Preparing for certification exams can be stressful when you’re not sure what to expect or what to study. It doesn’t help when information that can help you pass is scattered across the web. That’s why I created this ultimate guide to passing the CompTIA Security+ certification, and I hope you find it useful.
This is information that I used to pass my exam on the first attempt, or that I found being recommended along the way.
In this guide, you will find the following (Table of Contents):
- CompTIA Security+ SY0-601 objectives and domains
- Useful information about the exam
- Security+ FAQ – list of most commonly asked questions with answers
- Exam studying tips – get a sense of what to expect from various resources, along with exam and studying tips
- Test-taking tips (and exam write-ups)
- Training material – list of courses, ebooks, books, practice exams, and other material that can help you study
- Acronym list – list of acronyms that may appear on the exam
- Scheduling your exam – scheduling for online or in-person
- The day of the exam – what to do and how to have a smooth experience
- After the exam: what’s next?
We want this to be a helpful resource to anyone who needs it, so if you feel like we are missing anything that should be added, please comment below the post and we’ll take a look!
Please note: this post includes many resources that link you to 3rd party websites not owned or controlled by us at Cybr. When you visit them, you leave our domain. We will do our best to keep these as up-to-date as possible.
CompTIA Security+ SY0-601 objectives and domains
First things first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Here are the official exam objectives that you will be tested on:
- 1.0 Attacks, Threats, and Vulnerabilities – 24%
- 2.0 Architecture and Design – 21%
- 3.0 Implementation – 25%
- 4.0 Operations and Incident Response – 16%
- 5.0 Governance, Risk, and Compliance – 14%
The percentages represent how much weight is put on the domain in the actual exam. This means that out of all the domains, 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 make up 70% of the exam’s questions and weighting. The final two domains are worth 30%.
This information can be helpful in determining where you should focus your studying efforts, but it’s honestly not that beneficial beyond that.
Useful information about the exam
Exam Cost and Bundles
Since early 2022, the exam will cost you roughly $381. I say roughly because you can sometimes find discounts (like during Black Friday) that knock it down to maybe $330 or so. Sometimes, I also run free exam voucher giveaways on Twitter, so you might get lucky and win a voucher from me (or someone else). But otherwise, that’s going to be the lowest cost you can expect to pay, and all that gives you is a voucher you use to register for the exam itself.
CompTIA also offers bundles, such as:
- Basic Bundle
- Exam Prep Bundle
- eLearning Bundle
The Basic Bundle includes:
- Exam voucher, plus
- 1 exam retake, plus
- The “Official” CompTIA study guide eBook
All of that for $549 at the time of writing.
The Exam Prep Bundle includes everything from the Basic Bundle, but it also includes:
- CompTIA CertMaster Practice for Security+ (Individual License)
That one also includes training material for 1 individual, and for $699 at the time of writing.
Finally, they also sell an eLearning Bundle for $949, which is:
- Exam voucher, plus
- 1 exam retake, plus
- CompTIA CertMaster Learn + Labs for Security+ (Individual License)
For more information on the latest pricing and structure, you can go here.
Should you buy those bundles?
I’m obviously biased because I sell training material for the Security+, but personally, I would not buy their bundles — especially not their learning or exam prep bundles. For one, the reviews on their own website aren’t great, and second, you are paying an extra $318 for the eBook, course, and retake. Instead, if you were to purchase the Basic Bundle to get that extra retake, that’s only $168 more in comparison. That means they are valuing their course at $150. You could buy 5-6 great courses for that price difference.
The retake option could be helpful if you’re not feeling confident about your ability to pass because you will pay $168 more instead of another $381. Plus, since you get the eBook with that Basic Bundle in addition to the retake, that means it won’t be a complete loss (just a very expensive eBook) if you pass the first time around.
It’s your money, so you do what you want, but that’s my 2 cents. If your employer is paying for it, then get whatever you want as long as the budget fits!
Topics covered in the exam and experience recommendations
Most of the information in the next couple of sections can be found on the official CompTIA exam guide which you can view and download here.
The exam is designed to test a candidate’s skills and knowledge in the following areas:
- Assess the security posture of an enterprise environment and recommend and implement appropriate security solutions
- Monitor and secure hybrid environments, including cloud, mobile, and IoT
- Operate with an awareness of applicable laws and policies, including principles of governance, risk, and compliance
- Identify, analyze, and respond to security events and incidents
To do this successfully, it technically means that you need experience in the cybersecurity and IT field. CompTIA claims that the above is the equivalent of two years worth of hands-on experience working in a security or systems administrator job role.
With that said, you do not technically need to have two years worth of experience. No one will check that before letting you take the exam, and I’ve known plenty of people who have taken and passed the exam with zero prior experience. It will take you longer to study if that’s you, but it’s absolutely possible.
Number and type of questions, and passing score
The exam will have a maximum of 90 questions. That doesn’t mean you will get 90 questions…I only had 83 total questions on my version of the exam, and 3 of them were performance-based questions, meaning that I only had 80 multiple choice questions.
Speaking of…the exam is made up of multiple choice questions (pick between A, B, C, etc…) and performance-based questions (frequently referred to as PBQs).
If you’re not sure what PBQs are, here are a few examples of the types of PBQs you could expect to see on your exam.
The passing score is 750 on a scale of 100 to 900. So the best score you could possibly get is 900, and the lowest is 100. As long as you get a 750, you’re good to go. Of course, some people will feel better if they score higher, but your score is kept private and is not something you ever have to reveal to anyone. So apart from personal ego, a score beyond 750 doesn’t matter much.
Security+ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
This section contains a list of the most commonly asked questions about the CompTIA Security+. Have a question we didn’t include here or didn’t answer in the post? Comment below and we’ll include it!
- Is the CompTIA Security+ certification for beginners?
- Is the CompTIA Security+ certification worth it? (Will it help me get a job?)
- What does the CompTIA Security+ cover?
- Is the exam open book?
- How long is the certification good for once you pass?
- When does the 501 expire? Hint: it’s been deprecated already
- When does the 601 expire?
- Security+ vs Network+ vs A+, which is easiest?
Exam studying tips (how to pass the exam)
Some of these tips will apply to just about everyone, while others will depend on whether you have any prior IT/cybersecurity experience or not. It will also depend on your learning style, such as whether you prefer watching videos or reading notes.
If you already have some IT/cybersecurity experience
If you already have IT/cybersec experience, then here’s what I would recommend to speed up your studying.
Start by enrolling in a course, buying a book, or just using some of the study notes that are shared later in this post to get a general sense of what topics are covered in the exam.
This is the first step because even if you have 10 years of experience, you are going to encounter topics in the exam that you’ve forgotten or that you were never really exposed to during those 10 years. As you run across those topics in the materials you’re using, jot them down as areas you should brush up on, and then focus your studying there.
Once you’re back up to speed, then I recommend taking at least one practice exam. This will do a few things:
- It will either be a wake-up call that you need to study more, or a reinforcement that you know most of the topics
- It will give you a general sense of what the real exam will be like which can be very helpful in framing your studying
- It will tell you exactly where you still have knowledge gaps and need to focus your studies
For me, that wake-up call was for networking-related topics. I’ve never liked networking and it’s not a topic that I’ve used very often in my line of work, so that’s where I needed to focus most of my studying. Yours might be totally different. The above steps are the best way to find out.
If you don’t have IT/cybersecurity experience
If you don’t have any IT/cybersec experience, or if you’re very new to the field, I would not recommend that you start right away with taking a full-length practice exam. It will be overwhelming, you will bomb it, and it won’t really give you any valuable insights.
However, it wouldn’t hurt to get a sense of how the exam works and how the questions are worded/laid out. To do that, you can request free practice test questions from CompTIA directly. You just fill out the form, select the Security+ checkbox, and they will give you a few different questions to look at.
Again, don’t look at those questions and get overwhelmed/discouraged because you don’t know the answers. Think of those as just a way to familiarize yourself with the layout of the questions and how exam questions will be formatted.
After that, the real work begins. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to studying. Continue reading the general advice for recommendations on how to maximize that.
General advice for passing the CompTIA Security+ certification
There are 5 main methods of training for this exam:
- Courses (online or in-person)
- Books (physical or Ebooks)
- Practice exams
- Study guides
- Cohorts (aka study groups)
Different strokes for different folks. Some people prefer watching videos instead of reading, and vice versa. The only thing that I can say will for sure help is having access to multiple different training sources.
Even if a course or book you purchased covers every single subject that’s in the exam, you will miss some details the first time around. Or maybe a different instructor, author, or piece of content will explain it in a different way that makes a lot more sense to you.
There are a number of reasons why you should use multiple sources, so I highly recommend that. Any training provider that tells you otherwise is not being honest (and this is coming from a training provider recommending you buy from competitors too).
What to look for in courses
I’ll get this out of the way right away: I rarely recommend in-person courses. They are usually extremely expensive and they cram too much information in too short a period of time. Unless your organization is paying for it (and forcing you to attend), I wouldn’t bother. There are more effective ways to learn, in my opinion.
When buying courses, here are some tips:
- Watch the preview lessons to get a sense of the quality and how engaging the delivery is
- Reviews are important (though they’re becoming harder and harder to trust — more on that below)
- Understand what you are purchasing (is it just lessons or also practice exams?)
- Check how the syllabus is laid out (does it map directly to domains? Or is it all over the place?)
The biggest indicator that people rely on is typically reviews on 3rd party platforms like reddit, blog posts, etc…that’s great and is typically a great indicator, but keep in mind that the big and entrenched players will get most of the attention. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best or only option.
Next, people usually look at Udemy reviews. With Udemy reviews especially, I highly recommend looking at the reviews with written explanations. As an author with a few courses on their platform, I can tell you that Udemy’s rating system is busted. Their user interface makes it really easy to accidentally rate the course incorrectly. Unfortunately, they care more about the volume of reviews than the quality or trust-worthiness of reviews. So for the most part, ignore the reviews with no context and read through the ones that provide an explanation. That will give you a much better idea of what to expect.
There are also easy ways to fake reviews on Udemy (same with Amazon and most e-commerce, by the way). You can go on sites like Fiverr and pay $5 for someone to give a few hundred people access to your course for free in exchange for positive reviews. Those reviews will typically have no text or broken English and very little helpful information in the review text.
So just be on the lookout for those red flags, but also don’t feel like you have to follow the crowd if another course fits you better.
Courses with labs (worth the extra dough?)
I’ve seen this asked a couple of times so I wanted to mention it — “This course has labs in it, but it’s more expensive. Are the labs worth the extra cost?”
I can’t believe I’m saying this because I truly believe the best way to learn is hands-on and through labs, but the truth is that I haven’t found labs to be super helpful for this specific exam. With that said, if you buy a course that comes with labs, take advantage of those! More doesn’t hurt. It’s just that I wouldn’t pay a lot more to get access to labs for this specific exam, especially if you have even just some IT experience.
Books (physical and Ebooks)
Some people will read books cover to cover either instead of enrolling in video courses or as supplemental material.
Others will use books mostly as reference material.
Similar to what I mention in the study guides section below, books can be fantastic reference material. As you use other resources (say video courses), you can also flip to that chapter in the physical or virtual book to compare what’s being mentioned. Maybe the video lesson includes more or less details, or maybe one source explains it in a way that clicks better with you.
Yet again, maybe it’s a topic that you are struggling with and you will need to come back to it at a later time. You can bookmark that page and/or highlight specific sections so that you know to go back to it.
Finally, books can be a great way to practice active recall, which can be an effective study technique. The process is simple:
- Read a chapter
- Close the book
- Write down everything you can remember about the topic
- Compare what you wrote to the chapter
- What did you miss?
- What was wrong?
This, of course, could also be applied to individual lessons in courses, and not just books.
Quick self-plug: Cybr’s course includes written lessons of the video you’re watching, so you can watch the video and reference lesson notes at the exact same time, afterwards, or even before. This is not something you usually get with online courses and it makes a big difference for a course like this.
Practice exams are very helpful for this type of certification exam. There’s no doubt about that. The problem comes when people only use practice exams to “study” or they go around asking for exam dumps that they can memorize. That is never, ever, ever, ever the correct way to study for these exams. Even if you got an exact copy of your exam and memorized all of the answers, what’s the point? Congrats, you passed, but you don’t know anything.
The piece of paper isn’t worth all that much. It might help a little bit in getting a job (more on that here), but you won’t be able to get any job that’s worth getting since you won’t know the basics. Any decent interviewer will be able to pick up on the fact that you memorized concepts and you don’t really have a clue how to apply them to the real world.
If they don’t, frankly it’s not a place you will want to work at.
Instead, the best way to use practice exams is to figure out your knowledge gaps. Where are you struggling? Where do you need to focus your studying efforts? Do you consistently miss networking questions but almost always pass the malware questions? Great! Now you know to focus on networking concepts.
They will also help you figure out when you’re ready to sit for the actual exam because you will comfortably go through multiple different variations of practice exams. Otherwise, you’re probably not ready.
Again, I recommend getting practice exams from at least a couple of different sources.
If you take anything away from this post on passing the CompTIA Security+ certification exam, it’s that practice exams are super helpful but they shouldn’t be the only resource you use. Otherwise, even if you pass, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
Study guides (I link to a few further in this post under Training Material) are a great resource when used properly. If your plan is to read study guides line-by-line and memorize what’s in them, then I’m afraid you are missing the point. Unless you have a photographic memory like Mike from the show Suits (most people don’t), you will forget what you read 10 lines above after a few minutes.
Instead, I recommend using study guides as reference material. As you go through and study using the other resources mentioned in this section, when you come across a term or subject you’re struggling with or haven’t heard of before, look it up in those study guides (and/or make your own). They will 1) provide additional context, and 2) help you make bookmarks of topics you’re struggling with the most so you can focus on those.
For example, you could have the most difficult topics highlighted in study guides so that you focus on those exclusively a week before the exam as a way to refresh your memory and understanding.
Finally, study guides can also help you make sure you’ve covered all important topics. Most courses and books will contain hours upon hours of material. It’s easy to get lost and lose track of what you’ve learned and what you have left to learn, or what you need to review. Study guides help you keep track.
Just don’t think of them as resources you have to memorize, and they’ll be helpful.
Cohorts (aka study groups)
There are free study groups and then there are paid study groups (sometimes called cohorts). Study groups can be fantastic for the right type of person. For example, I’m personally not the type of person that typically gets value from attending study groups for this type of exam. I much prefer studying on my own time and figuring it out myself.
My wife, on the other hand, much prefers the study group approach. She wants the accountability and structure that comes from it because otherwise she struggles to stick with it. If you’re like her, you may get a lot of value from study groups.
Free study groups will typically be less structured, more random, and they won’t have as much accountability.
Paid study groups / cohorts will typically provide much more structure and accountability, and they may come with “office hours” or 1:1s for extra help and attention.
Again, these can be highly valuable for the right type of person but they aren’t needed for everyone. Know thyself.
What’s the best way to study? Tips, tricks, tactics
Finally, regardless of the resources you use, here are some studying techniques that have either shown a lot of promise or have been backed by research to prove their effectiveness. These can help you in passing the CompTIA Security+ certification exam.
- Don’t stress – stress will eat at you and you’ll lose your nerve
- Get plenty of sleep – it’s been proven over and over again that lack of sleep results in less information retention
- Dedicate study time on your calendar – stick to it as best you can, but life sometimes gets in the way and that’s OK
- If you can’t explain a concept to someone else, you don’t truly understand it
One of the best ways to avoid stress is to give yourself enough study time. You don’t want to give yourself so much time that you don’t feel a little bit of pressure, but you also don’t want so much pressure that you’re stressing out and it’s affecting your studies.
As a bonus, though this won’t always be possible, try to schedule your study sessions around the same time in the day that you will be taking your exam (assuming you’ve already scheduled it, and if not, I recommend you do). This will “train” your brain to be in study / test-taking mode at the same time every day. Even if you can only do this 2 weeks prior to the exam date, it will still help.
Also, make sure you get uninterrupted studying time. If you already know to expect distractions, remove those distractions. If family members need to give you space, tell them that. Come up with some indication that you are studying, and communicate to everyone that’s your alone time.
Next, if your idea of studying is just to pull up a course or book and binge through it, I’m afraid that’s probably one of the least effective study methods you could follow. Instead of explaining good techniques in-depth here, I will link to a number of them that are explained much better than I could.
- Spaced repetition – helps avoid cramming (which does not work)
- Retrospective Timetables – helps organize your studying
- The Feynman technique – aka “the best way to learn anything”
- The SQ3R method & PQ4R method – especially helpful for books
- Active recall – helpful for both courses and books
- Mind mapping and Spider Diagrams – especially helpful for visual learners & organizing topics
- Major Method System & Memory/Mind Palace – helpful for memorizing facts and numbers (like port numbers)
- Cornell Note Taking System – helps take much more useful notes through its format and by having you ask questions instead of writing down what was said or read
Also, if you (like me) struggle to study for uninterrupted sessions of time because you get easily distracted, the Pomodoro Technique has been a huge help for me.
For creating flashcards, I’ve heard Anki is a helpful tool.
Finally, this is a really helpful video that ties in best practices for studying if you need more help in this area. One of the key points made in the video is to study with friends. To find others studying for the Security+ exam who can help hold you accountable, join our Discord!
Test-taking tips (and exam write-ups)
While your chances of passing the exam are mostly determined by your preparations before taking the exam, there are undoubtedly things you can do while taking the exam that will also increase your odds of passing. That’s what we’ll talk about in this section.
Write down facts and other concepts on the provided sheets of paper
I’m not good at memorizing things, so I don’t want to rely on my memory during the exam. I’d much rather dump out all of my memorized facts (things like port numbers you never use, for example) on the provided pieces of paper and with the provided pencil. Do that the second you sit down — even before you start the exam. This is allowed and highly recommended.
Write down as much as you can remember, and then that way you are freeing up brain capacity to focus on the exam instead of focusing on trying not to forget stuff.
Then, as you go through the exam, some stuff may pop in your head as you read other questions. If that happens, remember you can write down those thoughts on paper which might be useful later in the exam, or for prior questions you marked for review.
Don’t get stuck on the PBQs
Performance-based questions will be the first questions you see when you start the exam. If you can quickly knock them out, then go for it. Otherwise, mark them for review and move on to the next. You can always go back to PBQs at the end when you’ve answered all the other questions.
Otherwise, PBQs can eat up your time and stress you out which can cause you to start second-guessing yourself.
Don’t get stuck on questions until the end
Mental fatigue is real. The last thing you want to do is expend all of your mental energy trying to solve questions you’re not sure about, and then you move on to the easier questions and mess them up because you’re mentally tired.
If you run across questions you’re not sure and can’t answer relatively quickly, mark them for review and go back to them at the very end. Instead, knock out the easy questions first.
Again, this helps avoid messing up easy questions due to mental fatigue, but it also ensures you don’t run out of time and make mistakes rushing through easy questions.
Be cautious of second guesses
I don’t think I’ve ever taken an exam where I haven’t gone back to look over it at the end and come across a question / answer that now seems wrong even though I was pretty sure it was right.
Sometimes, this second-guessing helps me fix mistakes that maybe became more clear and obvious as I answered other similar questions later on in the exam.
Other times, this second-guessing has cost me points because I had the correct answer initially and then changed it at the last minute.
Just be cautious of this and don’t change it unless you’re confident.
Narrow down potential answers
Pretty much every question on the exam will have at least 1 answer that’s definitely not correct. Sometimes 2 of the answers will be like that, and so you’re left with (usually) only 2 potential answers. (Sometimes there are more than 4 potential answers for a given question)
Especially if you’re not 100% sure of the correct answer, you will want to go with the process of elimination. Eliminate all of the potential answers that you know are not correct so that you’re left with fewer options. If it’s down to only 2 potential answers, then that means you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right if you have to guess.
Those are much better odds than 25% if you’re dealing with 4 potential answers!
Here are some exam write-ups that can provide additional information and context:
- “Test taking and study tips on these exams that are not all over this forum“
- “Landing your first job and certification in cybersecurity with Emily Pearson” [Podcast]
- “How I passed CompTIA Security+ on the first attempt…and how you can too!“
- “How I passed the CompTIA Security+ 501 exam” (older version but still relevant)
- “CompTIA Security+ exam – my experience and prep tips” (older version but still relevant)
If you come across others that are free and helpful, please mention in the comments. Would love to add them here.
While we offer our own training course, ebook, and practice exams to help you pass the exam, I don’t want this to be a biased guide — I want it to be a genuinely helpful resource. So the list below is a list curated from asking numerous people as well as scouring the web for recommendations.
It is in no particular order and I am not endorsing any of these (except my own). They’re just resources that I’ve heard good things about.
Courses and practice exams
- Cybr’s SY0-601 Online Course
- Cybr’s SY0-601 Practice Exams
- Free & Paid
- Professor Messer’s SY0-601 course
- Professor Messer’s SY0-601 practice exams
- Jason Dion’s SY0-601 Course + Practice Exam
- Total Seminars SY0-601 Course + Practice Exam
- TIA Education SY0-601 Course + Practice Exam
- CBTNuggets SY0-601 Course + Practice Exam
- ITPro.tv SY0-601 Course + Practice Exam
- Cybr’s SY0-601 ebook (coming soon)
- Darril Gibson’s SY0-601 study guide
- Ian Neil’s SY0-601 study guide
- Wm. Arthur Conklin & Greg White’s SY0-601 study guide
- Mike Chapple & David Seidl’s SY0-601 study guide
- David Seidl’s SY0-601 practice exams
- Martin Weiss SY0-601 exam cram
- Security+ Notes
- SY0-501 study guide
- This is for the prior version of the exam, but at a quick glance I can confirm most of what’s in this study guide is also in the latest exam version, so this will help
Flashcards and acronym lists
Have other materials you used that helped you? Let me know!
One of the things that shocked me the most about the exam is the number of acronyms they attempt to cram. I’m really not a fan of acronyms, but if you want to pass the exam, you’re going to have to memorize many of them. If you don’t, you won’t know what the questions are asking or what the answers mean, when in reality, you might have been able to answer if only you knew the acronym.
To help with this, I went through and defined a bunch of the acronyms from CompTIA’s official PDF document, and made it available for free here: CompTIA Security+ Acronyms. This is the same list linked to above, I just wanted to explain it a bit more in a dedicated section since it’s important.
How you decide to memorize these is up to you, but many people like to use flashcards. Feel free to use that list to create your flashcards, and share with others in need!
There are also a bunch of other acronym lists and flash cards created by the community and available on Quizlet. Here’s an example.
Scheduling your exam
Scheduling the exam is straightforward. Start here and select whether you want to take the exam at a remote testing center, or from home. Selecting your preferred option will then guide you through the rest of the steps.
Taking the exam in-person
For instructions on how to take the exam from a testing center, you can go here.
Taking the exam from your home (”online testing”)
For instructions on how to take the exam from your own home or office location (the “online testing” option), you can go here.
I don’t recommend taking the exam from your own home for a number of reasons. One of which is this reddit post where the original poster said they were “kicked out of exam right when I finished the last question.”
I just took a CompTIA exam and I was just about to submit the test. I got a pop up from the proctor saying I moved my head out of frame and that I was getting kicked out. I am now at a loss and I just wished I had summited my exam 2 seconds earlier. Feels real bad.
That’s probably as bad as it gets, but I’ve heard other similar stories where you can’t even hold or touch your face (which is something I personally do when I’m thinking), or else you get warnings from the proctor.
Of course, you also have to clear absolutely everything off of your desk and in the room. You have to jump through all of these hoops, and even if you do it all right, the proctor may still screw you over as evidenced in that reddit post.
The only time I would recommend this approach is if you don’t have an exam center closer to you than 1h. If you do, don’t be lazy and go to an exam center 🙂
The day of the exam
The day of the exam will depend on whether you are taking the exam at a testing center, or whether you opted to take the exam from home. I’ve personally never taken an exam from home (it’s not for me), so I can’t comment on this experience beyond the basics of what I’ve heard from others.
If you’ve had an at-home testing experience and you’d like to contribute to this article, please let me know! Would love to add that here.
If you opted for the testing center option, here’s what you can expect:
Arrive at least 30 minutes before your exam time at the testing center so that you have time to check-in at the front desk. This will give you time to park, walk to the building, find the correct room, etc…
Plan the day before
Map out your action plan the day before:
- Figure out what time you need to leave your home to arrive there on time
- Wouldn’t hurt to print out instructions that were emailed to you
- Make sure you have your IDs laid out the night before (you don’t want to be scrambling trying to find that stuff when you need to be leaving)
The day of, make sure you grab 2 forms of identification, and either print directions to the center (they will be emailed to you), or make sure you’ll be able to access your email inbox with that information.
There’s more information on the type of accepted identification below.
Checking in at the testing center
Once you get to the testing center, you will have to check-in:
- They will make you show your identification
- They will likely make you show them confirmation of your registration, so it’s a good idea to bring a paper copy (or at least have access to email)
- They will then make you sign some paperwork and empty your pockets into a locker — you can’t have anything on you (not even a watch)
- They will then have you take a picture before walking you into the testing room
NOTE: before completing all of these steps above and entering the testing room, GO USE THE RESTROOM!
Entering the testing room
Once in the testing room, they’ll assign you a computer
- The desk should have earplugs, a couple of sheets of paper, and a pencil — these are yours to use as you choose
- The exam does not start immediately — you first have to go through agreements, instructions, etc…I believe you have about 30 minutes for this, so there’s absolutely no rush…in fact, more on this in the “tips” section, but this is a good time to brain dump on those pieces of paper
- Once you go through the first section, the actual exam timer will start, and the first question will show up
Starting your exam
When the exam starts, you’ll immediately be greeted by a few performance-based questions — the number depends on your test, but I had 3 or 4, at which point you will then only have multiple-choice questions.
They’ll mention this at the beginning and before the exam starts, but some questions may also be thrown into your pool of questions “just to test them out” — they don’t actually count towards your score, they’re just testing them for future version of the exam (most likely).
Identification that you need
Many exam locations (all the ones I’ve been to) require 2 forms of identification. If you only bring one, you will be denied entry. Typically, you can bring two IDs that match the following:
- Driver’s License
- State identification card
- Valid Passport or passport card
- Out-of-state driver’s license
- Military ID or Military ID for spouses and dependents
- National/State/Country identification card
My exam center accepted Costco membership cards because they have a signature and a picture. If it doesn’t have a picture, they won’t accept it.
The guy checking in before me almost didn’t get in (the Costco card saved him). Don’t be that guy!
After the exam: what’s next?
What’s next depends on whether you passed or failed, which is broken down below. But one thing that holds true regardless of your score is that you agreed to an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) prior to taking the test, which means you cannot share details about your exam with anyone else (both verbally and in writing). Keep that in mind!
I passed! What now?
Congratulations! That’s super exciting.
I’d love to hear what you thought of the exam in the comments below. If you have any tips not mentioned here — or tips that helped you the most — I’d love to also hear about it.
The next steps depend entirely on your reasoning for wanting to get certified in the first place.
Was it for a promotion? If so, let your manager know!
Was it to get jobs? If so, add it to your LinkedIn profile and to your resume! With that said, don’t expect job offers to start pouring into your inbox. Here’s why. If you need help getting a job, we have a number of podcast episodes that share practical tips on how to land your first job in cybersecurity.
Either way, don’t forget to post about your achievement on social media. If you’d like to tag me (@christophelimp on Twitter, Christophe Limpalair on LinkedIn), I’ll be able to jump in and congratulate you too 🙂 and please help share this guide if you found it helpful!
I failed. What now?
I’m really sorry, I know how disappointing that can be. However, there’s no point in beating yourself up over it. Happens to everyone for various reasons…it can be helpful to pinpoint the reason why though:
- Were you too nervous?
- Were you under prepared?
- Was it different than you expected?
Try to narrow down exactly what caused the mismatch so that you can fix the root cause. Our natural tendency is to blame it on others or on other reasons that were outside of our control. Resist this urge and focus on what you can improve going forward so that you can take it again and pass that time!
Then, go back through this guide and see if you missed anything or skipped steps that I recommended.
If you’re not sure or you’re stumped on how to proceed, reach out! We have a community to help with that.
I hope at least one person finds this guide helpful. I’d love to keep improving it over time, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any suggestions on how I could make it better.
If it’s helped you at all, please consider sharing it on social media so that more people can also benefit from it and can get help in passing the CompTIA Security+ certification exam!
If there’s anything we can help with in the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below or to join our Discord community.