How to Prepare for the CISM certification exam without losing your sleep over It

  • CISM
  • Information Security
  • Published by: MARIA FORSBERG on May 02, 2022

If you’re reading this, you’re probably well versed with the benefits of CISM certification but wondering where to begin after registering yourself. To determine if it is the right certification for you, the most important question you need to ask yourself is: “what are your long-term career goals?”.

CISM is one of the most highly valued certifications for cybersecurity leaders and practitioners. According to the technological research and consulting firm Gartner Inc, the unemployment rate for cybersecurity professionals is almost zero. In fact, there are more jobs than qualified candidates, postings of which stay open for a considerable amount of time. A recent survey by Certification Magazine held CISM on top of nearly all the security certifications in terms of the average salaries of its holders. Cybersecurity professionals with this certification can work anywhere across the globe as this certification is recognized by clients everywhere and organizations.

CISM emphasizes management. In other words, CISM is geared towards those who ‘manage’ the analysts. If you’re looking to become a CISO or an Infosec Executive, you should definitely get serious about the CISM certification. However, if you are planning on a career as a Security Engineer, CISSP could be your go-to certification. This article delves into how you can approach the CISM certification, the Readynez-way.

CISM is one of the top three highest Paying Certificates for CS Professionals. Information security is vital for any kind of business today, given the digital age we live in. Companies are highly focused on protecting their proprietary data from various cyberattacks, natural disasters, and other emergencies. A CISM certification ensures that you develop an aptitude for setting up comprehensive and competitive security programs that work for your company’s business goals. Needless to mention, companies would like to leverage this resourcefulness.

The CISM is growing in relevance for existing and aspiring IT managers because there is a demand for professionals with management credentials alongside various technical certifications. The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification is also a great choice for cybersecurity professionals who want to make a move from a team player to a manager. It is an advanced certification that acts as proof of knowledge and experience required to develop and manage an organization’s information security program. Thus, CISM really plays a key role in validating your team’s integrity, and skill-set and in turn increases customer retention.


Let’s look at how the Industry is approaching Risk Management today

Most organizations don’t practice any kind of formal Cybersecurity risk management. These decisions are made based on what other companies are currently doing. A skill like this, greatly emphasized in the CISM certification, is important. If you’re a cybersecurity professional, you might have found yourself in a typical conversation with the senior management about their tooling. The typical response you get for ‘why do we have DLP’ is because lots of organizations have DLP. That’s where these certifications are needed, to help you make decisions backed by solid risk management attributes.


Why Employers seek CISM

Employers at enterprises and government agencies value CISM certified employees because they believe they have the aptitude to:

  • Identify the critical issues and customize the practices that are specific to the company
  • Bring credibility and confidence to employees’ interaction within and outside the organization’s Information Security domain
  • Demonstrate to their customers the company’s allegiance to security and integrity
  • Enhance the organization’s Security program and larger business goals
  • Increase customer retention

Employees with a CISM certification demonstrate over and over again the ability to contribute to team efficiency. Their expertise is valued by managers and employers. Of course, most firms offer them handsome salary packages.


Who is eligible to take the CISM exam

The CISM certification is awarded only to those candidates who have at least five years of relevant work experience, provided they’ve passed a rigorous written examination. You need not complete the experience requirement before taking the exam, but must complete the requirement within five years of passing the test. In other words, the experience must be gained within a 10-year period preceding the application date or within five years from the date of passing the exam.

In short, the sine qua non for this certification includes:

  • Minimum Five years’ experience in Infosec
  • An exam
  • A fee


How to register for the CISM Exam?

The CISM exam registration is available online, from the comfort of your home, or at a PSI (ISACA’s testing vendor) exam center all year round. Once you register online directly on ISACA, you will then receive email instructions on how to schedule an exam appointment. All you’re left to do is to take that exam and maintain your CISM certification.


How Much Does the CISM Exam Cost?

The exam costs $760 for everyone while a discounted price of $575 is available for ISACA members. If this lures you to an ISACA membership, you must know that it costs $130 per year, plus a one-time upfront fee while joining as a member.


What to expect from the Exam?

The CISM exam holds 150-question multiple-choice questions to be solved within a duration of 240 minutes and is scored on a 200-800 marks scale with a passing threshold of 450. As per the latest updated exam outline, applicable from 1st June 2022, the exam covers 4 work-related CISM domains:

  • 17% Information Security Governance
  • 33% Information Security Program development and management
  • 30% Information Security Incident Management
  • 20% Information Risk Management

If you do not pass the exam, you can retake the exam a maximum of three times in a twelve-month period. That means you have 4 attempts within a rolling twelve-month period to pass the exam.


What happens after you clear the exam?

CISM is not a one-shot-all type of certification. The certification expires after three years from the date of issue, after which you will have to renew their certification. In order to maintain your certification, you need to take at least 120 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours over a three-year reporting cycle, with a minimum of 20 hours per year. You can meet this criterion in a number of ways: attending university classes, getting corporate training, or participating in professional learning activities and meetings. So, to maintain CISM certification, apart from earning & reporting your yearly CPE hours, you will have to pay the annual maintenance fee of $85 (or a discounted price of $45 for ISACA members), ensure that you sustain an adequate level of knowledge and proficiency in various domains of Information Systems Security Management, and follow ISACA's Code of Professional Ethics.

You have to pull out all your stops to clear this exam, so an obvious question arises: is it worth giving it a try? Well, it's a great way to signal your expertise for a management position within your domain, as well as your seriousness about your career and your vocational aspirations. What are the career opportunities after passing this exam?

There are four main job roles that you can grasp after this and these job titles generally come with beefy salaries:

  • Chief Information Officer
  • Information Security Manager
  • Information Security Consultant
  • Information Technology Consultant

Schedule the exam way ahead of time because you can take the CISM exam only twice a year, either in June or December. You should start with ISACA’s free practice quiz with questions, answers, and explanations. This can be accessed via a free ISACA account. The CISM Review QAE Database doesn't include actual questions that you'll be faced with, rather it will give you a vivid idea of what you can expect on D-day. Moreover, you can learn a lot just by reading the descriptions of the answers.


Time to Enter the Prep Phase - preparing for CISM

Now, there are many ways of approaching the prep phase for this mission, here are the top ones for your reference:

  1. After you’ve got your target exam date, create a study plan. You can prepare on your own, covering all the key knowledge areas mentioned above, in accordance with the latest weightage assigned to them. ISACA also publishes an official review manual, available on Amazon, other than the unofficial study guides out there which are much cheaper.
  2. If you are looking to explore beyond the study guides and want to learn in a more structured manner, you can try attending any one of the CISM training courses or directly engaging in ISACA’s CISM exam study community.
  3. Introspect and ponder on your past learning experiences to help yourself pick the method best suited to your learning habits.
  4. To pass the CISM certification exam, you need all the right resources to prepare, at least four to six weeks before the actual exam.
  5. Next, try breaking the material down by domain. Ideally, you should give yourself 1-2 hours per day for each of the four domains, varying as per their weightage in the exam.
  6. You can engage yourself in learning methods that work best for you. It could be by reading, listening, or a combination of both. You can supplement podcasts and recordings to your study plan of reviewing key study materials and note-making.
  7. Keep on summarizing the material down as this will help in embedding the knowledge better while making revision more efficient during the last week before the exam since you’ll have prompts to remind you of more detailed content.
  8. Where and how you choose to stage your prep regime matters. Ask yourself, do you need to be in a quiet office, or can you study successfully with your family around? Think about what time of day works best for you and set up a regular study schedule with one reliable study source.

The difficulty level of CISM certification can be perceived differently by every individual. However, as a management-level certification, having a first-time pass rate of only 50-60%, it is one of the more grueling certification exams. Unlike most multiple-choice exams, most questions in CISM have at least two to three good answers out of four options. You will encounter questions, asking you “What is the MOST important thing to do in this situation?” or “Which step should you take FIRST?”. Guessing these requires a thorough understanding of the CISM material.

Finally, during the exam, think like a manager because CISM is management-focused. Your technical expertise with a manager’s mindset will do the trick here.


Closing lines

The CISM certification exam takes its due investment of time, labor, and money. It’s not an easy test, but it is a valuable credential, worth the hard work and determination. A consistent study plan and regular practice will keep you well-prepared for the official exam.

At Readynez, we cover all the domains included in the official exam. Our delegates work on our course online from any place with an Internet connection, and we are committed to providing the necessary training to our delegates to pass the CISM certification exam with confidence.

Enroll in our CISM training course to get started with your prep, and you’ll be en route to career advancement before you even know it.

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