iiba certification study plan

IIBA® Certifications: Foolproof Study Plan and Test-Taking Strategies

Welcome back! If you’ve been following this series, we first explored the value proposition and answered the “What’s in it for me?” question regarding certifications in general, identified the IIBA® certification that is right for you, walked through the application process, and introduced the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® – specifically, some of the terminology. Next, it’s time to study and take the exam! While “study” comes before the exam, most candidates want to know about the test. To that end, let’s address that first!

All the six certifications IIBA® offers are computer-based, multiple choice exams. Each question within the exam has four possible “stand alone” answers. By that I mean that the test-taker will never be shown a numbered list of responses and then answer “A” is 1 and 2, “B” is 1 and 3, “C” is 2 and 3, and “D” is all of the above. You won’t see that sort of response thank goodness! The answer will be either A, B, C, or D!

Exams are administered through PSI (https://candidate.psiexams.com/) either through a virtual proctor or in an exam center. Once your application is approved, IIBA will send you an email with how to schedule the exam; information is also included in the handbooks available online under the certifications tab at https://iiba.org. I have taken four exams (one through IIBA®) from PSI sitting at my dining room table. You’ll understand why at my dining table in a minute! When you schedule an exam through PSI, you will need to temporarily install their “exam shield” on your computer. Then you will be directed to test your camera, audio, and internet connection.

At the time of the exam, you will log in via the link PSI provides via email. Upon logging in, the software will direct you to take a picture of the front and back of your official ID (or driver’s license) with your computer’s camera and answer some general questions at which point you’ll have a short wait for your proctor to connect. The proctor will introduce themselves and ask for a video “tour” of your immediate surroundings so you must be able to move your computer’s camera so they get a 360 view. If I were to take the test in my home office, it’d never pass because it’s too cluttered! One proctor directed me to remove my mouse pad from the table. The centerpiece vase with a couple of silk flowers also had to go! They will also ask you about the location of your cell phone and will remind you to turn it off. For a couple of the exams you’re allowed to have a piece of scratch paper and pen. If that is the case, the proctor will ask you to hold the paper up to the camera so they can ensure it’s blank. After the exam, the proctor will watch you shred the scratch paper. You will be monitored through the camera for the duration of the exam. The proctor will touch base with you after the exam; a chat window is also available if you have a question during the exam itself.

The software PSI utilizes is intuitive. You do have the option of taking a tutorial before you begin the exam that does not count against the allocated time. An online highlighter and calculator are available for some of the exams.

For longer exams, if you need a bio-break, the clock keeps ticking.

See PSI’s or IIBA’s website for more information.

The complexion of the exams are as follows:

Reminder to ALWAYS check the most recent certification handbooks as IIBA® does modify exam-based information when warranted!

Now that the burning questions you had about the exam have hopefully been answered, let’s turn to some foolproof study tips. Sample study plans and tips are presented and discussed in our certification courses. In addition, there is a study plan template available for download under the resources tab on https://watermarklearning.com. A reminder that it is a requirement that you become a registered user on our website to access the templates.

Specifically, the CCBA/CBAP Study Plan template can be found here: https://www.watermarklearning.com/resources/templates.php.

The following are some tried and true study tips:

  1. You will notice that our study plan template resembles a project schedule. That is because studying for the exam is a project! To that end, take some time and document your plan of attack! Having a documented plan not only structures your approach but gives you a method to hold yourself accountable! Establish planned start and end dates for each activity along with accomplishments (milestones). Document actual start and end dates and measure/explain variances to your plan. Take corrective and preventive action. In other words, take “studying” seriously because life has a way of distracting you and an accountability tool really helps.
  2. Begin studying by memorizing the information. If you’re taking a BABOK®-based exam, memorize the knowledge areas, and then the tasks within the knowledge areas, and then the inputs, outputs, elements, stakeholders, and techniques associated with those tasks. Before you can apply knowledge, you need to have the knowledge firmly under your belt.
  3. Touch the material is some way, shape, or form every day – yes, you read that correctly – every day! Reviewing post-its on your bathroom mirror while brushing your teeth counts.
  4. Respect your learning style. This means that if you’re an auditory learner, consider recording those things you want to learn. Read out loud. Think out loud.
  5. Get creative! At the time I was studying for the CBAP® exam, two of my kids were at the age where they were involved in several extra-curricular activities but couldn’t yet drive. I made flashcards and as we were driving along, they’d quiz me. I remember driving my son to basketball practice one night and he asked, “Mom, shouldn’t I be helping you study right now?” I responded that I was too tired to study at which point he said, “You always tell me that’s not a good excuse for my homework!” I call that – BUSTED!
  6. Take practice exams. Watermark Learning has an AWESOME learning tool we call OSE (Online Study Exam) comprised of warm-ups, drills, and full exam simulations for the BABOK®-based certifications and the IIBA-AAC exam. A 90-day subscription (that starts upon your initial login) is included with our certification prep courses; in addition, a subscription can be purchased separately. For more information, see https://www.watermarklearning.com/certification/online-study-exam.php. We recommend that you keep taking drills until your scores exceed 80%. We recommend taking 2-3 simulations (at which time you’ll most likely score 80+%). It’s good to take a simulation earlier in your study process to provide a baseline and help you focus on knowledge areas where you scored less than 80%.
  7. My last tip is to “trust the process!” At some point when you’re studying a sense of “overwhelm” will kick in and you might feel like throwing in the towel. I’ve had some students share that the more they study the less they feel they know and confusion reigns! I remind them to “trust the process!” Keep touching the materials and one day what I call the “click” will happen; meaning, it all falls into place and makes sense. You no longer need to memorize information because you “get it!” How long does the “click” take? That depends on how prepared you were before you came to the certification class. To that end, PLEASE read the BABOK® before coming to a certification prep class. No matter how long you’ve been a BA, I guarantee you that terminology will be different and there will be many new techniques introduced. We also find that candidates that have a Business Analysis Foundations class have the context for BABOK® knowledge areas and tasks that makes consuming BABOK® material easier.

Note: Watermark Learning’s course offerings have three formats: live, virtual or as a pre-recorded “self-paced online” or “video on demand” experience that can be taken at your convenience. The links to BA Foundations and CBAP® Certification preparation class formats are:



Now let’s turn our attention to exam-taking strategies (these are shorter ?):

  1. Do NOT cram the night before an exam; rather, do something you enjoy and rest! You’ve worked hard; trust that you “know” your stuff!
  2. For those exams that allow a piece or two of scratch paper, take time at the beginning of the exam to jot down those things you have a harder time remembering. While it “counts” against your allotted time, it gives you a reference sheet to use throughout the exam.
  3. READ the question! For scenario or case study-based questions, read the very last line first. What is the question asking you? Many test-takers like to quickly review the answer options at this point also. Experiment with that strategy during your practice drills and exam simulations. Once you know what you’re being asked, you can read the scenario/case study and pick out the pertinent information. For knowledge-based questions, is the focus a knowledge area, task, element, technique, etc.?
  4. Skip questions you don’t know on the first pass. You’ll be able to “mark” or “flag” those questions so you can revisit them after you’ve answered the questions you found easier.
  5. Don’t second guess yourself. Research shows that most of the time your first answer is right unless you read the question incorrectly or guessed the first time around. Like I always tell students in my prep classes, “You can always talk yourself out of any right answer.” So, refrain from changing your answer unless you have a really good reason.
  6. Are you one of those “type A” personalities? I am. And, in a test-taking situation, I become more “type A” because I’m stressed. My focus is on “getting it (the test) done.” I constantly remind myself to breathe and thoroughly read (vs. skim) the questions and answers. One strategy I use to trick my brain is that I read the answers from the bottom up; meaning, I start with answer “D” and then progress upwards through “A.” Works like a charm!
  7. BREATHE! During stressful situations, our brain goes into “fight or flight” mode which some scientists call “monkey mind” because it swings from one branch (thought) to another. Slow down your breathing and you’ll be better able to focus!

CONGRATULATIONS! Your study plan was successfully completed and your exam-taking strategies served you well. YOU PASSED! Well done! By the way, after you complete the exam and push “submit”, you’ll be asked a couple of quick survey questions and then will get your results! An “official” email, certificate, etc. will follow.

Don’t forget to start listing your new credentials immediately on your email signature line and update that resume of yours along with your LinkedIn profile.

Celebrate! You earned it!

As always, contact us by phone (1-800-646-9362), email (info@watermarklearning.com), or through our website (https://www.watermarklearning.com/contact.php) if you have any questions.

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Ben Schwartz