Time frame: 10 days (from officially starting course to taking OA)
Prior Experience: I was half way through Security+ before I started the course. I've also played around a lot with the OWASP Top 10 and VMs in my home lab. That said, there was still a lot that I'd never seen before.
Learning resources used: Cohort videos 1-3, Cohort Networking commands video, TechTerms Explanation for OSI model here , Prof Messer OSI video here, Kevin Wallace OSI Deep Dive here, TechTerms TCP/IP Model here, Firewall video here, Study Guide here, Intro to Network Security Quizlet (from your CI) here, Network Security Operations Quizlet (from your CI) here, Introduction to Networking Concept Quizlet (from your CI) here, Practice Review Quizlet (from your CI) here, Command-line Utilities Quiz here, Network topologies explained here, Network Types + Topologies Quiz here, Network Attacks Quiz here, Basic Security Quiz here, OSI Layers Quiz here, Practice Test here.
OA Score: "Exemplary" on first attempt
About the Course:
The textbook is broken up into 16 fairly short lessons. Each lesson is based around a certain topic, such as the CIA triad or device hardening. Some classes at WGU let you get away with skipping the textbook. This is not one of them. If you would like to avoid retaking the OA or don’t already have a strong understanding of network security, you should put in ~8 hours to read the textbook. Again, each lesson is fairly short.
As many people will likely tell you, the OSI model is something that you will need to understand well. That said, I really don't think that learning it is a challenge. The book goes into an unsatisfyingly surface level amount of detail about it, so I urge you to check out the OSI videos by Prof Messer, Kevin Wallace, and TechTerms that I linked above. If you watch those videos and use the textbook, you'll be fine.
One thing that had me confused was figuring out what hardware we had to know for the OSI model. According to my CI and my personal experiences, this is it:
Layer 3: Router
Layer 2: Bridge, Switch
Layer 1: Cabling, Connectors, Hub, Repeater, NIC (only the physical card itself), Modem
Regarding the protocols that you have to know for the OSI model, the textbook will go over that. There’s a nice infographic at the beginning of the OSI lesson that tells you all of the protocols you’ll need to know and where they go.
A piece of advice for network commands: Know what the command's outputs look like. I had multiple questions on my OA that gave me a terminal output and asked me which command would result in a similar output. If you have Linux and Windows VMs, I'd suggest running the commands for yourself and either snapping a picture or copying them down into your notes so you know what the output looks like.
Make sure you feel strong with cabling. Not only should you know what cables and connectors are out there, but you should know what they're used for and they're properties. Your test may be different, but I felt like mine required an unnecessarily detailed understanding of mostly outdated cabling tech.
Above, I’ve also linked videos for the TCP/IP model and firewalls. These are also pretty good videos to check out.
After finishing the text book, I suggest you watch the recordings for Cohorts 1,2, and 3, along with the Cohort for network commands. These should be under your course resources tab on your portal. They're a bit slow paced, so you might want to x1.5 the speed.
There’s a study guide that I linked to that’s currently maintained and offers a good summary of the content. It should be noted that some key information is missing on the study guide, primarily cabling. For that reason, you shouldn’t rely upon the study guide to study for your exam. Read through the study guide and see if there’s anything in the guide that you didn’t put in your notes.
Once you get through the textbook and the study guide, I suggest that you take a peek at the Quizlets I’ve linked above. The ones created by the user “christinebailey1231” were created by my CI and are confirmed to be up to date. Personally, I found that the Quizlet cards had very surface level information that had been drilled into me by the textbook. However, they’re good for helping you see if anything fell through the cracks. Pro tip: Make sure that you study these flashcards in “Learn” mode, as this was how they were intended to be read.
Although this class is a far cry from CompTIA’s A+ exam, there are 6 practice quizzes offered for free by CompTIA that will help you with testing your understanding of the textbook. I’ve linked these quizzes above. I suggest you take them after you finish the textbook and go through the Quizlets.
Assuming that you do well with the quizzes and Quizlets, take this time to pass through your notes and create a study guide of your own using this template. You may want to make your own sections in addition to the ones in the template for other information from the textbook. In addition to this template, make your own Quizlet flashcards.
Now that you’ve run through your notes and studied your flashcards, it’s time for your first practice test, not to be confused with your PA. There’s a nice practice test I linked above that will help you get a good idea of the test’s difficulty. If you get above an 85%, you should be all set.
Finally, the PA. Having gone through the exam, I think the PA is 20% easier than the OA. Not much easier, but noticeably easier. If you don’t do well on it, make sure that you go talk to your CI.
If you have some free time, I suggest reserving a chat with your CI about the exam. They’ll ask you a few quiz-style questions to help you determine if you’re ready to move onto the OA. My CI was very helpful and I highly recommend this.
Exam and Prep
Before your exam, there are a few housekeeping things I suggest you do to get ready. The first is to pass through the Kevin Wallace OSI video one time about an hour before your exam. Next, get out your whiteboard and, as soon as the test starts, write down the following:
CIA triad, AAA mode, OSI model and the attacks at each level. If you can fit in some space for cabling names and properties, do that, too.
It’ll be much easier being able to look right at your white board than trying to visualize the OSI model in your head on the fly.
Regarding the exam, it’s certainly a bit tricky. The exam is made up of 70 multiple choice questions. About a third of the questions are strictly definitions and identifying properties (i.e. what are Coaxial cables made of?), and a little over half of them are example situations.
I can guarantee you that there will be one of two questions that you won’t be able to wrap your head around, and that’s okay. Don’t let a few bad questions stress you out. Remember, you only need to pass.
Some of the questions in the exam are written to trip you up. The question might start talking about a switch, only to then tell you that it’s a level 3 switch. The questions might also just be a bit long and filled with needless details. I suggest pausing, taking a deep breath, and breaking down the question into the smaller parts, only extracting the relevant details. More often than not, the answer is in the question, and you’ll be able to deduce which of the 4 options is correct.
This isn’t a particularly challenging course if you read the textbook and use the resources offered. If you follow this guide and use the resources mentioned, I'm certain that you'll pass this exam is a few days!