Making A GIAC Exam Index

I have multiple GIAC certifications and have taken more than a couple SANS trainings. Like everyone else who has bagged a GIAC cert, I will tell you that having a good index is critical to getting a decent exam score. I’m also going to talk a bit about the different schools of thought people have about their indices, and make a few other recommendations that may or may not prove useful.

First, however, Hacks4Pancakes (aka Lesley Carhart) has an excellent blog post on preparing your GIAC exam index. Pay special attention to the “What You Need To Know” section! Lesley’s breakdown of core issues and concepts is so beautifully done there is nothing I could possibly add to it. What she doesn’t discuss in much depth, however, is the philosophy behind how different people prepare their indices.

I have found that most people fall into one of two camps when it comes to preparing an exam index:

  1. “I just want a lean & mean listing of terms and the books/pages where I can find the details.”
  2. “I do not have the time to go flipping through all my books during the exam looking for the answers I need, so I’m going to add brief definitions and other reference info to my index. If I need more detail, I can go to the related pages in my books as required.”

While I understand (and somewhat admire) the first school of thought, I am definitely of the second school when it comes to my indices. Mine tend to weigh in at more than 40 pages per each, and I have them categorized to three levels.

In preparing an index, I recommend the following:

SANS books and index

One of my finished indices, complete with rainbow alpha-tabs, resting on top of the SANS course books it documents.

  • Plan on making multiple passes through the materials. The first pass will be generic, where you will capture whatever seems most important at the time.
  • Do another pass through the materials just for Acronyms! This one is really important, and this is where having a brief definition in your index is a real time saver!
  • Do another pass through the materials just for tool/program names. GIAC will sometimes have a question about a program that is mentioned exactly once within an entire course.
  • Try to capture switches/optional settings for any tools used in course exercises, or at least record where to find them in your books.
  • If you have access to MP3s or other recordings of a SANS course, play them while commuting, working out, or taking your dog for a walk. It’s important to get the information into your brain on as many levels as possible.
  • Tabs will be your best friends while you’re taking the exam! Add page breaks between each letter in your index and get a good, heavy duty set of alphabetical tab separators.
  • Invest in having your index printed (double-sided) and spiral bound. Three-ring binders may seem like a good idea, but they are a pita when you’re cramped in a small exam space.

That’s all I can think of for now. If anything else comes to mind, I’ll add it here, or write a separate post as seems appropriate.

~ B ~

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