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Author’s note: This article started out as an exam prep guide for the CISM. But since the exam prep for ISACA’s CISM and CISA exams are 95% the same, I just added my CISA notes to the end of this post. I recommend reading the entire post if you are prepping for either exam.

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Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is a highly respected certification for information security managers. It’s like the CISSP but focused more on the management of information security programs. If the CISSP is “a mile wide an inch deep”, then the CISM is a kilometer wide and 10 centimeters deep.

  • CISSP All-In-One Exam Guide by Shon Harris and Fernando Maymi. Heralded as the number one CISSP training resource is the CISSP All-in-One Exam Guide, Seventh Edition. Note that it is based on the 2015 CBK domains. In addition to in-depth coverage of those domains, it includes exam tips and sample questions with answer explanations.
  • Livelessons (Certified Information Systems Auditor) CISA course free download. With the help of this study material, you will gain an in-depth understanding of each objective in the CISA exam as well as a deeper understanding of auditing and security. CISA course free download: This course was created by Sari Greene.

This exam prep guide consists of four phases: plan, review, practice, test. In the following sections, I’ll provide a brief overview of what’s done in each phase. If you need something more detailed, I encourage you to read my earlier post on preparing to take the CISSP in 30 days.

Planning Phase

The first step for taking an ISACA exam is to review the ISACA Exam Candidate Information Guide (CIG). The CIG provides you with all the information you need to register for the exam. ISACA exams all cost the same: $575 for members, $760 for non-members.

The CISM requires five years of information security management experience. For ISACA, that means managing information security programs (technology and processes). You do not have to be a people manager to qualify for the CISM.

CISM Application Process

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There are two other things you should do before scheduling your exam.

First, download the Application for CISM Certification and review it carefully. You should know that ISACA requires you to pay $50 after you complete the exam before they will process your application. You will also need two people to verify your experience. You should prepare the application before sitting for the exam to verify that you meet the eligibility criteria. When you pass, submit it to ISACA with your application fee.

Second, submit an application to join ISACA. Joining ISACA is expensive. It requires $135 of international fees + $30 in new member fees + $20-100 in chapter fees. The benefits of joining are worth it though if you’re already planning to become certified. You’ll save a lot of money on examination and certification renewal fees. You'll also gain access to ISACA’s knowledge portal which is among the best in the industry.

Review Phase

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For the review phase, log on to www.isaca.org and do a search for “CISM Exam Resources.” This will take you to ISACA’s bookstore. The only book you need for the CISM exam is the CISM Review Manual (latest edition). The ISACA member price is usually the best available.

Quickly review the CISM Review Manual before moving on to the practice phase.

Practice Phase

For the practice phase, I recommend using the Feynman Technique described in my earlier post. You can also buy the CISM Review Questions, Answers, and Explanations (QAE) Database from ISACA. It is by far the best practice material available for the CISM exam. ISACA offers the QAE in either book form or as an online database. They are exactly the same, so you only need to buy one or the other, not both.

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If this is your first information security exam, give yourself at least ten hours to review and practice each of the four CISM domains. That's 40 to 50 hours of focused study time.

For my CISM prep, I bought the online QAE but I never got around to using it. I did fine relying on the information I remembered from my CISSP prep and the CISM Review Manual. If I were doing the CISM again, I'd skip the QAE and focus on practicing with the CISM Review Manual. Plenty of others have said the exact opposite -- that they preferred reviewing the QAE over the manual -- so pick the option that suits you best. If this is your first ISACA exam, I recommend using both the review manual and the QAE.

Test Phase

Material

My biggest tip for the CISM exam: don’t take it too lightly. The CISM is a multiple-choice exam. But unlike most multiple-choice exams, most questions have at least three good answers. You will see a lot of questions that ask, “What is the MOST important thing to do in this situation?” or “Which step should you take FIRST?”. You won’t be able to guess at these questions. You must truly understand the CISM material.

Prepping for the CISA

Preparing for the CISA exam is 95% the same as preparing for CISM. The only difference is that there are more references available for it than for the CISM. These include:

The official CISA Review Manual from ISACA is still going to be your best bet for exam prep. But these guides can be useful for supplementing the ISACA material.

ISACA also offers an Online Review Course for the CISA. It's fairly priced at $795 for members. It's a nice option if your employer is paying for it. Otherwise, I'd save the money and do a thorough review of the exam material linked above.

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Of course, you'll also want to review and complete the Application for CISA Certification before taking your test.

Wrapping Up

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As always, if you made it this far, I recommend you take the next step by registering for your CISA or CISM exam today. If you've already taken and passed the CISA or CISM, I would love to hear your feedback on this guide. Please leave a comment below if you have any other questions.

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Thanks for reading and good luck!