Passing the CBAP Examination

In this article you will learn to:

  • Prepare to pass the CBAP exam
  • Create CBAP study sheets
  • Learn test-passing secrets
  • Review the CBAP exam objectives
  • Summarize the CBAP key facts

I bet you’re ready to get the CBAP examination over with—after all, you’ve a life beyond business analysis. Just like requirements gathering, preparing for the CBAP takes time, attention to detail, and a logical approach to the objectives. Many CBAP candidates that I meet feel added pressure from their clients, bosses, friends, but most of all from themselves. You and I probably have a similar goal when it comes to your CBAP exam: pass the thing on the first attempt, and get on with your life.

This chapter is the grand finale for all you’ve learned in this book. It captures all of the critical exam facts in one juicy spot. This chapter includes everything that you absolutely must know to pass the CBAP. I’m not saying that knowing only this chapter will guarantee a pass on the exam. I am saying, however, that not knowing this material will likely guarantee a fail on the exam. And you and I don’t want that. This chapter will give you some strategies, tips, and secrets beyond just business analysis content for passing the exam.


Preparing to Pass the CBAP Exam

If you just want to take the CBAP exam, assuming that you qualify, you don’t really have to study at all. Just complete the application, get approved, and drop some cash. And then show up and take it. Preparing to pass, however, is totally different. Anyone can take an exam, but not everyone can pass an exam. The key is to enter the test-taking arena with a positive and powerful mind-set that you mean business—and the business is to pass the exam on the first attempt.


What to Do First

You cannot study, cram, and prepare for this exam forever. So the first thing you need to do is schedule your exam. Pick a date in the not-so-distant future as a deadline to pass your exam. If you haven’t scheduled your exam yet, get to work on the application. The International Institute of Business Analysis requires you to complete an application in order to determine if you qualify for the exam. This application process can take up to six weeks for the IIBA approval, so complete the application, and while the IIBA does their processing, you can finalize your exam prep. If you prepare for the exam and then submit the application, you’re only delaying your certification and prolonging your misery.

Once your application is approved by IIBA, then you’ll need to schedule the exam through Castle Worldwide (as of this writing). Even if you don’t believe you’re quite ready, choose a date and schedule the exam pass date. Not a date to take the exam, this is a date to pass the exam. This is your goal, your deadline, the pinnacle of your CBAP efforts. Do not take too long to pass your exam. All these facts, figures, and formulas have a funny way of oozing out of your head the longer you wait.

You’re probably wondering how long you should study before you schedule the exam. If you’ve not submitted your application as of right now, you’ve at least 60 days before you can even squeeze into the testing center—and that figure is from the IIBA. This assumes you have all of your information ready to go and there’s no snag between now and test day. Here’s the deal—you probably have about 75 days before you can get into a test center from right now. You’re smart—plan accordingly.

I don’t want you to do anything foolish and schedule an immediate exam if you’re not ready for it. By taking the end-of-chapter exams in this book and the two exams available on the CD-ROM, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand as an exam candidate. When I teach my exam prep courses based on the exams in this book or in my PMP Study Guide, I set your goal as an 80 percent success rate on practice questions. It’s much higher than the IIBA requirements, but I feel that if someone can score an 80 on my goofy questions, they should be in alignment to pass the IIBA’s goofy exam.

Take some time and look over your end-of-chapter exam scores from this book. You should have a quick SWOT analysis of your exams. And you know that SWOT is your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Most people, I’ve learned, do very well on questions that are bunched together by topic—like the chapter exams you’ve completed. However, it’s tougher to recall the information when the question topics are all scrambled as they are on the CD—and on the CBAP examination.

What to Do Second

Now that you’re excited about passing your exam, let’s get on to the meaty stuffy. As soon as you’ve submitted your exam application, you’re on your way to the test date. I recommend that you first look at your energy level. In my opinion (and based on my experience), if you’re eating junk food, drinking barrels of scotch, and smoking stinky cigars, you’re probably not going to feel all that great for studying. I’m no doctor, but you and I know what’ll make you feel well, rested, and sharper for your exam efforts:

  • Exercise your body and your brain. Study is hard work, and it can exhaust your brain. Get some balance and exhaust your body, too. Find time to go for a jog, lift weights, take a swim, or do whatever workout routine works best for you. Your brain works better when your body works well.
  • Put down the fries, pizza, and beer. If you eat healthy food, you’ll feel good—and feel better about yourself. Be certain to drink plenty of water, and don’t overdo the caffeine. (I’m such a nag, I know.)
  • You don’t need late nights, you need sleep. You’ll feel tired anyway from all of your exercise and studying. I find that when I have a well-rested brain, I have a sharp brain (and yes, I’m talking about my brain, not Abby Normal’s brain, for you Young Frankensteinfanatics). You don’t want to sit for your exam feeling tired, sluggish, and worn out.
  • Put this book down and turn on the television. Balance really is the key to so much in life. You should not overdo your study sessions—marathon cram sessions aren’t that effective. In addition, try to study every day at the same time as your exam is scheduled.

You could, for example, pick a date ten weeks from now for your exam day. That gives you plenty of time to prepare the exam application, submit the application, and for our pals at the IIBA to approve your application. Over the next ten weeks you could carve out an hour a day and study for this exam. You could read this book; complete all the exams once, twice, or eight times; create flashcards; and work out like Rocky Balboa all in the next ten weeks. Create a schedule of what you need to do and then do it.

Create a CBAP Cheat Sheet

Test anxiety haunts many adults. After all, when was the last time you took an intense exam? Most professionals that I meet haven’t taken an exam in years and years. This only magnifies the test anxiety and makes it tougher to remember all the CBAP facts and formulas. Here’s your secret weapon: a page of notes. If you could take one page of notes into the exam, what information would you like on this one-page document? Of course you absolutely cannot take any notes or reference materials into the exam area. However, if you can create and memorize one sheet of notes, you absolutely may re-create this once you’re seated in the exam area.

For a more detailed explanation, watch the Passing the CBAP Exam video now.

With this book, your copy of the BABOK, and any notes you’ve already created, you need to create a cheat sheet that you can create from memory in the testing center. Practice creating a reference sheet so that you can immediately, and legally, re-create this document once your exam has begun. In the testing facility, you’ll be supplied with several sheets of blank paper and a couple of pencils. Once your exam begins, re-create your reference sheet. You know which concepts, formulas, and facts are the toughest for you—put those on your cheat sheet.


Work Smart—Not Hard

Six knowledge areas are on the CBAP exam, and some info is worth more than others. You want to study smart and adjust your study efforts for the categories of the exam where you’ll find the most questions. Table 10-1 reflects each knowledge area, the exam percentage, the approximate number of questions you’ll face, and which chapter in this book correlates to which knowledge area from largest number of questions to smallest.

Table 10-1   Exam Requirements, Questions, and Chapter Reference

Focus your study efforts on the chapters that’ll have the most questions; Chapter 2 and Chapter 5 are almost half of the exam content. There’s a hint—know these chapters, and you’re well on your way. But that doesn’t mean you should breeze over the other chapters. I bet you’re already pretty good at communicating based on what you do as a business analyst, so there’s some relative knowledge that you could brush up on and have 16 more questions in your favor.

NOTE   I strongly encourage you to check with IIBA’s web site ( for the most recent exam details. While Table 10-1 is correct as of this writing, the information could change by the time you read this. If the objectives and exam distribution of questions have changed, adjust your study plans accordingly. Study the objectives the most that are the most valuable to your passing score.

My message is to take what you already know and to exploit that to help you pass the exam. For example, if you’re most confident in solution assessment and validation, which only equates to eight exam questions, you’ll need to relate the information to the other domains. Perhaps you can mentally match the validation of the solution with the process associated with the original creation of the requirements, so now the “Requirements Analysis and Documentation” exam details become clearer. Take what you know and grow from there.


Answering the CBAP Questions

You can expect some trick questions on your CBAP exam. Sorry. I think you’ll find that the questions on your upcoming exam can be verbose and may offer a few red herrings. I tried to create some tricky test questions in the book to help prepare you for those on the exam. I really want you to take your time and think about what the question is asking. For example, you may face questions that ask, “All of the following are correct options expect for which one?” The question wants you to find the incorrect option, or the option that would be inappropriate for the scenario described.

Some questions may give you a long plot that has little to do with what the question is asking. You only have to answer the question, not what’s implied in the novella behind the question, so be sure to understand what the question is asking for. It’s easy to focus on the scenario presented in a question and then see a suitable option for that scenario in the answer. The trouble is, if the question is asking you to identify an option that is unsuitable, then you just missed the question. Take your time and really read and ponder each question, not the scenario. You do not get extra points for getting done early.

NOTE   I tell people in my seminars to slow down and then slow down a little more. That’s my best exam advice. You have 3 hours to complete the exam, so use it all. Haste makes waste. I sometimes say it’s like when I go play golf. I really get my money’s worth, take lots of swings, and use the whole course.

Here’s a tip that can work with many of the questions: identify what the question wants for an answer, and then look for an option that doesn’t belong with the other possible answers. In other words, find the answer that doesn’t fit with the other three options. Find the “odd man out.” Here’s an example: Deliverables from the Business Architecture initiative can include all of the following except for which one?

  1. Strategic plans
  2. Business unit goals
  3. Closing phase
  4. Business product lines

Notice how options A, B, and D are things while C is a project phase? If you choose A, strategic plans, it implies that the other options are not deliverables. The odd man out then is C, the closing phase. It’s considered the “odd” choice because it, by itself, is not a project deliverable; it’s a type of activity in a project. Of course, this tip won’t work with every question—but it’s handy to keep in mind.

For some answer choices, it may seem that two of the four options are both possibly correct answers. However, because you may choose only one answer, you must discern which answer is the best choice. Within the question, there will usually be some hint describing the progress of the work, the requirements of the stakeholders, or some other clue that can help you determine which answer is the best for the question. As a general rule, always choose what’s best for the stakeholders collectively, not individually.


Answer Every Question—Once

The CBAP exam has 150 questions. You don’t have to answer every question correctly, just enough to pass. In other words, don’t waste 2 of your 3 hours laboring over one question—difficult questions and easy questions are worth the same amount in your exam. Never leave a question blank; a question without an answer is a wrong answer. It is better to guess than to leave an answer blank. As you move through the exam and you find questions that stump you, use the “mark question” option in the exam software, choose an answer you suspect may be correct, and then move on. When you have answered all of the questions, you are given the option to review your marked questions.

NOTE   When I take exams and have to guess for an answer (yep, that happens to me, too), I always choose B. I’m not saying that choice B is used more than others, I just don’t shuffle guesses around. I think sometimes B will be correct and sometimes it won’t. By choosing B every time I have to guess, I increase my odds that some of my guesses will eventually, in theory, be correct about 25 percent of the time.

Some questions in the exam may prompt your memory to come up with answers to other questions you have marked for review. However, resist the temptation to review those questions you’ve already answered with confidence and haven’t marked. Stick with your gut instinct; more often than not, your first choice is the correct choice. If you want to test that theory, look over your exam scores from this book. Did you change answers more often to wrong or to correct choices?


Use the Process of Elimination

Just because you don’t know the answer to a question doesn’t mean you must guess the answer. You can use some deductive reasoning to increase your odds of answering the question correctly. If you were to guess A out of ABCD, you’d have a 25 percent chance of being correct. But for every answer you can safely rule out of consideration, you’ll increase your odds of answering correctly.

When you’re stumped on a question, use the process of elimination. You know each question has four choices. On your scratch paper, write down “ABCD.” If you can safely rule out A, cross it out of the “ABCD” you’ve written on your paper. You have just increased your odds of guessing correctly from one in four to one in three. Now focus on which of the other answers won’t work. If you determine that C won’t work, cross it off your list. Now you’ve got a 50-50 chance of finding the correct choice. If you can rule out D, then you know that the correct choice must be choice B, even if you don’t know why.

If you cannot determine which answer is best, B or D in this instance, here’s the best approach:

  1. Choose an answer in the exam (no blank answers, remember?).
  2. Mark the question in the exam software for later review.
  3. Circle the “ABCD” on your scratch paper, jot any relevant notes, and then record the question number next to the notes.
  4. During the review, or from a later question, you may realize which choice is the better of the two answers. Return to mark the question and confirm that the best answer is selected.