If your line of work is within the cybersecurity sector, there are a plethora of certifications you can earn if you want to boost your career even further. One of these is the CompTIA Security+ certification exam, which is, needless to say, really quite challenging. As such, we’ve created this comprehensive study guide to help you prepare and ace the certification exam. This way, you don’t have to waste any time on nuances you don’t need to learn about.
What’s So Important About the CompTIA Security+ Certification?
But before diving into the guide itself, let’s first talk about what the CompTIA Security+ certification exam is and why it’s so important. As you may or may not know, cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing IT specializations these days. Not only that but given we’re currently in the digital age and most businesses have moved online, cybersecurity is also incredibly crucial. Because of these factors, companies and organizations are always on the lookout for professionals who are experts in IT security.
At the moment, CompTIA Security+ is one of the most accepted certifications. Certifications like this help confirm that you have at the very least the basic skills needed to perform your tasks and protect security data. This particular certification deals with the most basic and fundamental concepts found in IT security. These include the following:
- Host security;
- Access and identity control;
- Threats and vulnerabilities; and
Specifically, the CompTIA Security+ certification exam ensures that you gain the necessary skills needed to respond to certain incidents and minimize—or better yet prevent—risks before they can even take place. Of course, just about anyone who wants to find employment in the cybersecurity industry can get this certification, but it’s especially ideal for security professionals and IT admins.
SY0-501 vs SY0-601
Since we’re living in an age where technology is constantly advancing and evolving, every CompTIA Security+ certification is only valid for three years. After those three years have passed, CompTIA releases a newer version of that exam to include any new updates.
For instance, the SY0-501 exam was released in 2017, while the most recent one—SY0-601—was released in 2020. So, what’s the difference, exactly? Well, the SY0-601 exam was basically a trimmed-down version of the last exam, and only covers five domains instead of six.
If you’re looking to earn your CompTIA Security+ certification, you’ll be glad to know that there aren’t any strict prerequisites. All CompTIA suggests is that exam takers should have experience as a network security admin for two years or a Network+ Certification from CompTIA in the past.
The exam lasts for about 90 minutes, and you’ll need to get a score of at least 750 on a scale of 100-900. During the exam, you’ll be forbidden from bringing in any physical writing tools, such as scratch paper, erasable whiteboards, pen, and pencils, or any material that’s specific to the exam.
Earning this particular certification opens up many doors for you in terms of employment, especially since many renowned companies are keen on hiring for roles such as IT Project Manager, Network Administrator, Junior IT Auditors, Penetration Testers, System Administrators, and more.
Other than being able to find a plethora of job opportunities, working within the CompTIA Security+ sector pays quite well. As of this year, you can expect the average yearly salary of an entry-level job to be more or less $59,009, and this increases along with your skills.
This fact may make you want to take the test as soon as possible, but it won’t be easy. Below, we’ve listed some of the best CompTIA Security+ study guides to help you prepare for the certification exam.
The Best Study Guides for CompTIA Security+
Having the right study guide can make all the difference when you’re trying to study and ace the CompTIA Security+ certification exam. As such, it’s important that you carefully pick out the books you want to use for studying because there are many prep materials out there, which you can find through a simple Google search. However, many of these random books you’ll find online don’t have a proven track record of success.
Because of this, we made sure to pick only the best study guides that were recommended by CompTIA itself and other reputable books.
The Official CompTIA Security+ Study Guide
Of course, the first one on the list is none other than the Official CompTIA Security+ Study Guide for Exam SY0-501. Not only does CompTIA promote this study guide, but it’s also the only one developed and released by the CompTIA team. This study guide covers all the objectives for the exam, and you’ll even find review questions after each unit so you can test yourself whether you’ve truly mastered what you’ve learned.
CompTIA Security+ All-in-One Exam Guide, Fifth Edition
The CompTIA Security+ All-in-One Exam Guide is also another fantastic study guide for when you’re preparing to take the certification exam. You’ll find that this book also covers a wide among of information, along with tips, explanations, features, and over 200 practice questions. This All-in-One Exam Guide has a physical version, but you can also download it for the Kindle.
Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, 2nd Edition
This book is fantastic for exploring IT vulnerabilities from the perspective of a hacker. If you’re looking to learn how hackers are able to exploit careless programming, outsmart security measures, breakthrough encrypted traffic, and more, then this is the book for you.
CompTIA Network+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 7th edition
If you want to become a Security+ professional, it’s vital that you also have solid networking skills. These skills are so important that even CompTIA recommends taking the Network+ credential exam first before taking the Security+ exam. This exam guide for the Network+ certification includes free video training, a plethora of practice exam questions, real-world examples, pre-assessments, interactive simulations, and more—all of which are incredibly useful whether you’re preparing for the Network+ exam of the Security+ one.
CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide (Exams 220-1001 and 220-1002), 10th edition
CompTIA released new A+ exams in January 2019, which extended its focus on baseline security skills. That’s why we recommend this tenth edition study guide because it covers all the new exam objectives, along with free video training, practice questions, and performance-based simulations.
How to Pass the CompTIA Security+ Certification Exam Easily
Just like most professional certification exams, passing the CompTIA Security+ exam won’t be easy. However, we understand the dire need to take this exam and earn the certification, as it can significantly bring in more opportunities for yourself and boost your career. That’s why we’re here to help: we’ve done our research and compiled a list of tips to help you pass the CompTIA Security+ certification exam in one go.
Determine Your Current Knowledge and Skill Level
First and foremost, it’s important that you know where you stand. While this isn’t obligatory, we highly recommend that you have a minimum of two years’ worth of experience within the IT administration industry—specifically focusing on security—before tackling the Security+ exam.
Of course, we’re not saying that you can’t try, but this particular exam needs you to have prior experience in performing certain tasks related to the field, such as tracing intrusions, risk mitigation and management, recognizing threats, and conducting penetration testing, among others. If you’re not familiar with these tasks already, passing the Security+ exam will be even more challenging than it already is.
Create a Study Plan
Just like most exams, one of the best ways to pass the CompTIA Security+ certification exam with flying colors is by creating a study plan—and sticking to it! As you’ve seen from the previous sections, there are several study guides you can purchase and use to help yourself prepare for the exam. Use these resources to your advantage as much as you can.
Join Online Study Groups
Most people don’t enjoy studying, especially for something as daunting as a certification exam. As such, it’s easy to lose confidence or motivation to keep going. To prevent this from happening, we highly recommend that you join an online Security+ community and form a study group with other individuals who are also preparing for the exam. You can share your thoughts with each other and ask difficult questions you don’t know the answers to.
Sign Up to Join an Online Security+ Bootcamp
You may have heard of boot camps before—highly intensive training sessions to help you prepare for the upcoming exam. There are many online boot camps out there dedicated to Security+, which take about 3-4 days. If you really want to push yourself to learn various concepts and study materials in a short span of time, then you should definitely try signing up for a Security+ Bootcamp.
Take Practice Exams
Preparing for the Security+ certification exam isn’t just about studying the different concepts. You should also take practice exams and apply what you’ve learned to ensure you’ve internalized the information. Not only that, but practice exams also help you figure out which concepts you’re weak in, allowing you to focus on those weak spots instead.
That being said, we recommend that you also practice timing yourself when answering the practice exams. The CompTIA Security+ exam is timed at 90 minutes only and has 90 questions you need to answer. As such, you should also time yourself so that you won’t panic and feel flustered during the actual exam.
Other Useful Tips
Asides from the tips mentioned above, consistent practice, focused training, and the right amount of preparation is essential to passing the certification exam. That said, here are some more tips and tricks you’ll want to keep in mind before taking the Security+ exam. These tips will definitely help you prepare better, so you shouldn’t disregard them.
Understand the Core Concepts of the Exam
For one thing, you must know for sure all the concepts and objectives that will be covered during the exam. This ensures that you’re not studying concepts that won’t appear in the exam, wasting your time as a result. Knowing the exact coverage will also help you identify which topics you need to focus your time on and which ones you know well enough.
Know Your Strong and Weak Points
As mentioned, it’s important to include practice tests in your study routine because these tests help assess your knowledge and skill level. After taking a practice test, you’ll be able to know whether you’re truly ready for the exam or if you need to prepare some more. While having factual and theoretical knowledge is important, it’s simply not enough to pass the certification exam.
By taking practice tests, you’ll be able to master the multiple-choice and performance-based questions present during the exam, which are also as fundamental.
Enhance Your Knowledge Through Training Courses
After taking the practice tests and knowing your weak points, take a formal training course dedicated to the concepts you need to work on the most. Of course, you shouldn’t just choose any provider you find online. Make sure that you choose one that has been authorized by CompTIA.
What does a formal Security+ training course entail?
For one thing, you’ll be learning straight from a professional who has mastered this line of work. As such, you’ll receive the best kind of training from someone who has ample experience already. Not only that, but you’ll also gain access to approved courseware, best practices, exam objectives, labs, and more.
Prepare for the Certification Exam
Once your formal training course is done, take the time to review your study materials again—and make sure to put extra focus on those concepts that you had more difficulty on. Remember that exam takers won’t be able to bring any reference material during the test, so make sure that you’ve sufficiently prepared.
Make sure you review all the key terms—as well as all the labs included—until you feel confident that you can ace the performance-based and multiple-choice questions. From there, you can go ahead and schedule your exam date.
Time to Take the Exam
It’s final exam day! It’s normal to feel anxious but relax, take a deep breath, and carefully read each question. After all, reading a question wrong or misunderstanding it can lead you to choose the wrong answers. As mentioned, the test will be timed, but don’t hesitate to move on to the next question if you’re stuck. You can always come back to it later once you’ve answered everything else.
Wanting to better your career options by taking certification exams is commendable, but it won’t be an easy path. Fortunately, there are tips and study guides out there that can help you prepare. We wish you luck on your journey to earning your Security+ certification!