Is CISSP Hard? 10 Tips To Pass It On The First Attempt

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is cissp hard

Contemplating a career in cybersecurity? The Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification, by ISC2, likely crossed your path. It is a highly recognized credential within the industry signifying a deep understanding of information security best practices. But let’s be honest. The CISSP exam has a reputation for being brutal. 

So, is CISSP hard? While the pass rate for CISSP is lower than 50%, indicating it’s a tough exam, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. This guide cuts through the hype and delivers a straightforward answer. We’ll dissect the exam’s format, delve into the factors that contribute to its difficulty, and most importantly, equip you with the knowledge and strategies to conquer this prestigious credential. 

Whether you’re a seasoned IT professional or a cybersecurity aspirant, this comprehensive breakdown will shed light on what it takes to master CISSP, and by the end, you’ll have a clear picture of what this certification entails and more importantly, whether you’re ready to take it head-on. 

What Is The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Certification?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional, administered by (ISC)², stands as a globally recognized benchmark for information security expertise. Earning this certification demonstrates your proficiency in a broad range of cybersecurity concepts and best practices, making you a highly desirable asset in today’s constantly changing tech space. 

Earning you CISSP has many benefits:

Career Advancement

The CISSP certification is your boost to career growth. It demonstrates your commitment to information security and positions you as a highly sought-after candidate for organizations seeking top cybersecurity talent. With the constantly changing tech space, skilled professionals are in high demand and the CISSP signifies your ability to navigate this complex domain.

Increased Earning Potential

Studies consistently show that CISSP holders command higher salaries compared to their non-certified counterparts. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of CISSP professionals is $112,302 per year. This translates to a significant return on investment for your time and effort spent on obtaining this certification.

Validation Of Your Knowledge

The CISSP exam is rigorous and comprehensive. Passing it demonstrates a strong foundation in information security principles and best practices. This validation is invaluable when applying for jobs or seeking promotions. Employers recognize the CISSP is the gold standard for cybersecurity expertise, giving you a clear edge over non-certified candidates.

Global Recognition

The CISSP certification is respected worldwide. Whether you’re looking to work domestically or internationally, the CISSP signifies your expertise and opens doors to new opportunities. The global cybersecurity space is interconnected and this certification is a universally recognized symbol of your qualification, enhancing your marketability regardless of location. 

Learn More: Complete Guide To CISSP Certification

A Look At The CISSP Exam Structure

Exam Format 

Multiple choice and advanced innovative items

No. Of Questions 


Exam Duration 

3 Hours

Passing Score 



English, Chinese, German, Japanese

and Spanish

Testing Center 

ISC2 Authorized PPC and PVTC Select Pearson VUE Testing Centers

CISSP Key Domains

Major Domains

What They Cover 

Respective Weightage 

Security and Risk Management

This domain delves into the fundamentals of security risk management covering topics like 


Asset Security

Here, you’ll explore different asset security controls like data classification, access control, and encryption to safeguard sensitive information


Security Architecture and Engineering

This domain focuses on designing and implementing secure network architectures, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and secure system administration practices


Communication and Network Security

Understanding secure communication protocols like cryptography, secure network design principles, and wireless network security is crucial in this domain.


Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Mastering user authentication, authorization, and access control mechanisms is paramount for securing systems and data.


Security Assessment and Testing

This domain emphasizes vulnerability scanning, penetration testing methodologies, and incident response procedures.


Security Operations 

Effectively monitoring and managing security events, incident response procedures, and security information and event management (SIEM) systems falls under this domain.


Software Development Security

Understanding secure coding practices, secure software development lifecycles (SDLC), and application security vulnerabilities is essential in this domain.


Uncover the absolute best: Best Risk Management Tools and Techniques

Why Is CISSP Hard? Factors That Add To It’s Difficulty

Exam Format

  • Number Of Questions:

The CISSP exam utilizes the variable length format with a minimum of 100 questions and a maximum of 150 questions. This means that the exam adapts to your performance. Answer correctly, and you’ll likely face more challenging questions. Struggle on some questions and the exam might adjust the difficulty level accordingly.

  • Time Limit

You will have a maximum of 6 hours to complete the exam. Effective time management is crucial as rushing through questions can lead to mistakes. 

  • Questions Types

The CISSP exam primarily consists of multiple-choice questions. However, it may also incorporate situational judgment tests (SJT) questions which require you to analyze a scenario and choose the most appropriate course of action based on security best practices. 

Deep Level Of Knowledge

Mastering the security universe, the CISSP exam boasts a wide scope. It encompasses the eight domains of the CISSP Common Body Of Knowledge (CBK), targeting information security 

The sheer level of knowledge required to navigate these eight domains contributes significantly to the exam’s difficulty. You will need to go beyond memorizing facts and develop a solid understanding of how these security principles interweave to create a comprehensive  

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Eligibility Requirements

The path to obtaining the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification involves meeting specific eligibility criteria outlined by (ISC)². The key eligibility requirements for CISSP certification is as follows:

  • CISSP candidates are required to have a minimum of five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight CISSP domains. 
  • Candidates with a post-secondary degree (bachelor’s or master’s) in computer science, information technology (IT), or equivalent education can fulfill one year of the required experience. Part-time work as well as internships can count towards experience requirements. 
  • Candidates who do not meet the full five years of experience can also obtain a one-year waiver by possessing an approved credential from the (ISC)² approved list.

Here is where the challenge lies. Filling the gap between textbook knowledge and practical application. The exam heavily emphasizes this ability to analyze security situations, identify vulnerabilities, and recommend appropriate security controls based on your experience and understanding of best practices. 

Click here:  to learn more about experience requirements for CISSP

Beyond Memorization: The Test of Application

Cramming facts for a one-time exam might work for some but that strategy won’t cut it for the CISSP. This exam is designed to assess your ability to apply security knowledge to real-world situations. You’ll encounter scenarios that will require you to analyze risks, troubleshoot security incidents, and make informed decisions based on your security expertise. 

The focus on application, rather than rote memorization adds another layer of difficulty, demanding a deeper understanding of security principles and how they translate to practical solutions. 

The Adaptive Exam

The unpredictable nature of CAT, adds another layer of psychological pressure, the CISSP exam utilizes Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). This means that the exam dynamically adjusts the difficulty level of questions based on your performance. Answer a question correctly and you’ll likely face a more challenging one. 

Next, struggle on a few questions and the exam might offer you a slightly easier one. This unpredictable nature can be mentally taxing as you never quite know what to expect around the next corner. The CISSP exam is undeniably challenging but with the right preparation, a strong foundation in information security concepts, and a strategic approach, you can conquer this cybersecurity milestone.

cissp preparation tips

10 Effective CISSP Preparation Tips

The (ISC)² CISSP exam validates your broad knowledge of cybersecurity and your ability to apply it in real-world scenarios. While challenging, with the right preparation and a strategic approach, you can confidently pass this exam and advance your cybersecurity career. Here are 10 CISSP preparation tips to conquer the CISSP exam:

1. Understand the Exam Blueprint

The first step is to thoroughly understand the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). The CBK outlines the eight domains tested on the exam and their relative weightings. Familiarize yourself with each domain to ensure you allocate sufficient study time to each one. (ISC)² offers a free CBK on their website. We have even covered the core areas in the section above.

2. Embrace the Official Resources

ISC2 official resources: As the governing body for the CISSP certification, ISC2 offers many different official study materials. 

  • CISSP Official Study Guide: Offered by ISC2 experts dive deep into the eight domains of the CISSP CBK. These serve as the primary foundation for your exam preparation, providing detailed explanations, key concepts, and practice questions. 
  • CISSP CBK Reference: This digital resource offers a concise overview of the CISSP CBK domains. Consider using it as a quick reference guide to refresh your memory on specific topics or to navigate the broader space of infosec. 
  • Official ISC2 Practice tests: Sharpen your skills and gauge your exam readiness with practice tests offered by ISC2. These practice exams simulate the actual exam format, question styles, and difficulty level, allowing you to identify areas needing further attention. 

3. Reliable Training Courses

Consider enrolling in a reliable CISSP training course from established providers. These courses offer several advantages:

  • In-depth explanation: Seasoned instructors will provide detailed explanations of the CISSP CBK domains ensuring a thorough understanding of security concepts best practices, and industry standards. 
  • Practical Exercise: Many training courses incorporate hands-on exercises and labs, allowing you to apply your theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. This practical application strengthens your understanding and prepares you for the problem-solving nature of the CISSP exam. 

In fact, ISC2 itself offers multiple CISSP training courses that are tailored specifically to aid you in understanding the underlying concepts of this exam. 

4. Craft a Personalized Study Plan

There’s no magic formula for CISSP preparation. Develop a study plan that aligns with your learning style, schedule, and preferred learning methods. Here are some tips for crafting an effective plan:

  • Identify Your Learning Style: Are you a visual learner who thrives on diagrams and flowcharts? Or do you prefer an auditory approach with lectures and podcasts? Understanding your learning style allows you to choose study resources and techniques that resonate best with you.
  • Schedule Dedicated Study Time: Block out dedicated time in your calendar for focused CISSP study sessions. Consistency is key, so aim for regular study sessions, even if they are shorter in duration.
  • Break Down the Material: The CISSP CBK covers a vast amount of information. Divide the material into smaller, more manageable chunks based on the eight domains. This approach prevents feeling overwhelmed and allows you to focus on specific topics in a more concentrated manner.
  • Integrate Active Learning Techniques: Passive reading won’t suffice for the CISSP exam. Engage in active learning techniques like:
    • Taking detailed notes while studying, summarizing key concepts in your own words, and creating mind maps to visualize relationships between different concepts.
    • Participating in online discussions and forums, where you can explain concepts to others and solidify your understanding.
    • Utilizing Official CISSP flashcards to test your knowledge on key terms, acronyms, and security protocols.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

Practice is crucial for solidifying your knowledge. How will you gauge your understanding if you don’t test yourself? Practice exams and questions act as a dress rehearsal for the actual exam. (ISC)² offers an official practice test, but consider using additional resources to broaden your exposure. 

Invest in reliable practice tests or other practice resources, such as Edurely, that mirror the exam format and cover all domains and question types. Analyze your performance after each test, identify knowledge gaps, and adjust your studying accordingly. Each practice session is an opportunity to refine your understanding and build stamina for the exam day.

6. Time Management is Your Ally

Time is of the essence in the CISSP exam. Simulate the actual exam duration with practice tests and gradually improve your speed and accuracy. Learn to prioritize questions based on their weight and difficulty. Develop strategic test-taking techniques like skipping confusing questions and coming back to them later. Effective time management can significantly impact your final score.

7. Go Beyond Memorization: Focus on Understanding

Cramming facts won’t help you pass the CISSP exam. Instead, strive to understand the core concepts behind each domain and their practical application in real-world cybersecurity scenarios. This deeper understanding will equip you to tackle various question types confidently, even if they’re phrased differently than what you memorized. Build a strong foundation of knowledge, not just a collection of memorized facts.

8. Prioritize Self-Care

Don’t underestimate the power of a healthy mind and body! Get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and manage stress levels through exercise or relaxation techniques like meditation. A well-rested and focused mind performs better under pressure. Prioritize your well-being throughout your preparation journey. Remember, a healthy you is a successful you!

9. Seek Help When Needed

Nobody knows everything. If you encounter challenges or get stuck on specific concepts, don’t hesitate to seek help. Leverage online communities and official CISSP study groups to connect with experienced professionals who can offer guidance. Utilize online resources like forums or dedicated Q&A platforms. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It can significantly accelerate your learning and understanding.

10. Believe in Yourself: Confidence is Key!

Exam day jitters are normal. But remember, you’ve put in the hard work and equipped yourself with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed. Take deep breaths, approach each question carefully, and trust your understanding and instincts. If you get stuck, don’t panic. Skip the question and come back to it later. Maintain a positive attitude and trust in your preparation. With this approach, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the CISSP exam.

Read More: Study Plan for CISSP 2024

Final Thoughts

So, the question still remains: Is CISSP Difficult? It can be demanding.  However, with the right preparation and a strategic approach, you can conquer this cybersecurity benchmark. By understanding the exam format, and the knowledge required, and by implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you can transform the CISSP challenge into a stepping stone for your cybersecurity career. 

Therefore, don’t be overwhelmed! Enroll in a reputable CISSP training course, gather the official study materials, and start building your foundation in information security. With dedication and perseverance, you can achieve the coveted CISSP credential.

Best of Luck!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The CISSP exam has a standard registration fee of $749 (USD) set by (ISC)². It’s important to note that pricing may vary depending on your location, so be sure to check the (ISC)² website for the most up-to-date information.

The CISSP certification is highly valued in the cybersecurity industry and opens doors to a wide range of mid-level to senior security positions. Examples include Information Security Analyst, Security Architect, Security Engineer, and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).

Earning potential with a CISSP certification varies depending on experience, location, and specific job role. However, CISSP holders typically command higher salaries compared to those without the certification. According to various reports, the average salary for CISSP-certified professionals falls within a range of $100,000 to $150,000 (USD) annually.

To be eligible to take the CISSP exam, you’ll need to meet the experience requirements set by (ISC)². This includes a minimum of five years of cumulative paid experience in two or more of the eight domains covered by the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). Alternatively, you can substitute one year of experience with a relevant four-year college degree or an approved cybersecurity certification program. (ISC)² also requires endorsement from a current CISSP holder to ensure your eligibility and professional conduct.

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