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4 min read

Tips for Successfully Completing the CDCP

Tips for Successfully Completing the CDCP

Our Cyber Defense Certified Professional (CDCP) exam is a force to be reckoned with.

Believe me, I know. Last year, I attempted this exam myself—and much to my own surprise, I passed! (I was even one indicator away from earning Gold, which both thrills and bums me—but mostly thrills, because I never thought I’d make it that far. 🥹)

I shared a few tips for successfully completing the CDCP in the last blog of my series from a student's perspective, but ‘tis the season for a new cohort to start the exciting journey that ultimately leads to the opportunity to take this exam. So, I figured I’d make myself useful and gather some sage words of advice from my fellow Cyber Defense Certified Professionals.

I posed a question over on our Discord: What are your best tips for absolutely crushing the CDCP? I was soon flooded with great advice—advice I wish I’d have had a year ago!

Here are some tips and best practices for successfully completing the CDCP—as told by alumni who’ve been there, done that.

1. Get organized.

There’s nothing worse than taking screenshots to show your work…only to get the screenshot you really need lost in a sea of screenshots.

Discord user visage suggests making a dedicated folder for the CDCP and subfolders for each project. 

Neatly organized and with a standardized naming convention, his screenshots were easy to refer back to and include in the final reports. Nothing got lost in the shuffle, which alleviated what could have easily turned into otherwise avoidable stress. 

visage and Jayteaare both recommend naming each screenshot as you’re saving it. It’s easy to save a screenshot, paste it into your report, and then forget to rename it altogether, making things messy when you’re ready to make edits. Just do it while it’s in front of you to save yourself some hassle (and regret) later.

Jayteaare adds his personal approach on what to do with those screenshots: he immediately put them in his report and wrote out rough explanations for the screenshots and steps as he went. This made it easier for him to go back later and add additional narrative without stopping him from chasing the lead he was in the process of documenting.

BONUS tip: Show your work!

Your instructors will expect you to show your work—how you arrive at various conclusions, why you think something looks sus, etc. Screenshots are the perfect way to show your work in a report. Don’t think twice about it: set up those folders and be ready to roll before you begin your exam.

You’ll thank yourself later, I promise.

2. Figure out which reports you want to do first—and which ones you want to save for last.

I’ve received mixed pieces of feedback on which reports to do first and which ones to save, so I’ll cover both sides of the coin so you can make your own informed decision.

I tend to agree with CilantroToast myself, as his suggestion is in line with how I’d completed my exam. He recommends finishing the reports that come easiest to you first and leaving your weakest for last. He brings up a good point:

It is a timed test. Finishing what you're good at first will be better than taking an unknown amount of time on something you're weak at and having no time for everything else.

This was exactly how I felt, too. Plus, starting where I was comfortable made the rest of the exam feel less intimidating. It was a brief little confidence boost before pivoting to the exams that were more challenging and required more time and effort.

Fellow Discord user Ar̷̛͚tifex̷̪̽ :michael: seems to share that sentiment, as he left one of the more challenging modules for last, which caused quite a bit of stress:

I left log analysis for the very end. I remember panicking with 36 hours left and nothing to show for that module.

The other (and equally valid) approach is to start with the hard topics first and then move to the easier ones. This is where time management becomes critical. You don’t want to spend half the week on one hard report only to look over and see you’ve got multiple other reports left to write. 

Ultimately, your goal is to keep a steady pace, no matter which reports you knock out first. Start with the easy ones or the hard ones—your choice—but make sure you leave enough time to complete the rest of your reports.

3. Life happens. You’re human. Roll with the punches.

Michael { Data & Cyber } recounts his particularly stressful participation in the CDCP:

I remember doing mini sprint bursts....kids and illness were a wildcard for my time management. I worked each challenge until I had the basic understanding of the issue/attack and how it could be mitigated. Filled in the details with screenshots and so on later.

Kids get sick. You get sick. Life is gonna life, regardless of the CDCP. It’s all in how you roll with those punches, finding your groove and sticking to it until you’re ready to hit that submit button.

I don’t have kids (but I have two cats, two birds, and a husband—do they count?), and I wasn’t sick that week, but I still struggled to manage my time while also working full-time. I ended up dedicating every lunch break and evening to chipping away at the CDCP, and I even ended up needing to take a day or two of PTO to knock it out.

And that’s okay. I did what I had to do, and I was able to submit everything on time.

Like visage also notes, it’s so important to include breaks as though they’re also necessary tasks in completing the CDCP. Once you start to feel overwhelmed, get up, stretch, walk around the block, sleep, make something to drink. You’re not going to be productive if you can’t think straight. Taking breaks is a critical component to successfully completing the CDCP.


Real talk? Completing the CDCP was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It made grad school feel like grade school. 

But it was also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. To this day, I still can’t believe I did it. I did it, a little old English grad who was always too intimidated by STEM fields to even think about it!

It’s tough, no doubt. But, at least for me, it was a phenomenal exercise for me to remind myself just who the hell I am. I’m capable of anything I put my mind to—and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that you are, too!

Special thanks to CDA alumni visage, Michael { Data & Cyber }, Ar̷̛͚tifex̷̪̽ :michael:, CilantroToast, and Jayteaare for chiming in with their best tips for completing the CDCP.

I hope these tips prove to be helpful to future test-takers. Good luck, Cyber Defenders!

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