense.


Took a day off work. I scheduled the exam at 3:30 PM, but should've scheduled it earlier to get it over sooner. Watched Kelly Handerhan's "Why you WILL pass the CISSP" video to set me in the right mood.


Took Monday and Tuesday off to re-watch Thor Pedersen's UDEMY videos (for the third time) at 2x speed (we have the Udemy subscription at work). Reviewed my notes on Wednesday after work. Watched a couple of videos on Thursday and glanced over a few notes covering areas that I still did not get. Came to peace understanding that there were still some topics that I did not know very well.


Practically, had no personal life. Spent most evenings and weekends studying. Read Luke Ahmed's "How to Think Like a Manager" book. Read the "11th Hour CISSP" book. Started following CISSP Exam Preparation - Study Notes and Theory group's Facebook page and a couple of other groups. Bought "Official Study Guide, 8th Edition" and "Official Practice Tests, 2nd Edition". Read a couple of chapters of the official study guide and realize that I couldn't hold all this info in my head, so only used it as reference. Have not used the practice tests book at all because I bought the Official Practice Tests app for Android and it was pretty much the same (UPDATE: Looks like there is a new and better free version available now: CISSP - (ISC)² Official App). Used a number of free test prep apps (pretty much everything I was able to find at the Google play store, some of them were quite useful). Practiced Boson tests (highly recommend). Also tried to do a couple of Boson labs and realized they were mostly a waste of time. I think I practiced something between 1,500 and 3,000 questions. I stopped using each practice app once I realized that the questions started to recycle. A side note about apps: none of them are perfect (some have wrong answers, some have other issues), but I would still recommend everything I used: Boson, official study test prep app, and other apps. By the end, I was getting about 75%-85% on tests on average, depending on the platform. When doing tests, I used Chegg Prep to keep notes of everything I struggled with. I mostly did tests in prep mode and tried to analyze the wrong answers. Did timed exercises, as well, just to get an idea.


Gave up resisting my manager who insisted on me getting the CISSP certification. Watched Thor Pedersen's Udemy course (a couple of times). Started listening to the old Kelly Handerhan's audio version of the CISSP prep course (pretty much listened to it at 1.5x speed all the time I was in a car driving alone; I think I listened to them 2-3 times). Bought the Boson prep app and then realized that it was only a practice app (no training materials other than labs) and it would expire 6 months after starting to use it, so I held off until I was more or less ready.


A software guy. 20+ years of IT (mostly, InfoSec) development experience. Didn't know much about infrastructure, networks, firewalls, etc (before I started studying for the CISSP exam).


Resources that helped me pass the CISSP exam