How to Pass the Security+ Exam: Tips to Get the Cert on Your First Attempt

Like most other tests for professional certification, the CompTIA Security+ exam is not easy to pass. But meeting this challenge will pay off handsomely: you will stand out among other IT security professionals because the certification demonstrates you know how to respond to security incidents and how to mitigate risks before security problems occur in the first place.

For those who want to become CompTIA Security+ certified, we have gathered the top tips and tricks about what to pay extra attention to during studying and how to be effective during the exam so you can earn the certification on your first attempt.

How to pass the Security+ exam: Learn and practice

Check your current knowledge and experience.

Though Security+ is an entry-level credential, CompTIA strongly recommends getting the A+ and Network+ credentials before proceeding to the Security+ certification, so you have the technical skills you need, such as configuring, managing and troubleshooting networks.

Though it is not a prerequisite, candidates are also advised to have two years of prior experience in IT administration with a security focus. In particular, to pass the Security+ exam, you should have experience performing security tasks such as identifying threats, detecting intrusions, conducting penetration testing, and performing risk management and risk mitigation.

Increase the efficiency of your learning.

  • Prioritize your study The best way to study for Security+ is to have a study plan at hand. A great place to start studying for Security+ sy0-501 exam is the CompTIA Security+ Certification Exam Objectives. It can serve as a roadmap to check your progress through the material as you prepare for the test and explains the objectives of the certification.
  • Get a good study guide. Consider using the official CompTIA study resources and textbooks. At the top of the list is the Official CompTIA Security+ Study Guide, which is available in eBook format for $149. Also check out this list of the 5 Best CompTIA Security+ Study Guides.
  • Join a Security+ online community. Studying with a group of like-minded people is a great way to stay motivated, get answers to your questions and share strategies. The internet is full of Security+ forums that allow both test takers and experts to share their experience.
  • Take an online Security+ training boot camp. Boot camps help you get up to speed quickly on the CompTIA Security plus exam topics. Such trainings are generally intensive, 3–5 day deep dives into the exam topics using a variety of course materials.

Practice, practice, practice.

  • Take practice exams and review the answers to questions you miss. Practice test questions to figure out your weak areas so you can focus your studies. You can find practice exams in the CompTIA Store, and Darril Gibson’s popular SY0-501 Book has many different simulation questions and over 400 practice questions with answers and explanations. Remember, the Security Plus exam is 90 minutes long and has 90 questions, so time your practice exams and work out a strategy that works best for you.
  • Do not use “brain dumps.” Make sure that you are getting quality, authorized practice materials. CompTIA warns candidates against using “brain dump” websites that claim to provide actual exam questions. There are no real exam questions available on the internet, but there are plenty of practice tests that you can use to get a sense of what to expect on the exam.

Tips to pass Security+ exam successfully

One key to passing the certification exam is to know as much as possible about the rules and policies, so you’re not surprised on exam day.

Review test policies ahead of time. What if exam day is approaching and you don’t feel ready yet? Well, you can reschedule or cancel any time until 24 hours before the exam. You should also know that test takers are not allowed to use electronic devices, including laptops, smartphones or smartwatches, during the exam for any CompTIA certifications. Follow this link to get more information on the test policies. Get familiar with them before you go to the exam, so you can stay focused on what’s important and not worry about little things.

Use the right strategies during the test. Here are useful tips on the approach to answering the test questions:

Skip questions you are not confident in. Since the test is timed, if you are not sure about the correct answer to a question, don’t waste too much time on it. Instead, click the “Flag for review” option and come back to it later.

Read the test questions carefully. Pay extra attention to capitalized words like “BEST,” “MOST” and “LEAST.” If several answers might seem correct, you need to choose the one that corresponds to the capitalized word.

Be prepared for performance-based questions. To answer performance-based questions (PBQs), you need to perform a task or solve a problem in a simulated environment. These are more complex than other standard questions and often take more time to solve. They appear at the beginning of the test, but you will not see the clock that shows the time remaining while you are working on PBQs. If you are not confident about your answer, flag it for review and return to it later.

Experts explain: How it’s possible to get the cert on your first attempt

We asked several professionals who managed to pass the text on their first try for their first-hand recommendations. Here’s what they said:

DaveHatter, Intrust IT

I passed the Security + exam some time ago after taking it once. Some tips:

  • Get a good book, like this one from CompTIA. Read it cover to cover twice. The first time, make notes and take the sample tests after each chapter. After lots of practice working with tools and doing the tests, read it again to find any final gaps.
  • Take the sample tests over and over until you can comfortably and repeatedly score in the high 80s or 90s.
  • Use your phone to make audio notes of key concepts or things that you struggle with and listen to them in the car, when you’re walking or cutting the grass, etc.
  • Use flashcards.
  • Find a study group, if possible.
  • If your budget allows, buy sample tests from more than one vendor (just vet them for quality first).

Will Ellis, Privacy Australia

I passed the test the first time I took it and I know many other people who did as well. We used very similar strategies for preparation.

The first step is to download or print off the certification objectives. This should be used as a final checklist. You are not ready until you can confidently check off everything on the objective list.

There are a few great websites to help you prepare for the test. Professor Messer and Certblaster were my favorites for preparing. Both have a bunch of study and preparation tools, as well as free video series. Personally, I studied for the test with three other people and we also had access to security professionals at IBM. Not everyone will have that luxury, but finding an expert online is not very difficult. Using Reddit or joining an online IT group will achieve the same goal.

In the process of studying, it is best to get as much hands-on experience as possible. Actually going through exercises that come up on the test goes extremely far for understanding the concepts tested.

My last tip would be to skip the performance-based questions initially. Instead, go straight for the multiple choice questions and then go back. Everyone I know who didn’t feel pressed for time during the exam did this. It isn’t 100% necessary but is definitely a better flow for the test.

Maji Tharpe, principal consultant, MAJI, llc

Many positions require multiple certifications. Review your target job descriptions to determine if you need networking or hardware/software support certifications (e.g., A+ or Network+) as well. Since a significant portion of the Security+ material might be covered on those exams, preparing for them first can reduce your overall preparation time and increase your likelihood of passing Security+ on your first try.


Depending on your experience, it can take several weeks or even several months to get ready for the exam. Give yourself time to prepare and put extra effort into the areas that are less familiar to you. I hope these tips will help you on your way to getting the cert on the first attempt!

Product Evangelist at Netwrix Corporation, writer, and presenter. Ryan specializes in evangelizing cybersecurity and promoting the importance of visibility into IT changes and data access. As an author, Ryan focuses on IT security trends, surveys, and industry insights.