This article, first published in 2016, was updated in April, 2019.
The PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)® is PMI’s fastest growing certification and with good reason. Business analysis in the context of projects and programs can be as much work inside a project as the work of managing the project itself. Not only does it consume a lot of resources, but requirements management, a component of business analysis, is often cited as the key indicator of project success or failure.
The other reason this certification is enjoying growth is that it is a natural professional development step for PMs who do the work of business analysis on their projects, or BAs who do PM work. Those hybrid PM-BAs or BA-PMs make up a large group!
After years of managing projects, I hadn’t really thought about the BA work I had been doing on projects. The PMI-PBA inspired me to take a closer look at the business analysis work that happens within the context of a project, and specifically as it is defined by the tasks in the PMI-PBA Exam Content Outline, which is the blue print for the exam. It was a perfect fit for me to formalize my practice and to better distinguish between the work I do as a PM and the work I do as a BA. As with any certification journey, the process was both a validation of what I’d done and an opportunity to recognize gaps and improve my PM and BA practice.
Wherever your PBA journey begins, it will eventually end up with taking the PBA certification exam. Below are my recommendations for prepping to take the PBA exam, primarily based on my experience. I have modified these tips to account for changes since I took the test, but overall this is what helped me pass on the first try. I hope these work for you, too!
Starting 6 Weeks Before the Exam Date
- Take the Watermark Learning PMI-PBA Certification Boot Camp.
Whether taken as in-person, virtual, or Anytime Learning (which I did), the course will get you started in the right direction. A solid certification prep course like Watermark’s gets you oriented to the discipline properly and helps you wade through all the material and resources and be most efficient and strategic about how you approach the exam.
- Read the PMI Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide.
The PBA exam does not have a body of knowledge (BOK) as a reference like some exams such as the PMP or CBAP. However, the PMI BA Practice Guide is the key resource that you want to be familiar with. I became thoroughly familiar with this source.
- Read the PMI Guide to Business Analysis (to complement the BA Practice Guide).
This PMI standard was published late in 2017 and was the primary reason the PBA exam was updated in June of 2018. However, the exam updates were done only to ensure that exam terminology and language are consistent with the new standard; the exam was not updated to conform to the organization of the Guide. For that reason, I read the Guide to complement my understanding of the BA Practice Guide but did not spend time memorizing the Knowledge Areas, Process Groups, Process names, or Inputs-Tools-Outputs. The current PBA exam will not require that level of knowledge about the Guide.
- Read the Watermark Learning PBA Study Guide.
The Watermark Learning PMI-PBA Study Guide complements the course materials and will reinforce what was covered in class. Included in the Study Guide is a Process Map that illustrates how the BA Practice Guide and Guide to BA are related. The Watermark boot camp course material, PMI-PBA Practice Guide, PMI Guide to Business Analysis, and Watermark Study Guide together provide a comprehensive suite of resources for preparing for the exam.
- Review the Boot Camp manual, PMI BA Practice Guide, PMI Guide to BA, and Watermark PBA Study Guide by domain using the Exam Content Outline (ECO) as a reference point.
After going through the class and reading the PMI BA Practice Guide, Guide to BA, and Watermark PBA Study Guide, I reviewed the materials again per domain. That really helped me reconcile the different resources and get a sense for what was going on in each domain. Starting with the tasks in the ECO helped me understand what I am doing in each domain and then reading the materials put more substance around those tasks in terms of tools I might be using and how I might execute those tasks. In retrospect, taking a vertical approach to studying (that is, by domain) was key to internalizing what I needed to know about how to do BA work in each domain.Note that the Guide to BA is organized by Knowledge Area and Process Group rather than the domains in the ECO and Practice Guide. The Watermark Study Guide Process Map identifies which processes in the Guide to BA to study within each domain.
- Make flashcards throughout your study and preparation.
I created hand-written flashcards using small recipe cards, but Watermark has a free template for creating your own flashcards online, as well. Don’t just memorize something – create something. I’ve found making my own flashcards to be much more interesting and helpful than memorizing manufactured flashcards.
- Take practice tests.
I did not take any practice tests until I’d completed Steps 1-3. For me, I wanted to have my bearings around the exam content before taking a practice test. Watermark Learning offers a PMI-PBA Online Study Exam that has over 800 realistic questions, similar in tone and quality to the actual exam. Once I got into the flow of studying, then I took smaller tests periodically. I found frequent, shorter tests helped me digest the content in a different way and gave my brain a different way to work than just taking in information.
3-5 Days Before the Exam Date
- Practice your brain dump.
PMI test takers are given scratch paper or dry erase boards when they take their exam. Most test takers use that paper/board to write down formulas, key concepts, or things they committed to memory to help with recall during the exam…that is what most people call a “brain dump.” So a couple of days prior to the exam, I identified my high priority flashcards and what I wanted to include on my “brain dump” at the beginning of the exam. Once I selected what was to be included on my brain dump, I practiced writing it all down quickly so I didn’t take up much test time. Note that small dry erase boards are becoming the standard “scratch paper” for PMI test takers, so you may not have a lot of space.
- Practice delivering class material.
The day before my exam, I used the Boot Camp manual and did a practice presentation of the class. I pretended I was teaching the class and walked through the material at a high level to see if I could explain the concepts well enough to my pretend audience in order to be able to answer questions about them. It was a great way to catch a couple of things I wasn’t quite 100% sure about, but more importantly, it put me in a great mindset for the exam. It was a great confidence booster to hear myself talk about the material.
- Memorize brain dump.
Last thing I did was a final brain dump from memory.
Interested in how Watermark Learning can help you on your journey? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.