My Triumphant Experience with the GFACT Exam

This past Friday, September 15th, 2023, I took my second cybersecurity certificate exam: the GIAC Foundational Cybersecurity Technologies (GFACT). Although this certification is beginner-level, I still learned a lot on my journey from starting my studies for it, taking practice tests, and then taking the actual exam. In this blog, I will be writing about my experiences with the process of getting this certificate as a whole, as well as some advice for anybody new to cybersecurity who is about to take it or would like to.

What Is the GFACT?

The GFACT is the most entry-level certificate GIAC (who specialize in cybersecurity certifications) has to offer. The exam is open note, and 75 questions need to be answered in two hours. In order to pass the exam, the test taker must earn at least 71%. The nice thing about this exam is that they offer a fifteen-minute break period (which can be broken into two times throughout the exam) in case you need it. However, I did not end up using this time since it would have forced me to answer the questions I skipped until the end before I took the break. Lastly, I was given this exam for free after earning more than 20,000 points in the 2022-23 CyberStart America. I will be covering plenty of material on CyberStart America once the 2023-24 challenge opens in October! Overall, this exam, especially when given for free, is a great starting point for beginners to cybersecurity since it provides such a broad range of topics.

How Did I do on it?

After using the SANS Training Academy provided to me for free by CyberStart America, taking two practice tests, and using Quizlet to review (more on all these later), I was able to get a 90%! Despite the exam being an open note, I still felt very comfortable with the questions being asked and usually only needed the books to double-check if my answer was correct. After completing the exam, I was given a summary of the areas I thrived in and the ones I did not:

Biggest Challenges

Getting this exam was not a straight path to success. Despite how useful the content contained in the SANS academy was, it took me weeks to study all of it and feel prepared for the exam. If you are planning to take this exam, do not be so confident with just using the books, as that will kill a lot more time than you expect. It is crucial to have at least a basic understanding of all the topics provided in the academy to be genuinely prepared for the test, which takes a lot of time and effort. Another issue I faced was dealing with school and studying for the exam at the same time for the last few weeks leading up to the exam date. Luckily for me, the last few weeks of preparation came in the grace period of the school year. However, it was still quite a struggle to motivate myself to continue studying after a long day at school. I was originally supposed to take the exam on the 9th, but after my original test center had problems trying to sign me in, I had to reschedule to take the exam six days later. That may not seem like a big deal, but at the time, the opportunity for me to get a higher level scholarship from CyberStart, the scholar with honors, would end on the 15th of September, meaning I would have to take the exam on a school day! This stressed me out for a few days following the failed attempt to take the test, however, I eventually found a much better test center and took it in the morning of a school day.

Advice

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For anybody looking to take this exam, you must get 20,000 points in this year’s CyberStart America challenge. The 20,000 points grant you a scholarship that gives you the SANS training academy, two practice tests, and one certification attempt for free. If you do not do this, you will end up having to pay approximately $3,000! Once you get access to the SANS training academy, make sure to use it as a means of preparation alongside a Quizlet set. I know there is a lot of content to go through in the SANS academy, but even if you have a brief understanding of all the topics, you will be ready to dominate the exam. In addition to the free exam and the training academy, you are also given two free practice tests for getting over 20,000 points in CyberStart. These practice tests are extremely similar to the real exam, and you should take both of them before the real thing. Additionally, SANS will provide you with three books that contain the same content found in the training academy. YOU MUST KEEP THESE BOOKS! The exam is open note, so why would you ever get rid of these three books? Make sure you are comfortable with them whilst taking the two practice tests, as your confidence with finding the answers in these notebooks will make or break your chances of acing the exam. Lastly, make sure you are taking the exam in a highly rated test center as this will make the process so much smoother and avoid any issues outside your influence like what happened to me

What’s Next?

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I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that CyberStart America has given me and the journey I went through to get the certificate. I understand that this is just the beginning of a long, difficult road, but we might as well enjoy the struggle, right? I plan on taking the Google Cybersecurity Certificate and documenting my progress with this year’s CyberStart America challenge. I hope you enjoyed this blog, and if you are taking the GFACT exam any time soon, I wish you the best of luck, and may your cybersecurity journey be a fulfilling one!

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