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Exam Profile: (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

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Pearson IT Certification provides a variety of exam preparation tools to help our customers in their quest for certification. As part of our service to you, we have developed this Exam Profile series. Each profile is developed based on the testing experience of one of our trainers or authors. You won’t get exact questions or answers, but you will get a real feel for the exam. Each profile describes question forms, trouble spots, hints for exam preparation, and recommendations for additional study resources. In this article, Darril Gibson profiles the CISSP exam. Find out what you can expect to see on the exam and how you can better prepare for it.
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The CISSP certification is an advanced-level security certification security sponsored by International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc., or (ISC)2. It is considered by many to be the premier security certification. CISSP is often called “a mile wide and an inch deep”—indicating the wide breadth of knowledge (a mile wide) that the exam covers and that many questions don’t go into nitty-gritty details of the concepts (only an inch deep).

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the questions though; some trainers change the saying to “a mile wide and two inches deep” to remind people that these questions do have some complexity. One of the challenges with the questions is that it’s common for more than one answer to be correct. You have to know which answer is more correct based on the context of the question. Using practice questions from reputable sources is a great way to gain a better understanding of what to expect. Also, the exam is a grueling endurance contest since you’ll be answering 250 questions in six hours without any scheduled breaks.

To achieve the CISSP certification, you have to complete several steps:

  • Have five years of relevant security experience in two or more of the ten domains.
  • A maximum of one year of experience can be waived for a college degree or various other certifications such as Security+, SSCP, MCSE, MCITP or others. This page lists all of the credentials that can be used for this waiver.
  • Subscribe to the (ISC)2 Code of Ethics.
  • Pass the exam with a score of at least 700.
  • Be endorsed by an (ISC)2 certified member in good standing.

Exam Details

  • Exam Type: Proctored
  • This is a paper-based exam administered by proctors so you’ll be filling in little circles with an old-fashioned #2 pencil. It is often administered in a hotel conference room and if you take a review seminar, it is usually administered in the same location as the seminar. There will be several proctors walking around the room while you’re taking the test.
  • Number of questions: 250
  • Only 225 questions are graded. The other 25 questions are for research purposes but they are mixed into the entire 250 questions so you won’t know what questions are graded. You need to answer every question as if it’s graded.
  • Type of Questions: Multiple choice
  • The questions are basic multiple choice questions. You may have some scenario-based items where you’ll read a scenario and then answer two or more questions related to the scenario. You aren’t penalized for wrong answers, so make sure you answer each question.
  • Passing score: 700/1000
  • The questions are weighted, so a score of 700 doesn’t indicate that you need to get exactly 70 questions correct.
  • Time limit: 6 hours
  • You’re expected to arrive at 8 AM, instructions begin at 8:30, and the exam starts at 9. If you’re late, you probably won’t be allowed in. You’ll have until 3:00 PM to complete the exam.
  • How to register:
  • Registering for this exam is different than many other vendor exams such as CompTIA, Cisco, and Microsoft exams. You start the process from this page. After clicking on the link to register, you’ll be able to search for when the exam is administered in your area. There are a limited number of seats at each exam and they often sell out before the test day, so if one is in your area, sign up early. You’ll be prompted to agree to the Code of Ethics during the process. After registering, you’ll be emailed admission documents and you’ll need these documents on the day of the exam, along with a government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport.
  • Exam price: $600.
  • If you register at least 16 days early, you can get a $50 discount. In other words, you can take the exam for $550 instead of $600. However, if you have to reschedule, there’s a hefty rescheduling fee of $100.
  • Time to get results: About 4 to 6 weeks
  • Unlike many exams where you know right away whether you pass or not, you’ll need to wait for the CISSP results. (ISC)2 says you’ll get the results in your email about 4 to 6 weeks after taking the exam, but they often come a little earlier.
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