3 Ways Lists Can Help You Prepare For the CompTIA Security+ Exam


After teaching Learning Tree’s CompTIA Security+ exam preparation course I don’t know how many times, I am more convinced than ever that, at most, about one person out of every twenty is ready to take the test on the morning after the last day of the course.

Even those uncommon people benefit from the review provided in the course. The rest need to do quite a bit of work. How can we make that work as efficient as possible?

Make the reference list you would like to have

In my undergrad days at Purdue, many professors allowed you to take one sheet of paper into the exam room.

So whatever the topic — organic chemistry, electromagnetics, Russian — you labored like a medieval monk in a scriptorium. You wanted to compress the course to that point onto one sheet of paper. Synthesis reactions, Maxwell’s equations and Smith chart examples, tables of verb conjugation and adjective and noun declension, whatever.

Then you carried your precious reference sheet into the exam and you used it very little, if at all. The process of making the crib sheet had gotten the knowledge into your head.

You cannot take anything into the CompTIA exam room, but make the study guide you would like to take.

This works because you…

1: Use the repetition of writing

Your brain is involved in another way when you’re making lists of things you need to know. This sounds like mystic claptrap, but it works. The physical act of writing and drawing helps your brain organize the information.

The thing is, you have to actually do something. Flipping back through your course notebook doesn’t help much. Taking screenshots or photographs of the screens in the classroom helps even less.

Write out lists and draw diagrams. Lists of terms and phrases, acronyms, and TCP port numbers. Flow charts of digital signature creation and checking. Decision trees of which mobile device security problems are solved by which mechanisms. Whatever you need.

That leads to…

2: Extract what matters

You must analyze the overly voluminous background material. How much of this really matters? And out of that, what do you not yet know?

How could you compress it down and make it as concise as possible, conveying the crucial information in minimal volume?

Decide how you would explain it to someone. If possible, actually do the explaining. Small children are tolerant, dogs even more so, or explain it to an imaginary person as you walk around the park or the block. Put your smartphone earpiece in your ear so people don’t think you’ve gone mad.

And finally…

3: Try different organizations

A lot of Network+ trivia in the form of TCP and UDP port numbers has leaked into Security+. Try organizing these in different ways. See which one works best for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Alphabetical by protocol
    • Maybe 3-letter acronyms in one list (DNS, SSH, …)
    • 4-letter acronyms in a second list (DHCP, SNMP, …)
    • Words in another list (Telnet, Kerberos, …)\
  • Numerical by port
    • Maybe three of these lists:  2-digit, 3-digit, and 4-digit port numbers.
  • By topic
    • Remote access: Telnet, SSH, RDP
    • File transfer: FTP, sftp/scp, FTP/S, TFTP
    • Mail: SMTP, POP, IMAP
    • … etc …
  • Where it’s found
    • Services users want to use: HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, …
    • Services administrators use: SSH, scp, sftp, …
    • Network infrastructure: DHCP, DNS, IKE, …
    • Authentication servers: LDAP, LDAPS, Kerberos, RADIUS, …

Yes, we’re back to analyzing what really matters and then writing down those points in various orders and formats. These suggestions reinforce each other.

Use these lists to get through the CompTIA exam

Maintain your momentum as you come out of the exam preparation course. Use this list of suggestions to study for a few days to a few weeks, and put the CompTIA Security+ exam behind you!

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