The Security+ (SEC+) exam is an entry-level cybersecurity certification offered by CompTIA that covers core principles for network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, access management, and cryptography. As cyber threats continue to grow in sophistication and scale, cybersecurity certifications like the SEC+ have become increasingly important for IT professionals looking to validate their skills and advance their careers. According to research from CompTIA, 91% of hiring managers say IT certifications are a requirement or preference for cybersecurity positions. With so much sensitive data and critical infrastructure dependent on networked systems, cybersecurity is a vital field where qualified professionals are in high demand. Passing the SEC+ demonstrates to employers that you have baseline cybersecurity knowledge and skills.
About the SEC+ Exam
The Security+ Exam (SEC+) is an entry-level information security certification offered by CompTIA. The exam covers topics related to network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, application security, and cryptography https://www.comptia.org/certifications/security.
The exam is designed for IT professionals who have baseline cybersecurity skills and want to pursue careers as security architects, security engineers, security consultants, and security specialists. It verifies foundational, vendor-neutral knowledge and skills needed to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career https://www.comptia.org/certifications/security.
The SEC+ exam is taken by those new to IT security as well as experienced IT professionals looking to validate their foundational knowledge. It demonstrates to employers that the holder understands best practices in network security and risk management. The certification is compliant with ISO 17024 standards and approved by the US DoD, furthering its credibility and value in the marketplace.
The Security+ exam covers a broad range of cybersecurity topics and requires test takers to demonstrate both technical knowledge and conceptual understanding. Many who have taken the exam describe it as moderately difficult overall.
Some key factors that contribute to the exam’s difficulty level include:
- Breadth of knowledge required – The exam covers network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, access control and identity management, and cryptography and PKI across over 90 objectives.
- Understanding concepts not just facts – Test takers need to understand key concepts like CIA triad, access control models, cryptography algorithms etc. beyond just memorizing facts.
- Technical depth in certain areas – Certain domains like cryptography, secure network architecture go deep into technical details.
- Scenarios and troubleshooting – Questions like PBQs require applying knowledge to real-world scenarios.
Overall, the consensus from test takers is that while Security+ is doable with focused prep, it requires dedicating serious study time to build both breadth and depth of cybersecurity knowledge (Source).
Exam Pass Rate
The overall pass rate for the CompTIA Security+ exam is estimated to be around 50-60% for first-time test takers according to various sources. A study by the Rand Corporation found the pass rate to be 40-50% for civilians with some years of experience (source). CompTIA does not publish official pass rate statistics, but most experts agree that Security+ is considered a moderately difficult exam with pass rates below many other CompTIA certifications.
Unlike some other exams, CompTIA does not provide a percentage score but rather a scaled score between 100 and 900. A passing score is 750 and above, while anything below 700 is considered failing (source). With no partial credit given on the exam, candidates need to demonstrate proficiency across all exam domains to pass.
It’s estimated that over 50% of first-time test takers fail the Security+ exam, requiring at least one retake (source). However, pass rates tend to improve significantly after using study materials to refresh knowledge and getting familiar with the exam format and question styles.
Fail Rate by Section
The SEC+ exam covers five domains or sections: Threats, Attacks, and Vulnerabilities (21%); Technologies and Tools (22%); Architecture and Design (15%); Identity and Access Management (16%); and Risk Management (26%). The fail rates vary across these domains based on the difficulty and breadth of knowledge tested in each section.
According to the CompTIA website, the Identity and Access Management section has one of the highest fail rates at around 30%. This section covers authentication, access control, and identity management concepts that many test takers struggle with. The Risk Management domain also has an elevated fail rate, with around 25% of exam takers missing enough questions to fail this section. Risk management comprises a significant portion of the exam, touching on compliance, vulnerability assessment, monitoring, and incident response.
The remaining three domains – Threats, Attacks and Vulnerabilities; Technologies and Tools; and Architecture and Design – have lower but still considerable fail rates in the 15-20% range. Test takers tend to do better in the Technologies and Tools section, which focuses on real-world security tools and technologies that IT professionals are more likely to have hands-on experience with.
By understanding which domains pose greater challenges, SEC+ candidates can better target their studies and practice exams to improve weak areas. Focusing extra attention on Access Management and Risk Management is key to avoiding pitfalls and boosting exam success rates.
The Security+ exam covers a broad range of cybersecurity topics, making it quite challenging for many test-takers. According to various forums and prep sites, some of the most difficult topics and knowledge areas include:
Cryptography – Understanding encryption algorithms, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), digital signatures, and certificate management can be highly technical and complex.
Network attacks – Questions on topics like spoofing, sniffing, man-in-the-middle, and denial of service attacks require strong foundational networking knowledge.
Compliance and operational security – Memorizing laws, regulations, and frameworks like HIPAA, GLBA, PCI DSS, and NIST can be daunting.
Identity and access management – Concepts around authentication, authorization, federation, single sign-on are abstract and take time to master.
Security tools/technologies – Firewalls, SIEM, DLP, and other security tools have deep capabilities – being familiar with their key functions is essential.
According to prep site Cbtnuggets.com, “The Security+ exam is one of the most difficult vendor-neutral cybersecurity certifications an IT professional can achieve.” The breadth of knowledge required makes thoughtful prep and study strategy critical for exam success.
Factors Influencing Fail Rates
There are several key factors that contribute to the difficulty of the SEC+ exam and the subsequent fail rates for first-time test takers:
Experience – Many candidates attempt the SEC+ with limited hands-on experience in IT security. Real world experience configuring firewalls, implementing security controls, and responding to threats is invaluable preparation for the exam. Candidates with 1-2 years experience tend to perform better than those with less hands-on work.
Preparation – Sufficient study time and using multiple study materials is key. The exam covers a broad range of security topics and requires deep knowledge across all domains. Candidates who only rely on video training or study guides tend to be less prepared compared to using practice tests, flashcards, courses and hands-on labs. Most experts recommend 60-100 hours of study.
Test Anxiety – The high-stakes exam environment combined with time pressure leads many to struggle with nervousness and anxiety during the test. Learning strategies to manage test anxiety through breathing techniques, positive self-talk and being well-rested can help improve performance.
Resources – Having access to quality study materials and instruction can make a big difference in someone’s ability to pass. Those lacking access to courses, practice exams, study groups and other assets often struggle more compared to those with abundant prep resources.
The SEC+ presents a significant knowledge and skills challenge to new cybersecurity professionals. Sufficient experience, preparation time, test-taking strategies and quality resources are key factors that can help improve one’s likelihood of passing on the first attempt.
Strategies to Improve Pass Rates
Here are some tips and best practices to help improve your chances of passing the Security+ exam on the first attempt:
Get a study guide – Invest in a good study guide like the CompTIA Security+ Study Guide by Sybex or Darril Gibson’s Sec+ book. These provide focused exam content review and practice questions.
Take practice exams – After going through content review, take practice exams to identify weak areas. Go back and study these sections more. Sources like Udemy and ExamCompass offer affordable practice tests.
Focus on understanding concepts – Don’t just memorize material. Make sure you understand why something works the way it does. This knowledge will help with applicaton/scenario based questions.
Make flashcards – Use flashcard apps like Anki or Quizlet to memorize key terms, ports, protocols, tools, and more. Quick reviews daily will boost retention.
Learn hands-on skills – Get experience configuring firewalls, using penetration testing tools, securing networks. This will aid with PBQs (performance-based questions).
Review tricky topics – Brush up on noted pain points like cloud security, risk management, and authentication types where many tend to struggle.
Focus your final week of study on weaknesses – Use practice exam performance reports to guide your final week. Hammer on areas you struggle with.
Get enough rest before the exam – Being mentally sharp is key, so don’t cram the night before. Get to bed early and eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test.
Stay calm during the exam – Flag PBQs to complete at the end. Then take deep breaths during the multiple choice questions and read carefully. Manage your time and relax.
Think like a manager – Many questions focus on best policies/procedures. Imagine you are in charge and pick the most strategic solutions.
Review flagged questions – At the end, revisit any flagged questions and use remaining time to confirm your choices.
Trust your preparation – You’ve put in the work. Have confidence in yourself! Thorough preparation is key to exam success.
Resources for Exam Prep
There are many excellent resources available to help you prepare for the CompTIA Security+ exam. Some of the top recommended books include:
- The Official CompTIA Security+ Certification Self-Paced Study Guide (Exam SY0-601) by James Pengelly (2020)
- CompTIA Security+ All-in-One Exam Guide, Sixth Edition (Exam SY0-601) by Gregory B. White (2021)
- CompTIA Security+ Study Guide: Exam SY0-601 by Mike Chapple (2021)
- CompTIA Security+ Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-601 Study Guide by Darril Gibson (2021)
In addition to books, there are many valuable online resources:
- Professor Messer’s free SY0-601 training videos
- CompTIA’s official exam objectives
- Online practice tests like those from Dion Training
Reddit forums like r/CompTIA are also great places to get advice and recommendations for study resources from others preparing for or who have passed the exam.
In summary, the SEC+ exam is a challenging IT security certification that tests a candidate’s knowledge across a range of cybersecurity topics. The current first-attempt fail rate hovers around 30-35%, meaning approximately 1 out of 3 people fail their first try. The exam covers network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, application security, and cryptography. Some of the most difficult areas include cryptography, access controls, secure network architecture, and securing the cloud.
High fail rates underscore the need for thorough preparation using comprehensive study materials and practical hands-on experience. While the exam is difficult, it can be passed with proper studying. There are many resources available to help candidates prepare, ranging from books and online courses, to practice tests and study groups. With hard work and commitment to learning the material, IT professionals can pass the SEC+ exam and proudly gain this valuable security certification.
In today’s environment of rampant data breaches and cyber attacks, organizations are seeking qualified information security staff. Earning the Security+ certification validates critical job skills and can open doors to exciting, in-demand cybersecurity roles. The reward of passing this challenging exam is a career boost and new opportunities in this growing field.