In the first post in this series, I talked about how the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) was helping to bring a common definition to business analysis and my discovery of, and study towards, their Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) designation.
In this post, I look at the CBAP application process, the experience of sitting the exam, and offer some final reflections on whether, in my experience, it was all worth it.
The Application Process
Someone involved in the certification portfolio of the IIBA once told me that relatively few people fail the exam, but a great many more fail the application process. Once you start the process, you begin to understand why this might be the case.
I’ve put together some tips for getting through your application, based on advice received from others and my own observations:
- Start your application early. You can sign in through the IIBA website and save as you go. This will give you a good feel for what’s required
- Give your references a heads up, as they’ll receive an email almost immediately after you submit their details asking them to fill out the online reference form
- Start filling out your most recent work experience first, it’s much easier to remember!
- Watch out for ‘gotcha’ tasks that aren’t covered by the BABOK, such as project management. Time you allocate against these won’t be credited to your total
- The BABOK recognises that BA tasks aren’t only done by ‘Business Analysts’. Did you gather requirements as a developer or plan business analysis activities as a PM? If it’s legitimate, put that experience down.
- If you overestimate your hours (e.g. claiming 9 hours a day over 260 days a year), you risk getting knocked back. It’s best to be comfortably over the 7,500 hours for CBAP (half for CCBA). I used the formula of 6 hours x 220 days/yr
- Use an offline template to make it easier. Click here to download my template[NR1] (if not email email@example.com to get it), originally based on one from the useful Bridging The Gap blog (feedback welcomed!)
The application fee is AUD$125 (as of May 2013) and, should your application be approved, the exam fee is $325 for IIBA members. It’s not particularly cheap, so want to be confident going in to the exam.
Once your application has been approved, and you’ve done your study, registering for the exam is pretty straightforward through the IIBA site. You can’t take anything in to the exam, but you’ll be given a sheet for taking notes and some time to click through a practice question to get used to the exam software. Be aware that as soon as you finish this, your time will start.
The exam itself consists of 150 multiple choice questions over 3.5 hours. I’d heard that the actual exam was easier than the Watermark exams which I’d found to be very helpful in my preparation. However, when I sat the exam, I found that I’d marked almost 50 out of the 150 questions for review after my first pass, as I wasn’t 100% confident of my answers on them. You don’t actually receive a mark when you finish the exam, just a note telling you whether you’ve passed or failed. At the time, I was just relieved to know I had been successful!
Reflections on the process and the value of CBAP certification
One of the things I found most demotivating about the study process was being forced to learn very specific terminology, which I found to be often inconsistent with how I’d seen the same terms used in practice. I have heard similar thoughts from accredited project managers on their methodologies.
A very good BA could easily fail the exam if they tried to use logic and experience alone to identify the right answers. However, the golden rule for CBAP study is that ‘the BABOK is always right’, as there’s not a lot of point complaining about it, better by far just to study. It’s frustrating because learning this terminology doesn’t feel like it is the right way to identify good BAs.
However, I respect the argument that definitions are required to establish standards, consistency and a common language about business analysis work. In this view, there is a painful transition period of learning terms that you may have never heard used in the real world but, in the long term, moving to these standards is an important transition not just individually, but for the whole profession.
Overall, I feel that the process did make me a better BA. It caused me to think about business analysis more broadly, including tasks which I might not have previously done, but probably should have.
Indeed, I found that as I went through the process, I was using this information in my daily work. In particular, it helps you to consider the planning and tracking tasks that aren’t necessarily core to BA work and, in many organisations, may not be done, but which can help to deliver a better result in the end.
From a career perspective, the BABOK also helps you to identify areas where you could improve (for me it is around Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring), and having my CBAP studies on my CV was noted by employers. I don’t think industry recognition is anywhere near the level of the project management certifications, but I believe that it will head there eventually, and I know that the IIBA is constantly working to improve the process and awareness of certification.
And the bottom line? Would I recommend going through the process to be certified?
Yes, because I think the process does make you a better business analyst, and I believe it’s a positive career move, but be aware of the time commitment – plan for a minimum of 3 months study for 10 hours a week.
At the moment, however, I’m just enjoying the break of not having to look at the BABOK for a while!