Certification Survey Extra: Rating cybersecurity certification study materials

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Certification Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Certification Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Certification Survey data.

Where should IT learners turn to find the most effective cybersecurity certification study materials?Uma Thurman, star of the two Kill Bill movies (among others) either did or did not once observe that, “My washing machine overwhelms me with its options and its sophistication.” The point is that it’s good to have options, whether you’re cleaning up the dinner dishes or preparing to tackle your next certification exam.

It’s also true that we all learn differently, and that it’s rare for two people to have the exact same approach to satisfying all of the variables in the certification preparation equation: finding time to study, allocating available financial resources, choosing the best training of one’s preferred type, and so forth.

Certification is an ongoing pursuit, of course, so you aren’t likely to enter the IT industry, whatever your specialization, with every cert you’ll ever need already in hand. For our recent Cybersecurity Certification Survey, we asked certified information security professionals how they get the best results.

Survey respondents rated the effectiveness, per their most recent certification experience, of various cybersecurity certification study materials. As always, those surveyed had the option to mark “Does Not Apply” for study approaches that are foreign to their experience. Here’s what we learned:

Method of Study Percentage of Respondents who rate this method ExcellentPercentage of Respondents who rate this method Very GoodPercentage of Respondents who rate this method Good Percentage of Respondents who rate this method Fair Percentage of Respondents who rate this method PoorPercentage of Respondents who rate this method Does Not Apply
Self-study books30.3 percent38.3 percent19.4 percent4.6 percent0.6 percent6.9 percent
Product Documentation 6.9 percent18.3 percent22.3 percent16 percent5.1 percent31.4 percent
Instructor-led training at training center22.3 percent13.1 percent11.1 percent7.4 percent1.7 percent44 percent
Vendor-authorized boot camp 10.3 percent8 percent10.9 percent5.7 percent2.9 percent62.3 percent
On-the-job training 14.3 percent21.1 percent29.1 percent15.4 percent4 percent16 percent
Practice exams 29.7 percent34.3 percent22.3 percent6.3 percent1.7 percent5.7 percent
Online university or e-learning course 12 percent15.4 percent18.3 percent8 percent1.7 percent44.6 percent
Internet mailing lists or forums 3.4 percent12.6 percent18.3 percent14.3 percent5.1 percent46.3 percent
Computer-based training or simulations 16.6 percent27.4 percent17.7 percent9.1 percent1.7 percent27.4 percent
Community or technical college courses 7.4 percent9.1 percent10.9 percent6.3 percent1.1 percent65.1 percent
Brain dumps from web sites 6.3 percent8 percent13.7 percent9.1 percent6.3 percent56.6 percent

2021 Cybersecurity Certification Survey: Refers to materials used by survey respondents to prepare for their most recently taken exam.

It would probably be wrong to conclude from this data that all training and study materials are well prepared and of unimpeachable quality. On the other hand, very few survey respondents handed out “Poor” ratings, even for quasi-ethical solutions like brain dumps and largely unvetted ones like internet mailing lists.

And while it may be true that no man is an island, lots of certified professionals, it would seem, prefer to study in a sea of isolation. As happens often with these surveys, we learned that self-study books and practice exams — either of which is a natural fit for flying solo — far outpace the rest of the field in terms of user satisfaction.

The workplace is a key arena of learning for many, as demonstrated by the fact that 65 percent of survey participants have experienced some degree of success in furthering their certification efforts through on-the-job-training. If you know enough to get a job in IT, then you can do work, get paid, and enrich your skill set all at the same time. Other strong options include instructor-led training (at least for those who use it) and computer-based training or simulations.

Community college courses, boot camps and online mailing lists/forums are apparently beneath the notice of many certified information security professionals looking to study up for a certification.

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CertMag Staff


Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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