My Journey to Earning a Comp TIA Security + Certification During COVID-19

Continuing education has always been a very big deal for me, I grew up in a house that didn’t really have the expectations of being “college bound”. The topic was hardly ever discussed, so when I joined the military and was thrust into a perpetual cycle of learn, study, train, and then test, it became the new normal for me. 

I was a dummy! Yup, I was one of those guys who said “I don’t see a need to re-up my certifications”, so I let my 2012 CompTIA Security+ Certification lapse thinking I won’t need it and I will get a better certification next. Well, spoiler alert, I am kicking myself now that I am six months into studying for a certification that I already had. 

On March 1st of 2020, I ordered CompTIA Security+ All-in-One Exam Guide (Exam SY0-501) by Wm. Arthur Conklin and Greg White and Dwayne Williams and Chuck Cothren and Roger Davis. Then when my book showed up to my doorstep, I realized, the best way to study was to have a deadline set. So on March 10th, I decided I only needed 71 days to study before I would be ready for the test. Test date confirmation email popped in my inbox, May 20th, 2020 at 0915am. 

Let the studying commence! Yeah right, I studied hard for the first 10 minutes and figured, I had plenty of time. Especially after I took the Chapter 1 Review and got 100% with 10 minutes of study time under my belt. I had this! So I thought to myself, do I really need 71 days? Split decision time, lets reschedule! The site makes it really easy to change the date/time of the test, new date: April 22nd, 43 days until my test. As my kids would say, “easy peasy”.

Any other year, I would be studying and not have to worry about my test being rescheduled outside of my control. Welcome to 2020 and COVID-19! On April 7th, I got the dreaded email from PearsonVue that my testing center is closed and needs to be rescheduled. Sad Panda… My new testing date is now set for May 6th. 

I wasn’t too disappointed actually, I started taking some practice exams for the higher numbered chapters of the book and realized they updated the content in the last 8 years since I took the previous test. Go figure. This gives me some more time to recalibrate my knowledge and get back on track. 

By April 16th, I was back on track and hitting an average of 80% on my practice tests. Not quite where I want, but I still have 20 days until my May 6th test date. WRONG… in popped an “Urgent” email about my certification exam. The testing center I had scheduled is now closed for COVID and I need to reschedule. I got on the site to reschedule, I checked every single testing center within 50 mile radius of me and could not schedule a single exam. 

On April 20th, I finally found a testing center that would be open and would let me schedule my exam. What date? I hear you asking.. June 3rd. Continuing to kick the can down the road, I let my studying go to the wayside. I downloaded Disney+ and fell into binge watching all of the Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek movie series. 

After I caught up on all the movies I wanted to watch, I started to get back to studying again, figuring that the test wasn’t too far away and I should not let my efforts and brain cells fade away. Until, I got another email on Cinco de Mayo… My June 3rd test date is now in jeopardy and needs to be rescheduled. Sound the alarm bells again, unfortunately I was completely unable to reschedule an exam for almost a month and a half! On June 23rd I had scheduled my exam for August 4th at 9am. 

This time, my email stayed quiet until the night of August 1st, where I got a “Reminder of Pearson VUE Exam Appointment”. Wahoo!!! Finally! I will get to take this dang test! Now back to cramming, three more days until I get certified. 

August 4th, Day of the long awaited test. I took the day off of work to get some last minute studying in. I took three Practice Exams, scored the following; 88%, 91%, and 97%. I was ready! Properly caffeinated, I left the house and arrived at the testing center 30 minutes ahead of time. Properly centered myself in my beat up old truck while listening to some old Nirvana on Pandora. I got out of the truck, headed towards the main doors, then I remembered… Went back to ‘Ole Red’ and grabbed my mask. Back to the building! Saw a restroom and made a b-line towards it, coffee was working way too fast. Damn, the bathroom door was locked, in hindsight, that should have been my first sign. 

I went to the main entrance to find that the doors were locked with a sign on the door stating that the campus was closed with a phone number attached. Thinking that they were just operating at a reduced capacity and I was 30 minutes early, I called the number, only to be greeted by a voicemail. Doubt started setting in as I sat on the stairs waiting for someone to come around. Fifteen minutes prior to my exam, someone came around. “We are not opening the campus until the 17th of August, sorry, but you will have to reschedule your exam”. Blasted COVID got me again!

Worried about losing my money for not taking the exam or rescheduling on time, I raced home. I attempted to reschedule the exam, only to be thwarted again.  Rescheduling the exam needs to be done 24 hours in advance, so the website rescheduling feature was locked out. I then sat on the phone for 39 minutes, on hold, while I concurrently attempted to contact someone on the PearsonVue website chat feature. Say what you want about internet bots, sometimes they are faster than a phone call. Within 5 minutes with the bot, I had a service desk ticket, and another “Reschedule your exam” email from PearsonVue.

After lunch, I logged back on the PearsonVue website in hopes that my service ticket was making good progress and I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could reschedule my exam! Friday Afternoon at 1pm on the 7th of August. Not to be done-in again, I called the testing center, something I should have done with the previous test, to verify that they were open. I got a live person and got my confirmation, they are, and will be open!

Oh man, not again COVID! August 6th at 8:52am, 28 hours before I am checking in for my exam, I get an “IMPORTANT” email about my testing appointment. “Instead of canceling your appointment, we have rescheduled your appointment date out 30 days…” Hold on, let me grab another cup of freak the f**k out and stomp around like a 2 year old. Ok, I am back. Not quite calm, but ready to figure this out logically. So I decided to call the testing center, they confirmed that they are open, and ready to administer my exam. Comforted, but not fully convinced, we will see in 27 hours and 52 minutes. 

Take two, Day of the exam, August 7th. Since my exam is in the afternoon, I decided to go into work first and try to get my mind off the looming exam. The last two days of studying have been fraught with uneasiness. I decided to look up and study other items that were not in my “All-in-one” study guide. Looking back, still not sure if that was a good or bad idea. I took a few practice tests from here 

The testing material here was WAY more detailed and in depth than the book I had been studying had been, I was clearing about 80% averages on the examcompass.com free tests. My confidence was shaken, but not completely knocked down. T minus three hours, I left work to handle some errands and get some lunch before the test. Definitely not as confident as I was two days ago when I sat in the parking lot waiting for my “first” test. 

Ok, got some errands done, lunch from my favorite spot in Point Loma, Devine Pastabilities, Torpasta of San Diego. Basically it’s pasta in a sub sandwich with EXCELLENT customer service. Now I am sitting under a shade tree in my old pickup waiting for my exam. Then it happened, my morning constitution decided to hold off and wait for this exact moment. Now, under any normal circumstance, no big deal. But we are deep into 2020 and COVID… I checked the test center, it’s the middle of the lunch hour and so their facilities are locked tight. Next I consider my surroundings, lots of restaurants that are either shut down or limited to customers only. Oh wait! I just realized that my mechanic’s shop was just down the street. So a little bit later after handling business and catching up with my mechanic, I am back sitting in my truck. 

T minus 5 minutes, all signed up for my exam, electronic devices locked up in my truck, tucked away in a corner with my mask on. Let’s start the exam. 

Now because of rules and acknowledgements, I am unable to divulge much about the exam, but I will say that less than 10 minutes into the exam I am sweating, and not just because the room is stuffy and I have this blasted mask on. I am realizing that what I studied, only covered the generalities of the exam. The exam I took was WAY more in depth and I was having to deconstruct each question to its base principle to make an educated guess on the answer. Moreover, I had been spending more than 60 seconds per question which now got me pressed for time, hence the reason for the sweating. 

I am towards the middle of the exam, and I confess, I am trying my best but I realized that I have most likely failed this exam and wasted not only money, but all the time I spent studying the wrong book and materials. Finishing the test with the absolute best of my abilities which doesn’t feel like much, I am completely defeated, I just want out of the room that continues to feel like it is shrinking. But of course, before your score pops up on the screen, I am forced to take a survey. I really tried to answer the survey, but I was done with answering questions. I had taken over 50 practice quizzes in the past week which did not prepare me at all. About half way through the survey, I started responding with “Care not to provide information” or something to that effect. 

Finally, I got my scorecard. This exam is not graded on any standard scale of 0-100 percentage points. It is on a grading scale of 100-900, with a passing score is 750. I look at the score I received, not elated, but extremely surprised. I scored a 762, a measly 12 points over the minimum required. But as in any course, passing is passing, and as my business partner John pointed out, I am working 2 jobs, with two kids, COVID, and trying to get certified, passing is all that matters. 

Take away notes that I should have known well beforehand: Study multiple arena’s from many different topics and know the material inside and out. Looking back, I can attribute my passing to being able to dissect each question to its base form, looking at the concepts they are presenting and applying by best guess. I had only been studying for this particular exam for only five months, but I have been in the IT Security field for almost 20 years, and the past 10 years I had been studying for my Certified Ethical Hacker Examination. So I believe my years of study helped me pass. For helpful study materials for the Comp TIA Security+ , check out these resources: 

Textbook from Amazon:

Test Prep:
https://www.examcompass.com/comptia/security-plus-certification/free-security-plus-practice-tests

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