How I’ve Been Studying for Certifications

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the resources I used for certifications and how I study for them. I may be a little ‘extra’ with my resources after failing an exam ten years ago, but I haven’t had to retake an exam since.

These are my current certifications in the order taken:

  • 2010 (Feb): CompTIA A+
  • 2010 (March): CompTIA Network+
  • 2016 (Dec): CompTIA Security+
  • 2017 (March): (ISC)2 SSCP (Systems Security Certified Practitioner)
  • 2017 (Aug): CompTIA CySA+ (Cybersecurity Analyst)
  • 2018 (June): Cisco CCNA Cyber Ops
  • 2018 (Sept): EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • 2019 (July): Microsoft Azure Fundamentals
  • 2019 (Nov): EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

This is the condensed version of how I’ve typically been studying for certifications:

  • Use more than one source to study (courses, books, practice exams, videos, etc)
  • Go through the official exam blueprint/objectives to make sure I understand everything listed.
  • Create my own flashcards using the Quizlet or Cram apps based on the areas I need to work on. This really came in handy when I took the bus to work.
  • Create YouTube playlists of the areas I needed to work on. This also allowed me to listen to the videos during the commute to and from work, or during work instead of listening to music.
  • Play around with as many tools as possible mentioned in the exam blueprint/objectives in my home lab.
  • Schedule the certification exam when I feel ready to take it.

If you want the long version with the exact resources I used for each certification, keep reading…

I took A+ and Network+ in 2010 (when CompTIA certs were good for life) after being given the opportunity to attend technical classes through the local unemployment office. If you’re currently unemployed and want to get certified, check to see if there are education programs available in your area.

Resources Used for A+ and Network+

  • A+ and Network+ classes at TechSkills (now My Computer Career)
  • Professor Messer’s A+ and Network+ YouTube videos
  • A+ All-in-One Exam Guide by Mike Meyers
  • Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide by Mike Meyers
  • Home lab to practice troubleshooting and repairing computers

I also took a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator class at Techskills but ended up failing the MCSA exam…twice.

I didn’t go after another certification until 2016 when I took the Security+. I was married at the time and was able to take a Security+ course through a military spouse education program. If you’re a military spouse, check out MyCAA.

Resources Used for Security+

In 2017, I was able to use the same military spouse program to take an online SSCP course.

Resources Used for SSCP

  • SSCP course through Texas A&M University online
  • SSCP All-in-One Exam Guide by Darril Gibson
  • SSCP courses on Pluralsight
  • CISSP YouTube videos (There wasn’t much for SSCP)
  • Cram app to make tailored flash cards
  • Skillset CISSP questions

Later that same year, I took the CySA+ exam (known as CSA+ back then). CompTIA recommends a “minimum of 3-4 years of hands-on information security or related experience.” Now, I was working in Identity & Access Management at the time which is part of information security, but I’m pretty sure that going into various applications and documenting each user’s security access in an Excel spreadsheet wasn’t the type of experience that would help with that exam.

Resources Used for CySA+

While I was planning on taking the CEH exam, Cisco launched a Global Cyber Ops Scholarship program (now closed) with the goal of certifying 10,000 applicants by August, 2018. I was accepted into the program.

Resources Used for CCNA Cyber Ops

While I was studying for the CySA+ exam, I was given the opportunity to take a CEH course at Centriq training (an EC-Council authorized training provider). Two other certifications and one exam voucher extension later, I passed. The cost of the certification voucher wasn’t included in the training, but I was able to get the cost reimbursed after passing the exam with the Third Tier Women in IT Scholarship Program.

Resources Used for CEH

In 2019, I went through required cloud training and ended up taking the Azure Fundamentals exam. I started studying in June and passed the exam in July.

Resources Used for Azure Fundamentals

Later in 2019, I attended WGU. The CHFI certification is part of their Master’s degree program. I started the course at WGU in September and passed the CFHI exam two months later.

Resources Used for CHFI

A note about Udemy: Udemy courses go on sale all the time. If you want to spend less than $15 on a course, watch for their sales.

The title of this blog post is in the past tense because I just received the course material for the OnDemand SANS FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis course for the GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE) certification and I hear this is a completely different beast.

I will be blogging about this when I pass the exam 🙂