CISSP Changes to Adaptive Testing

CISSP Changes to Adaptive Testing

Adaptive ExamBig changes are in store for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam!  In a major break from past exam experiences, (ISC)2 recently announced a shift to adaptive testing on December 18, 2017.  CISSP candidates taking the exam in English on or after that date will face the adaptive exam.  There’s no option to choose the old-style exam. This is an immediate and complete change to the testing format.

Are you preparing for the CISSP adaptive exam? Join the free CertMike CISSP Study Group and I’ll help you with a weekly practice schedule, exam tips, and access to a community of fellow CISSP candidates.

What is Adaptive Testing?

In a traditional testing experience, exam writers design a lengthy set of questions designed to test students knowledge of a set of topics.  Students attempting the exam then sit down and walk through that set of questions.  They can freely move back and forth through the exam revising their answers until time expires.

In an adaptive exam, the exam writers create a pool of questions but each exam is customized to the skill and ability of the individual test-taker.  The exam starts out with easy questions and then becomes progressively more difficult as candidates answer questions correctly.  This approach avoids asking candidates unnecessary questions by assuming that if you’re able to answer difficult questions on a topic, you would also be able to answer easier questions on similar topics.

How Many Questions are on the CISSP Exam?

The major benefit of adaptive testing is that exams will be shorter in length.   Under the old format, the CISSP exam contained 250 multiple choice questions.  You’ll find that the adaptive exam will vary in length for each student but will have a minimum of 100 questions and a maximum of 150 questions.  The exam is designed to continue asking you questions until you reach one of three different stopping conditions:

  • Reaching a statistically significant result.  Once you’ve answered a minimum of 100 questions, the exam will stop if the testing engine is 95% confident that you will either pass or fail the exam.  (Technically, you only need to answer 75 “operational” questions to pass the exam, but I’ll address that later.)
  • Reaching the maximum test length.  You will never receive more than 150 questions.  If you answer 150 questions and the exam software is unable to reach a conclusion with 95% confidence, it will use the questions that you’ve already answered to make a determination about your exam performance.  This may be either a passing or failing determination, based on your answers.
  • Running out of time.  When you exceed the three-hour time limit for the exam, the exam will stop immediately.  If you have not answered at least 100 questions, you will automatically fail the exam.  If you’ve answered the minimum number of questions, the exam software will use your answers to make a passing or failing determination.

How Long is the CISSP Exam?

The lower number of questions also means that you’ll spend less time taking the exam.  While the standard exam clocked in as a six-hour test-taking marathon, you’ll only have three hours to complete the adaptive exam.  Under the old format, you had 1.4 minutes to answer each question on the exam.  Depending on how many questions you receive on the adaptive exam, you’ll have between 1.2 and 1.8 minutes to answer each question.  That means there won’t be much of a change in the pace of the exam, but you’ll spend much less time in the testing center.

How Will Adaptive Testing Change the Exam Experience?

The difficulty of the questions on the exam will change from the standard format. If you’re doing well on the exam, the questions will get progressively harder as you work your way through the test.  If you notice questions getting more difficult, don’t panic.  That’s a good indication that you’re doing well on the exam.

Another significant change in the adaptive exam is that you won’t be able to move freely through the exam.  Gone are the days of skipping questions and revisiting your answers later.  Each time you answer a question, you lock in your choice and won’t be able to revise your answer.  The exam software decides what questions to pose to you based on your answers to previous questions.  Changing your answers would disrupt this adaptive experience.  Therefore, you need to be much more careful as you move through the exam.  You won’t have an opportunity to double-check your work.

What’s the CISSP Passing Score?

In an adaptive testing format, it becomes much more difficult to determine your score.  There’s no simple relationship between the number of questions you answer correctly and your final score.  You’ll receive more credit for answering difficult questions and reduced credit for answering simpler questions.  You also won’t receive a score at the end of the exam. Instead, you’ll simply be told whether you’ve successfully passed the exam or failed to meet the standard.

This may seem cryptic and opaque, but there’s a reason for this seemingly odd behavior.  The testing engine continuously evaluates your performance as you take the exam.  It’s designed to always present you with a question that you have a 50% chance of successfully answering.  Therefore, you will probably feel like you are not doing well as you take the exam.  By design, you should only answer half of the questions correctly.

Should I Prepare Differently?

No, you won’t need to prepare any differently for the adaptive exam than you would for the standard test.  The adaptive exam covers the same material as the standard test.  It simply presents the questions in a different manner.

If you’d like to get ready for the exam, join my free CISSP study group.  I’ll provide you with weekly emails that guide you through the study process step-by-step.

Does the Exam Still Include Beta Questions?

Yes, you will receive an exam that consists of approximately 75% operational questions and 25% developmental questions.  The developmental questions do not count toward your score.  (ISC)2 is testing them for future use on the exam.  You won’t know which questions are developmental and which are operational.

Technically speaking, the minimum number of questions that you must answer on the exam is not 100 total questions, but 75 operational questions.  Since you can’t tell the difference between operational and developmental questions, it’s easiest to describe the exam as having a minimum length of 100 questions.

What Other (ISC)2 Exams Are Adaptive?

This change currently applies only to English versions of the CISSP exam.  If you’re taking the CISSP in another language, you’ll still take the traditional 250-question standard exam.  Other (ISC)2 credentials, including the SSCP exam, will continue to use the standard testing format, at least for the time being.  Expect to see the adaptive format roll out to other exams and languages in the near future.

How Should I Prepare?

You can prepare for the adaptive CISSP exam using the same study strategies as the old format test. I encourage you to join the free CertMike CISSP Study Group and I’ll help you with a weekly practice schedule, exam tips, and access to a community of fellow CISSP candidates.

  • Joe Beauchamp
    Posted at 20:53h, 25 November Reply

    This sounds great. I always hated the idea of spending 6 long hours sitting in front of a computer screen at a testing center.

  • Stephen Dyson
    Posted at 13:22h, 29 January Reply

    Sat and passed the exam today and I can confirm all of the above. My Exam was 130 questions (stated would be between 100-150), the time limit was 3 hours and as mentioned above I also felt that the exam was not going well.

  • Dom Asare
    Posted at 19:00h, 09 February Reply

    Sat and passed the exam yesterday and I also confirm all of the above. My Exam was 150 questions (stated would be between 100-150), the time limit was 3 hours and as mentioned above I also felt that the exam was not going well.

  • Rodney
    Posted at 18:40h, 11 February Reply

    I sat for the exam yesterday and I got exactly 100 questions. After the exam I felt terrible and would have bet any amount that I failed. I can’t explain the joy when I saw those words, “Congratulations! We are pleased…”

  • Stephen Gichohi
    Posted at 08:45h, 15 February Reply

    I sat for my paper 3 days ago and i attest that it started really difficult and i had completely lost hope within the first 20 questions. My questions too stated its between 100-150 and it ended up been 150. As it proceeded the questions became managable and i passed finally. You dont get your score results you just a congratulatory letter saying you have passed. As for failing i am not sure the message you get but i assume you wont be told your score either

  • Nishith Vyas
    Posted at 06:26h, 15 March Reply

    I’m in good pressure as my exam date is 22/03/2018.

    Revised the official CISSP Book twice & now started to look minimum 1000 questions from CISSP EXAM CRAM Guide.

    Can anybody tell me what kind of questions are asked in exam? I’m looking for specific format. Do they ask a such questions which has a huge paragraph or simple 1 line question which can be understood easily?

  • Alie
    Posted at 10:28h, 18 April Reply

    Does it still contain questions that contain written answers??

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