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Preparing for the CAT Edition of the CISSP Exam (2021 Domain Refresh)

Jul 9, 2018 3:20:50 PM / by James Hanback

Test takers who sat the original proctored paper-and-pencil version of the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP®) exam might identify with the following nagging thoughts chewing at the minds of candidates as they attempted to center themselves for the long haul in what was most likely an unfamiliar environment:

  • How did they say the break system works?
  • Should I embarrass myself and ask for a restroom break? Maybe I can hold it.
  • Did I remember to check out of my hotel room?
  • Did I remember to take my meds?
  • What if I accidentally shade outside the lines of these circles?
  • Did the proctor just look at me funny? Am I holding my pencil wrong?
  • That woman beside me has an awesome skull tattoo. No, don’t look! They’ll think you’re cheating!

What-to-expect-ChalkboardThe shift to the linear computer-based testing (CBT) version of CISSP in 2015 wasn’t much of a relief, although one no longer needed to worry about whether the pencil marks crossed the lines. In addition, most computer testing centers provide some amount of physical division between test takers, even if they’re all in the same room. And most computer testing centers are more conveniently located to the test taker than the locations chosen for the original CISSP paper proctored exam schedules. Similar to the paper-and-pencil exam, the linear CBT exam consisted of 250 questions over a wide range of security topics. Test takers were given six hours to complete this version.

With the advent of the technology known as computerized adaptive testing (CAT), (ISC)2 introduced a process that is supposed to enable the CISSP exam to provide a more precise evaluation of the test taker’s abilities. This technology attempts to make the CISSP test smarter by allowing the testing engine to gauge a test taker’s particular abilities and then tailor exam scoring based on level of ability. That tailoring is reevaluated with each question a test taker answers. In addition, CAT enabled (ISC)2 to reduce the total number of questions a test taker must answer from 250 to a pool in the range from 100 questions to 150 questions. The total amount of time now allotted for sitting the CISSP exam is three hours instead of six.


The CISSP CAT exam “discovers” your level of ability by launching your exam with a question that is below the passing standard. The rest of the exam is tailored based on your answer to that question and your answer to each question that comes after it. If you’re exceptionally knowledgeable, you might be able to pass the CISSP CAT exam before you’ve reached the end of the 150-question pool. However, you will most likely be required to answer at least 100 of those 150 questions to complete the exam, even if you provided a correct answer for every question.


Although the new CAT experience does make the live test experience a bit more comfortable for the test taker, preparation for the exam is another matter. Study guides and practice exam engines cannot approximate the CISSP exam’s proprietary CAT experience, nor can they predict the scoring algorithm your particular exam experience might use. In order to arm test takers with the most knowledge and confidence, the Boson ExSim-Max for CISSP (v2021) practice exam product has been designed to cover the domain objectives of the actual CISSP exam and provide a standard scoring system that requires a minimum of 700 points out of 1000 in order to pass. In addition, the latest ExSim-Max product continues to provide five exam banks of 150 questions each instead of three banks of 250 questions each. This ensures that test takers can practice time management in a fashion similar to the actual exam.


To conclude, the best way to prepare for the CISSP CAT exam is the same way you would have prepared for the linear CISSP CBT exam or for the paper-and-pencil exam. Study everything. Sit practice exams. Do not assume you know or remember everything about your own area of expertise. Do not assume you know what path the actual exam will take you down based on how you answer the first few questions or the content of practice materials. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your exam. Eat a good meal. Show up to the testing center early and with appropriate identification. Then you can feel more confident as you take the test.

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Topics: cissp, CISSP practice exam, (ISC)2 CISSP, CISSP certification, CISSP CAT

James Hanback

Written by James Hanback

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