It's official! I am now a CompTIA Certified Secure Infrastructure Specialist. What does that mean? What did I use to study? What is next? In this post I will answer those questions and share some tips that helped me on exam day as I kick off my CompTia certification journey!
What is CSIS?
The CSIS certification is a culmination of 4 CompTia Exams. Once you pass all 3 certifications (4 exams), they stack to make the a super certification the CSIS. These 3 certifications are meant to be your kickoff point towards certification pathway depending on what are of expertise you want to specialize in. I am following the security pathway so my next step is Pentest+ and CySa+.
Why CSIS and why now?
In October, I took my dream job. Teaching students about networking and security at the career tech level has been a dream of mine for a very long time. I got the job based on the time I spent in the IT field and my desire to become a teacher. The A+, Network+, and Security+ are the top level certifications that my students will work towards during their time in my class. For the last few months, I have been teaching the A+ and Network+ curriculum. Many times I found myself referencing what would be on the tests without holding the certification myself. I was feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome one would say. I wanted to fix this and Christmas break was the perfect opportunity to do so.
What did I study and how did I do it?
I want to point out that I went at these tests a little bit backwards. I started with what I would call the most advanced topics (Security+) and then Net+ and finally A+. I don't recommend this to people just starting out. These tests are NO JOKE and you should spend time learning and getting hands on as much as possible. I have been in the IT industry for about 10 years and I have an associates in networking (from 2010). With that being said, as I was going through the tests, I didn't know for sure if I had passed when I clicked submit.
How much did I study?
I studied for about 2 months for the Security+, 2 days for the Network+, and about 2 hours for the A+.
Studying for the Security+
Around the beginning of November a colleague of mine mentioned that he had already started studying for the Security+ and he had watched about 7 hours of content on ITPro TV. It was at that moment that I felt like I was behind. For the next month, every day after school I dedicated 1 hour of studying to the Security+. There were 3 resources that I used to prepare me for the test.
- The Jason Dion Security+ Udemy Course - is an amazing resources to get a broad understanding of a security concept. I watched these videos in their entirety many of them more then once. These videos do a great job of giving you an idea of the topics on the exam but I don't feel like you can pass with just these videos alone.
- Get Certified Get Ahead - is an AWESOME resource for this exam and for security concepts in general. Where Jason Dion's videos were great at introducing a topic, this book takes you the rest of the way. I read this book from cover to cover and did the chapters tests for extra practice. Throughout the book there are hands on labs that you can put your skills to good use. If you are an amazon kindle unlimited member, this book will cost you $0. If you are just getting started in Security or studying for the exam, this book is a must.
- Darril Gibson's Security+ Testing App - This app is tough. I feel like it did a great job of preparing me for the concepts that I saw on the exam. What I really like about the app is the fact that it gives you a proficiency score based on a few key factors such as number of questions answered correctly, how many times the question was answered correctly in a row, and how much time it takes you to answer the question. I made sure I was over 80% in this app before I took my test. The questions also go along with the reading from the book above so it is nice to see some familiarity.
Studying for the Network+
Studying for the Network+ was a little bit different as I feel like I have a very strong grasp on networking concepts. Over the years in the industry there are concepts that you pickup because you are hands on with them everyday. Conversely there are concepts that you don't see every day like different types of fiber connections or how to subnet that may be foreign. I knew I needed to get up to speed on some of those concepts that I never saw in my day to day IT world. Over break, I spent about 2 full days, studying the content and researching concepts that I was not 100% on to prepare me for the Network+.
- Jason Dion Udemy Course - I figured it worked well for the Security+ exam, why not do it for the Network+ exam as well! Jason does a great job explaining concepts and there are little memory aids sprinkled throughout the content that will definitely help you on test day. I struggled with the different types of fiber connectors so his tip on SC and ST connectors (Stick and Click, Stick and Twist) really helped me finally understand the differences and how to identify them. Jason also has a practice test as part of his course. I highly recommend doing the test as I felt like it was pretty close to the level of difficulty that I experienced on test day.
- Darril Gibson's Network+ Testing App - I have to admit, I think his Security+ content is much better, but this app worked for me. I needed something to get me to answer questions similar to test day and give me the overall proficiency score. The app is not only a testing app, it has flashcards and one off questions that helped trigger my brain about the different aspects of the test. There may be better apps out there for the Network+ but this one worked for me!
Studying for the A+ Exams
So, funny story about this exam, I have been scared of it since about 2010. I don't know why but for some reason, I didn't think I could pass it. I have never been a hardware guy in the sense of knowing the difference between this processor and that processor so I felt like I wouldn't be able to get a passing score. What I learned from taking this test is just how much it has changed over the years. Back in the day it was a single test and it covered the basics of computer repair. Now, fast forward to 2020 this test is not easy at all. There were quite a few Linux questions and some pretty higher end networking questions as well. Take the time and go through the prep content and you will do fine, but don't underestimate this test. Out of all 4 tests that I took, the A+ ones were my lowest scores.
Mike Meyers Udemy Courses - are full of great information about the A+ topics and a great resource to get up to speed on how computers work. Mike is both entertaining and informative and has a really good understanding of how the A+ tests work. It is worth noting that both of his courses are on sale at the time of writing this post.
Some General Tips for Test Day
I think these tips are common sense but I needed to hear them several times before my test so here we go!
- If you are taking it remotely, do the system test while you are eagerly awaiting for the proctor to show up. Make sure your desk is clear, they check everything. Also if you have second monitors setup then you need to show them that they are unplugged. There is no rhyme or reason to when the proctors show up. Don't fret.
- Turn off your ringer. During my Network+ exam one of my alarms went off and it was super annoying. I messaged the proctor and they told me I could use Siri to turn it off as long as it was on camera. Learn from my mistakes and make sure you silence your phone and turn off your alarms.
- Skip the PBQ's at the beginning of the test. On all 4 of my exams, I skipped the PBQ's so I did not get sucked into them and lose time. Simply mark them for review and come back to them at the end of the test. For me, after doing the multiple choice questions it was a welcome challenge to the hands on stuff.
- When you are scheduling your test, hit refresh often. In my experience with the online testing, spots open and close all day. When I first scheduled my A+ exam, both tests were in January. Over the next few days I would go in and reschedule and ended up getting both of them earlier this week. I suggest scheduling the tests when you are awake and not stressed.
Enjoy the Ride.
Taking these tests has been an awesome learning experience. I was in the CompTIA discord room this morning and it hit me, so many people are concerned about passing, which I get it, but enjoy the ride, enjoy those A HA moments. It is such a cool feeling when you finally understand how subnetting works and how you get that little login screen to authenticate against a domain for the first time. Learning and understanding is what these tests are about, not memorizing and regurgitating just remember that and you will do fine.
A Few Other Resources
- CompTIA Reddit - https://www.reddit.com/r/CompTIA/
- CompTIA Official Discord - https://discord.gg/syB9sEM
- CompTIA Study Group Discord - https://discordapp.com/invite/GDVMgtP
- CompTIA Wiki- https://www.reddit.com/r/CompTIA/wiki/index
- Professor Messer Videos (Great Free Resources)- https://www.professormesser.com/