For most practitioners, there’s a lot riding on a certification attempt. Beyond the personal satisfaction of earning a new credential, certifications can impact job opportunities, promotions and salary increases, and the respect of employers and peers. They also require a significant investment of time and energy to learn, study, and master new material.
How can you ensure that your study time gives you the greatest chance of success? We want to help you make the most out of your GIAC certification attempt. Get ready to get certified by following these tips and best practices.
Start with Training
The best way to prepare for any GIAC certification is with the affiliated SANS training course. Each SANS training course is a deep dive into critically-needed security skills that are then validated by a GIAC certification. SANS courses are currently offered either Live Online or OnDemand, so no matter which training format you choose, you can meet your preparation goals while maintaining your responsibilities at work and at home.
It’s not enough to just be a passive bystander in your training course, however. Students that actively participate – by asking questions, taking notes, and talking to their instructor – are the students that learn the most, retain information better, and have a higher chance of success on their GIAC exam down the road.
In class, take new concepts you’ve learned and try applying them to real-world scenarios. Think about how they might look outside of the classroom and how they might fit into to your daily work. Then, try and explain what you’ve learned to a classmate or friend. If you can teach someone else how a concept works, you’ve successfully mastered that idea or skill.
During your training course, make sure you take time to be fully present and enjoy the moment. SANS instructors are top-notch in their field – and are also full of funny, interesting stories that relate to the concepts they’re teaching. This may seem like just added entertainment value, but paying attention to these stories will help you absorb the information, leading to quick recall during the exam.
Study and Index
Once your training course is complete, create your study plan. You have four months to study for and attempt your GIAC certification exam. Don’t wait to get started! By diving in soon after training, you’ll keep the information fresh and won’t have to relearn things a month or two down the road.
Set up a regular study schedule with dedicated blocks of time for reviewing the material each week. Think about what time of day works best for you and plan accordingly. Consider the setting – do you need to be in a quiet office, or can you study successfully with your family around? Whatever time and place you choose, the key point is setting a schedule and committing to it.
When studying, make the most of your course materials. Listen to the course mp3s as often as you need to truly understand the concepts. Review your course texts and make notes; highlight important ideas and skills you need to practice. Do the course labs again and again until you’re confident you’ve mastered them.
An essential part of the studying process is creating your index. GIAC exams are open book – but when you have five or six large textbooks in front of you, you might find that spending time searching for a specific term or task is more troublesome than it is helpful. That’s where your index comes in.
An index is a systematic, color-coded guide that you create, allowing you easily find the material you need during the exam. The biggest benefit of the index beyond being a quick directory? The process of creating your index is guaranteed to help you learn and master the concepts you need for your exam. That’s why you should always create your own index, rather than using someone else’s. Check out Lesley Carhart’s helpful guide to get started.
After your first in-depth run through of the course material, take your first practice test. You’ll receive a report once your practice test is completed showing you which objectives you need to revisit for a more comprehensive understanding. Try and take the first practice test earlier on in your study schedule – if you wait until right before your exam attempt deadline, you may not have enough time to work on areas of improvement.
Also, reflect on your test-taking system. Were you rushed in certain areas? Did you start to feel anxious or have to skip questions? These are completely normal responses – and by observing your behavior now, you can address and improve these behaviors before the actual exam.
Jump back in to studying and take your second practice test once you feel just about ready for the real thing. Review any last-minute concepts that you need to brush up on. Before you know it, it’s exam day!
Taking the Exam
On exam day, do your best to get enough sleep. Make sure to have your index, your textbooks, and any other printed materials you might need with you whether you’re testing remotely or at an in-person center.
During the exam, take things one question at a time. Can’t think of an answer? Check your index – it’s there for you to rely on. Stop and take a deep breath if you’re getting overwhelmed, and if applicable, use your break time. Try to avoid watching the timer. If there are any technical difficulties, time will be added back to your exam clock automatically.
Most importantly, don’t forget to trust yourself! You put in the work and studied hard. By following these steps, you’ll have put yourself in the best possible position for a successful exam outcome. We can’t wait to welcome you into the GIAC Certifications family!