Roughly one year after I passed the GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT) exam, I took the GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB). I became one of a less than a thousand professionals who earned the certification. One of the observations that I have is that preparations I did for both exams were pretty much the same- from the length of time I studied and the manner I created the index etc.

I decided to write this article to help those people who are planning or studying for any GIAC exam. I also compared my preparation to others who took a different GIAC exam and the results are pretty much the same.

I am providing exam preparations for those who are taking either the SANS boot camp (live) or a SANS on-demand course. I’m not in the position to provide tips for those taking a challenge exam because I haven’t tried it. (those who don’t have any SANS materials and solely rely on their own resources matching the GIAC exam objectives)

So here it goes…

8.Read all the SANS books at least 3 times .

I know it’s quite lengthy and some people have a tendency to just read the chapter summary. But you have to read the books and its entirety. SANS sticks to its course materials. There will be a lot of trick questions along the way but all the questions will come from the course materials.So if you miss the details, then you miss the opportunity to answer it. Believe me, the summary won’t exactly tell you the specific directory where that certain Trojan hides the file.  You need to have read it.

Also, based on my my experience, almost 50-50 of the questions in exam are theoretical and application questions. The exam won’t only check if you know how to use the tools. It will also check if you understood why, when and where to use them. These things will be explained in the books.

Why read the books at least 3 times? The first time you read the materials, I’m sure it’s going to be information overload. But it will give you a grasp of the width and depth of the exam. You will be able to scope your study. You can start using post-its to mark the chapters of the books. The second time you read, you will give time to understand the lessons in the materials. You may start doing your index that time. The third time you read the materials, you it will refresh you with the things you already know and you can get back to the topics you might have missed.

7.Do all the lab exercises and explore the other functionalities of the tools.

When you go to the SANS training, you will be receiving a USB containing all the tools and lab environment that you need. You need to do all the lab exercises. Some of the tools might be familiar to you like Wireshark, Cain, Whois etc. Do the exercises still because depending on the course, the tools may be used in a different way.

Also, be aware of the tools that are introduced in the book but don’t have any lab exercises. There are questions that will ask you about that tool and you need to have an idea how to use it.

And don’t expect questions that ask for the same commands or actions that were used in the lab exercises. The exam will give a different scenario using different commands and functionalities of the tool. So it’s best to explore the functionalities of the tool other than the things that were given in the exercise.

6.Create your index for the topics.

As you would know, GIAC exams are open notes. And usually in class, the exams that are open notes are not easy exams. haha You might be tempted to skip the study and search the answers in the books during exam. That’s not good at all. You only have approximately 1.5 minutes to answer an item in the exam.

One of the traditional ways to do it is through creating your index of the topics and tools. It can be done in MS Word or MS Excel depending on your need. You can even use a notebook to write down the notes handwritten.

The goal of the index is to help you recall what the specific details in that topic are. There should be a short description about it and a reference on what book, chapter and page you can find more information about it.

The goal of the index is not to copy paste the contents in the book in a different paper. That won’t be helpful. Just summarize the topic and write the reference where you can find it.

Ideally, your index should be around 3-5 pages long.

5.Create another index for the tools.

When you study for the exam, you will be studying and using around 100+ tools. It’s also best to create index indicating specifically the purpose of the tool is, the known commands, the interface type (GUI or CLI) and for what platform/s it can run.

You can put reference to the page of the book as well if that tool has a lot of notable very long commands.

4.Set a date for your exam so you will be motivated to study.

You have four (4) months  after the training or initial subscription to take the exam. Personally, I think that’s already a long time. With this type of time frame, you might have the notion thinking that you have a lot of time. To avoid this type of thinking, set the exam in advance so that you will be motivated (and forced) to study to meet that deadline.

Also, don’t schedule the exam very late like setting it up on the last day that you can possibly take the exam. Provide a buffer because unavoidable incidents might happen like typhoons or flooding in the Philippines can disrupt the operations of exam centers. (or other personal issues like sickness etc) You will have to pay additional fees if you will take the exam beyond the 4-month period.

Also, GIAC allows rescheduling of exam at least 24-hours prior from the actual date of the exam. Providing a buffer will give you a time to reschedule for free.

3.Treat the Practice Tests like it’s the actual exam.

SANS will provide you two (2) practice tests that simulate the certification exam. The questions there will show you the way they ask questions in the actual exam. Personally, I think the tuning point for your review is when you take the first practice test. It will tell you exactly afterwards in what exam domains you need to improve on.

Important note: Treat the practice tests like the actual tests. In my experience, I took the practice tests free from any work or pressure. I took the practice test after I rested well. I also took the practice test in a closed room with proper ventilation and lighting, similar to the actual testing center.

You can opt to choose to see the explanation of the wrong answers or all the answers. My default choice is to show the explanation of all the answers.

Another important note: Don’t expect that the questions in the practice tests will appear in the exam. These practice tests will only provide you the feeling of taking the exam. You will be disappointed if you will just memorize the questions thinking that these will appear in the actual exam. haha

2.Go to the Exam Center at least an hour early with your books, index and exam permit.

Research very well about the Exam Center where you will be taking your exam. Check the online forum and see what people say about the exam center. Remember, that’s where you will be taking the $1,000 USD exam! It has to be able to provide the best environment for you that day. I have been taking my exam in TrendsNet in Makati. The building is already old and the elevators are slow but the exam center is newly renovated. The exam rooms are comfortable, quiet and clean. There’s no parking area so whenever I take the exam, it’s either I take a taxi, Uber or park the car in the mall. The staff is very accommodating and friendly. They are familiar how to handle GIAC exams.

You need to be in the Exam Center early because they are strict with the time slots you have reserved to. It is better to be early than late. They won’t allow you to take the exam if you’re late and you  need to pay a penalty of around $150.

It pays to be early because it will give you time to relax and take time to go to the restroom and do your last minute preparations. The exam center will also permit you to take the exam early if there are free slots that time.

1.Pray hard and find time to relax.

I’m not religious but I find time to pray, talk to God and ask for guidance. Praying gives me a positive vibe. I also find time to relax after a study time like having a massage, eating ice cream etc. haha These small things help me take things positively. Praying and relaxing surely helped me in passing the exam.

These are some of the things that you can do to prepare for the exam.I hope these tips will help!

Good luck for those who are studying/ will be taking the exam soon.

For those who have taken the exam, what are your exam preparation tips? 🙂

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