As I mentioned here, I use Obsidian to prepare for tests.
I have a simple process for preparing:
- Exam Prep note
- Find study material sources
- Create Topic Notes
- Gather data into Topic Notes
- Make content my own
- Gather data into Topic Notes
- Turn Topic Notes into slides
- Review slides
- Take practice tests
- Add content to address weaknesses
- New notes specific to a part of the content/category
- Repeat steps 4, 5 & 6
- Take exam
This process has worked for me - I’ve passed 100% of the tests I taken using this method, on my first attempt.
This process has been developed over many years, I started using Obsidian to study for exams years ago, but around the end of 2022/beginning of 2023 it got a massive upgrade.
I stumbled into the process of using slides as part of preparing for the CISSP exam. Looking around for study material I came across the YouTube Channel Inside Cloud and Security with a playlist that covers the CISSP exam. After taking notes on a few of the Domains, in Obsidian, I started to look at the other videos in the play list, to give myself a bit of break one study session.
In one of the videos the host mentioned that he used a slide deck to prepare for his test - reviewing his slides to memorize the content. I thought about this for a bit and realized that using slides would probably work for me too - but my content was in Obsidian, not in PowerPoint. I spent a bit of time trying to convert my Obsidian notes into a slide deck in PowerPoint - but gave up on that approach as it appeared I would have to manually copy and paste everything over.
Luckily I found that someone had created a plugin for Obsidian that will turn a note file into a slide deck - Advanced Slides.
After installing the plugin, I was able to quickly update my CISSP notes to turn them into slides. This took some work to get them into a format that made sense as slides - I had to break each note into multiple slides, then I had to make sure that the markdown formatting was correct so that the content would display correctly.
The Advanced Slides plugin has a live preview feature in Obsidian, or you can launch the slides in a browser. I use the live preview to speed up the re-formatting and the browser for studying.
Once I figured out the various formatting tweaks that worked for me it was simple enough to keep that pattern going when I started preparing for the NSE7 and Azure Security exams I also took this year.
That’s the slide making process at some depth, but that isn’t the full extent of the process…
The Whole Process
When I decide to take an exam I create an Exam Prep note, it becomes the central hub for all the content related to that exam. This is where I want to gather all materials related to the exam that I can - a link to the main page for the exam, web pages with study material, links to YouTube videos\playlists, links to practice tests, links to books related to the content, etc. By the end of my process, the Exam Prep Note becomes the Table of Contents for everything to do with that test.
The exam writers list the topics covered in the exam - I take that list and put it into my Exam Prep note, too.
For the CISSP exam, there are 8 Domains covered, so those got listed. I then created a Topic Note for each Domain and started populated those.
I filled in each Topic Note with content from the Official Study Guide and content from YouTube - link above. But each entry must be in my own words - I can’t copy and paste. If I copy and paste the content, it doesn’t stick in my head when I review it later. Forcing myself to write something in my own words adds to my prep time, I often find I must go look up another source to get someone else’s take on the material before I can write my own notes about it. For the CISSP this was a fair bit of bouncing between YouTube and the Official Study guide, for the AZ-500 exam it was bouncing between the Online Learning Paths and the MS documentation for the specific features. Sometimes I’d go looking for a third or even a fourth source - so that when I put the note content in there, I know that I’ve got a correct representation of the idea\technology\item, because I’m going to be reviewing my notes repeatedly - I don’t want to hammer the wrong answer into my head.
Once I’ve got the details for a topic note together, I need to turn it into a Slide. Covered above.
When my slides look good, it’s time to review them. What I generally do, is start the review process after I’ve got a few of the Topic Notes done - for the CISSP I think I started reviewing after I had finished the 3rd or 4th Domain’s topic note.
I schedule study time every morning, and I rarely missed. I use this time to create notes, format the slides and review the slides - but one or two evening a week I would add a formatting or slide review session. I find that I am better at creating new notes in the morning, which requires more creativity. I can fix the formatting at night, because it is generally formulaic and a simple problem to solve. I suspect there is some additional benefit to reviewing the slides at night, too.
After I’ve reviewed the content multiple times I will take a practice test, if available - so far this year I’ve been able to do this.
The practice test tells me where I need to focus more. This may be more slide review time or I’ve missed some of the content or I need to address specific content differently. For the CISSP exam I created additional topic notes specific to the Risk Analysis Formulas and Risk Management Frameworks, plus a couple others, so I could review those independently of the rest of the content, because I needed to spend more time reviewing those specific items.
Once I’ve gathered the data I think I need to address the weakness(es), I review it a few times, then take another practice test and see how I do. If required, I repeat this process to fill in more gaps.
I’d like to say that at this point I feel totally confident before I take the test - but that has not been the case recently. What has happened is my exam has been scheduled and I go write it because I don’t want to move the date. By this point in the process I’ve spent weeks or months preparing, I’ve reviewed my notes many many times and I’ve done well on practices tests - so I should be prepared, but I still feel nervous about taking the exam.
I touched on it earlier, but I feel it deserves a second mention, a large part of my success is that I have been very very consistent with my preparation. When I have been preparing for these exams, I have studied nearly every morning of the week - my goal was to study 7 days a week, but I missed a day here and there occasionally. I believe the daily consistency has been an important factor, by working with the concepts, ideas, technologies, nearly every morning I’ve kept it top of mind.
While I can’t discount luck as being a factor in passing the exams I’ve taken this year - I can say that this process has helped. Following this approach consistently, reviewing the material, creating notes in my own words, using practices tests and gathering material from multiple sources seems the best available option for preparing for an exam for me.
Good luck with your exams!