Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5 Effective Ways to Study For the ISP Certification Exam

Out of the approximately 3500 NCMS members nearly 325 hold the ISP certification.  The test is challenging and candidates are expected to score at least 75% for a passing grade.

Why Certify?
 The ISP holder demonstrates a high level of knowledge. The certification is based on the NISPOM but also covers electives such as: COMSEC, OPSEC, and other topics.

This certified professional communicates to upper management that they are committed to the business, the industry and the protection of national interests. It puts the company in a stronger position while bidding on contracts and lends credibility to relationships with the oversight agency the Defense Security Services (DSS). Most of all, it gives the bearer confidence in their ability to apply their knowledge. As this certification program evolves, more and more employers will require the certification.

Only those working in the National Industrial Security Program for at least 5 years are edible for the ISP Certification. Five years experience should make the professional more than capable of passing the exam. However, understanding how to study will make a difference in their success.

Targeted focus for thirty minutes to an hour a day for six months can make a huge difference. However, study methods for open book tests are a lot different than for closed book tests. For example, the ISP Certification allows you to use the NISPOM and other reference material during the exam. This requires a broader understanding of where to find information by topic. The DoD’s Security Professional education Development certification does not allow candidates to bring reference material. This requires more memorization and more depth of study. However, in both cases, the tests are tough and candidates need to study. The few minutes made a big difference.

Test topics include Security Administration and Management, Document Security, Information Systems Security, Physical Security, Personnel Security, International Security, Classification, Security Education, and Audits and Self-Assessments. The broad scope of study provides a challenge as not every cleared contractor is experienced in all aspects of the NISPOM. But there are ways to prepare that will help pass the exam regardless of how much actual experience a candidate has for any of the topic areas. For example, you can pass all sections including NISPOM Chapter 8 topics without ever having had worked in the environment. An FSO or security manager at a company that only provides security cleared employees can pass the ISP Certification exam without ever having marked a classified document. How?  By following these five study methods to gain a better understanding of NISPOM.

1. Determine which type of test you will take and study using those resources and REGISTER. This will cause the clock to start ticking and seal your commitment. I recommend taking the computer exam and using the electronic NISPOM with ISLs. The “ctrl f” function is a life saver as it will allow you to search the NISPOM by keyword and topic. For instance, if a question covers proper marking procedures, you can search the NISPOM using keywords such as “classification marking”, “marking”, or using actual keywords in the question.

2. Become familiar with the NISPOM. It’s not necessary to memorize the NISPOM. Just, become familiar with chapter titles and paragraph topics and understand their applicability. This will help if you cannot find the answer using the keyword search. Sometimes questions won’t contain keywords and you’ll have to rely on intuition, experience and book knowledge. It’s important to know that information systems security is in Chapter 8, security education is in Chapter 3, document security is in chapter 5 and etc. Knowing topics will save a tremendous amount of time searching the NISPOM

3. Form a study group. Contact your local chapter of NCMS and join an existing or form a new study group. Also, join the NCMS’ Exam Preparation Program. This is led by a team of ISP Mentors and includes conference calls, downloads and purchasing their study guide.

4. Work outside of your area of expertise. Security specialists working in a large organization might work in one small discipline such as document control, classified contracts, information system security, or program area. It may be possible to cross train in other security disciplines to become more familiar with wider ranging NISPOM requirements. If you the opportunity does not exist, consider asking FSOs in another company to train you on their procedures. This can form the basis of a working study group.

5. Take DSS courses. Concentrate on the nine core areas of the ISP Certification Exam. This will help you reinforce NISPOM requirements and where to find answers in the NISPOM concerning the subject matter.

There are many excuses not to take the exam: the cost, time involved, or fear of failure. Take the online test! If you can perform a search in a PDF file, you can pass the test. The exam gives 110 multiple choice questions and takes up to 120 minutes. There is a clock that keeps track of the time and the test times out automatically. How convenient.

If you take the online exam, I recommend using two monitors. Open the test in one monitor and the PDF version of the NISPOM in the other. Open the search function in the NISPOM and type key words from the test question to find the reference. It’s that simple, but takes some practice.

The following are websites that offer reference for the ISP test study. The first website offers 20 free practice questions, study tips and PDF files of the NISPOM.
ISP Certification Exam Manual

NCMS website:

I studied for six months, before I had the courage to take the test. I studied, documented my study methodology and began writing a book. I have a database of 440 questions  (four practice tests and recommendations) that will definitely help guarantee your success.

Whether you’re employed in the security field as a government employee, contractor, loss prevention or IT, you need the competitive edge.

Jeffrey W. Bennett, ISP is the owner of Red Bike Publishing Red Bike Publishing . Jeff is an accomplished writer of non-fiction books, novels and periodicals. He also owns Red bike Publishing. Published books include: "Get Rich in a Niche-Insider's Guide to Self Publishing in a Specialized Industry" and "Commitment-A Novel". Jeff is an expert in security and has written many security books including: "Insider's Guide to Security Clearances" and "DoD Security Clearances and Contracts Guidebook", "ISP Certification-The Industrial Security Professional Exam Manual", and NISPOM/FSO Training" See Red Bike Publishing for print copies of: Army Leadership The Ranger Handbook The Army Physical Readiness Manual Drill and Ceremonies The ITAR The NISPOM

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