Warning! The SY0-301 exam has been retired as of December 31st, 2014. The new exam is the SY0-401. Read more about it at this link.

This article discusses how to go about passing the CompTIA Security+ SY0-301 exam. Pass the exam with confidence using my latest CompTIA Authorized Security+ title: The Security+ Cert Guide, Deluxe Edition.

Deluxe Edition

Over 600 questions/25 videos/25 simulation exercises

Exam Details

Updated 1/15/2013

To obtain the 2011 version of the Security+ certification you must pass one exam. The exam is called: SY0-301. Here's a quick breakdown of the exam specifications:

Exam Questions Time Allowed Passing Score Cost
SY0-301 Maximum of 100 90 minutes 750 $276

The passing score of 750 is graded on a scale of 100-900. Mathematically, this is equal to answering 81% correct on the exam. This exam is considered to be more difficult than the A+ and Network+ exams and is usually taken third of the three. CompTIA expects a person to have a solid understanding of networking before attempting the Sec+ exam. The bulk of the exam is made up of multiple choice questions, but there will be a few performance-based questions as well. In these simulation questions you will drag and drop answers to their correct locations, and possibly run through step-by-step operating system simulations.

The content of the exam is described by CompTIA in an objectives document. You can download the objectives (in .PDF format) by clicking the following link:

SY0-301 Objectives

Or, by clicking here and filling out the form.

The Security+ objectives are broken down into 6 domains. Each domain covers a particular percentage of the exam as shown below:

  • 1.0 Network Security (21%)
  • 2.0 Compliance and Operational Security (18%)
  • 3.0 Threats and Vulnerabilities (21%)
  • 4.0 Application, Data and Host Security (16%)
  • 5.0 Access Control and Identity Management (13%)
  • 6.0 Cryptography (11%)

Even though some domains are weighted more heavily than others, it's important to study all of the domains, and all of the objectives within each domain. Exam questions can come from any of the objectives. And CompTIA can change the exam questions at any time. One person's exam may differ greatly from another person's. Study everything thoroughly, and you will ensure a passing score, regardless of what questions you see.

Security+ Exam costs and how to save money

The cost of the Security+ exam shown in the previous table is for exams taken in the United States. (For a list of global prices, see this link, you will need to open the file in Excel, each exam is located on a separate tab). The exam fee is not paid directly to CompTIA however. You must register for, and schedule the exam with Pearson Vue. This organization administers the exam at a testing facility near you, so it is the one to be paid. You can register online or by phone. Be sure to have a credit card ready and your Social Security#. If you do not have a Social Security number and this is your first exam, the testing agency will assign you an examinee number. Be sure to take two forms of ID (one with photo, both signed) to the testing center on the day of your exam. For help on how to pass any exam, see my article at this link.

One sure way to save yourself money in the long run is to not rush the exam. Only take the exam when you are fully ready. How will you know? You should be passing your practice exams with scores of 90% or higher. If your study guide only has one practice exam, consider purchasing a second study guide, or additional practice exams. You should also be able to define any key word that is listed in your study guide and the acronyms listed in the objectives. You should also create some kind of cheat sheet (which I show how to create in my books) from which to do last minute study. By doing these things, you give yourself a much better chance of passing. Remember, if you fail a certification exam, you will have to pay for it and take it all over again! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Quite often I get questions from students and readers about the best ways to prepare for the Security+. The following details some of the most common questions about the Sec+ exam, and my answers and recommendations. Keep in mind that these are general recommendations that work for most people, but that some people will have special circumstances. If you have questions that are not covered here, or have questions about my books, feel free to contact me.

Q: Why get the CompTIA Security+ certification?

A: The Security+ certification is a stepping stone into the security field. It provides an excellent foundation for IT professionals whether they want to find a job in network security, or train for more advanced security certifications such as CISSP or Checkpoint. By adding the Security+ certification to a resume, a person can expect more interest from employers when applying for jobs. Also, many organizations require that their current employees stay current with the latest security certifications, including the Sec+.

Q: What kind of experience and pre-requisites should I have before attempting the CompTIA Security+ exam?

A: CompTIA recommends that a person has 2 years of experience in the IT Field with an emphasis on networking and security. However, many people take the exam with less experience. It is also recommended that the Network+ certification be attained first.

Q: Should I set up a home lab? And if so, what equipment should I use?

A: You should definitely have a home-lab. This lab should not include the computer you have for everyday use. I recommend an entire network that you can practice securing as well as one computer that you can use for virtual machine security. Consider e-bay, and computer refurbishers such as Dell Outlet or Yesterday's Business Computers (a quick Google search will aid you in your quest for more computer refurbishers). There are several different types of virtual software that can be downloaded for free; for example, Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. For information on how to use Virtual PC, see this video. For your network I recommend the D-Link DIR-655 Extreme N Gigabit Wireless Router. Learn in a hands-on manner. While it takes longer, it will benefit you greatly in the long run.

Q: What kind of, and how many study materials should I use?

A: The typical study guide is usually the best bet. I usually recommend that the reader study from two sources, in order to get the viewpoint of two different authors. This helps to increase your knowledge greatly. I recommend my Security+ Cert Guide (shown below), but feel free to use a second, and even a third source! Video training can also be beneficial, but most people only use this as a secondary supplemental method, and not as the primary training method. You can find more Security+ titles at my bookstore.

Check out my updated Security+ book!

The new CompTIA Security+ SY0-301 Cert Guide Deluxe Edition prepares you for the Sec+ exam thoroughly. With over 600 questions, answers, and explanations, 25 hands-on videos, 25 simulation video exercises, and plenty of concise content, it's usually the only guide a person needs to get Security+ certified!

This book is an Authorized CompTIA Study Guide, which means it exceeds CompTIA's strict standards. It was given an excellent 5.0 out of 5.0 rating by ProCert Labs.

Q: Should I take a class on Security+?

A: If you do not have the recommended 2 years of experience in the field, then I recommend an instructor-led CompTIA Security+ course. For example, an on-site course where you can learn in a hands-on manner from a dedicated instructor in a classroom. I also recommend a class in networking (preferably a Network+ course) if you don't have much networking experience. The networking course should be taken before the security course.

Security+ courses can be taken at county and community colleges, technical schools, and even some high schools. Click the search button below to find Security+ training centers in your area.


Q: How long does the certification last for?

A: As of January 1st, 2011, the Security+ certification is valid for 3 years from whenever you passed the exam. After 3 years, a person would need to re-certify by either taking the new exam, or by obtaining continuing education units (CEUs). CEUs can be gathered by taking classes, sitting workshops, teaching classes, taking a higher level exam, and so on. See this link for more information on how this can be accomplished. If you were certified before January 1st, 2011, your certification will remain valid for life. This also applies to the A+ and Network+ exams.

Q: Can I still take the bridge exam?

A: No, the bridge exam has been retired. In fact, CompTIA is retiring the bridge exams for each of the A+, Net+, and Sec+. This is because these exams have become 3-year renewables as of January 1st, 2011.

Q: Can I take the exam in Spanish?

A: Not currently (as of 9/1/2011). But in addition to English, the exam is administered in Korean, with German, and Japanese. Keep in mind that you will need to pick the right language when you register for your exams.

Q: What do I get when I pass the exam?

A: First of all, when you complete the exam at the testing center a printout will be given to you. This will tell you your score among other things and acts as proof that you passed. It is the respoinsibility of the testing center to give you this printout and stamp it to prove that it is legitimate. After that, in several weeks you will receive an 8" x 5" certificate and wallet-sized card (see picture below). You will note that the SY0-301 version of the Security+ exam is called "Security+ ce". If you do not receive them within 6 weeks or so, contact CompTIA. Your candidate profile on the CompTIA website will also be updated so that employers can see that you passed the exam. Giving employers your career ID is safe. They will only be able to see the certifications you took and when you took them. However, I don't recommend giving out your career ID to just anyone, you'll note that I blocked mine out in the image below.

Q: What's next after the Security+?

A: Some students decide to concentrate on getting that job (or that next job). Others opt to study for more certifications such as the CISSP or other similar security certifications.

Whatever you choose, keep learning and good luck to you! When you pass the exam, drop me a line and let me know. I'd love to hear from you!

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