Laura’s CBAP Journey: I’m Smart, Why Do I Feel So Stupid? (Week 9)

I will try not to make this another rant. But the harsh truth is that I am frustrated. I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I have historically been a good test taker. Yet, CBAP preparation questions keep stumping me again and again. Most often it is not the material, which I have a generally good understanding of. Most often, it’s the question that just doesn’t make sense to me.

When I first started my journey with CBAP exam simulators, I posted a Tweet voicing this frustration. Kevin Brennan promptly replied that IIBA purposefully does not use trick questions on the exam. So perhaps the exam providers are helping us over-prepare (or freak out) with crazy questions that make no sense? Or, perhaps Kevin’s understanding of a trick question and my own are different? How will I know before I sit for the exam?

When I started taking sample tests 5 weeks ago somehow I thought by answering more questions and reading the BABOK with more care and attention, this would magically get easier. So it’s frustrating to find that it’s not. My test scores seem to be going down instead of up.

This isn’t one simulator either — it’s both the simulators I’m working with. So something tells me it’s not them, it’s me. It’s frustrating now to realize I need to work more on my test taking skills, something that has about zero value for me in my career, except that I get to put these 4 letters behind my name at the end. But alas, I’ve started on this journey and I’m not about to give up now.

If I had more time ahead of me, I think I would give up on the exam simulators and trust that my best-Laura-test-taker would magically emerge come exam-day. (She tends to come out when needed. For me, stress creates focus and focus brings forth the right skills for the right situation. I know stress shuts other people down, but I guess I’m lucky that doesn’t happen to me too often.) I would study the BABOK, be confident in my knowledge, and sit for the exam to the best of my abilities. Then, if I failed, I could revisit the exam simulators with the prior experience of what the exam was really like so I could focus my time and attention. But I really don’t want to be taking this exam with a 6-month old in my lap (I’m pretty sure that’s not even allowed — heck I’ll be 8 months pregnant and can’t even bring in water to drink!). So I must fight a way through this and be confident by exam day that I have done everything in my power to pass.

And soon. I scheduled my exam for September 27th!

>>Learn More About Becoming a CBAP or CCBA

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12 thoughts on “Laura’s CBAP Journey: I’m Smart, Why Do I Feel So Stupid? (Week 9)”

  1. Laura,

    It’s the home stretch and you have home base in your sight. It’s senior year and senioritis is attempting to set in. In other words, you are close to the goal you have set for yourself and your mind and body are becoming anxious. It’s very understandable. You’ve received some great advice to keep you on track. I am positive you will do an outstanding job of showing this test who is boss. Stay focused and positive!

  2. Thanks everyone for the encouragement. What an interesting diversity of opinions. I am starting to see now why certification causes so much angst for some! I’m feeling better about committing more time to better digesting the BABOK and less to practice tests that are shaking my confidence. Of course, I’ll still do both in the two weeks until exam day!

  3. Laura, keep up the positive and believe in yourself!
    Linda has a good point – read the questions and put it in the context of the BABOK.
    I know you can do this – you know you can do this!
    Get your mind into winning 🙂

  4. Laura,

    Short answer … knowledge of the BABOK information should be sufficient. As a self-motivated / self-learner, all I did to prepare was to study the BABOK and then dove head first into the exam. I know I didn’t win any awards for the highest grade ever achieved but I passed. Go into it knowing and accepting that you may struggle with a certain percentage of the questions but have confidence in the remainder and you will pass.

    As a side note, I was a member of the passing standard study for the CCBA exam last fall and, based on what I remember, the majority of questions were very clear as long as you know the information in the BABOK.

  5. As far as I can tell, like the PMI folks, the IIBA has a specific style/mindset that they are trying to teach/test to. This means a perfectly competent BA or PM can fail the exam unless they have managed to “catch on” to the exact way that the mindset is setup. This is certainly true in PMI world. My test prep materials for the Certified Associate in Project Management come down on this real hard.

    I hope your test training materials help you find the keys you need to pass the exam.

  6. Curtis Michelson

    All power to the positive mind! And, wisdom to the wise. Every CBAP I’ve talked to does describe the questions on the test as ‘challenging’. There’s no other way around it. And Kevin’s probably correct, the simulators are not nearly as good as the test, so you’re quite possibly getting an exaggerated or skewed challenge with them.

    I’ll say though, from my experience getting certifications in other technical domains (FileMaker, mySQL, etc.) and sitting for the tests, they have all been “tricky” in a certain sense of the word. And I don’t mean intentionally tricky. How do I explain… Remember the experience of someone asking you a riddle or a pun, and they know the answer already, and you don’t. Think Alex Kivec on Jeopoardy here. It’s obvious to them, and they might even say ” c’mon, you know this.” They’re mind is in a different place than yours, and I bet a neuroscientist could measure a different bit of frontal cortex being accessed by the interviewer and the interviewee.

    My hunch is, the people who author test questions, because they already have the answer in their head, unconsciously “complexify” or obfuscate the question, because in their mind, the answer is too easy (they already have it in their head), so some part of them is thinking, “I need to make this a little more challenging.. so let me throw in a couple pieces of extra but true information that isn’t necessarily related here, so it makes the test taker have to sort our the relevant from the not relevant”.

    In my experience, these kinds of credential exams are just always this way. It’s the nature of them. But I also have always passed them, and I too do well under stress.

    I think you should go with your positive gut instinct here and sit for it with the confidence you indeed have the “right stuff” to pass this test. We know you do! 😉

    1. Curtis, you said it very well! It is true and the “tricks” are usually the irrelevant information embedded in the questions. Sifting through this irrelevant information is key. And most questions provide the clues to help you do that.

      Thank you for this post!

    2. I agree Curtis, what thoughtful advice and insight into how questions are created in the first place. I feel I’m doing all of this and am still “tricked” but maybe my attention is just distracted because I am getting a bit bored with the process. That’s where I think the positive attitude can really help!

  7. I am glad you got this positive reinforcement! You will do great Laura. Keep affirming your success and using quotes in the course to help keep you positive!
    When it comes to answering questions, my advice is to always read the question at least three times before you select the answer. I may speak about myself when I say this but I tend to assume things when I don’t read the question thoroughly. And by assuming, I would pick the wrong answer. Don’t do what I do 🙂 Do what I recommend :)!
    When I look at how our participants do on our exam simulator, I see that folks who spend more time on them get most answers correct then those who don’t. So watch out for this!
    Lastly, when reading a scenario question, always put the question in the BABOK context. Place the question in the KA, then the task, then determine which of the component of the task the question is asking about.

    I think you are doing great Laura… Between all your simulators, course, and other study aids, you are mastering the BABOK! And I know you will pass the CBAP!

  8. Do you believe in serendipity? I read a bit of positive material each morning. Sometimes I work my way through a book. Sometimes I pick up a book at random and open it at random. Today I did the latter. I opened The Power of Positive Thinking to page 110. There was a story about a young boy who studied hard but could not manage to get good school marks. By affirming his own good mind and visualizing the material soaking in and germinating, he was able transform his marks over the course of a few months.

    This happened to be just the bit of positive reinforcement I needed this morning as it helped me realize how I may have let my own negative thoughts or self-doubt creep in and that is probably having an impact on my preparation. I know this truth, yet sometimes it is so easy to forget it!

  9. Laura,

    While I can’t get into all the details, it is definitely the case that exam writers are advised against “trick” questions. Real exam questions should be clearly written and there should always be an objective way to demonstrate that the right answer is in fact right. Each question is reviewed more than once to make sure that multiple people agree that the answer is correct. On top of that, confusing questions will perform worse over time (we track every question to see how well getting it right or wrong correlates with exam performance overall) so they get flagged for revision or removal.

    I haven’t taken a bunch of test simulators, so I can’t say which are good and which not, but I do know that many of the samples I’ve seen wouldn’t have made it through the real item writing process.

    So however you decide to proceed, best of luck and here’s hoping you join the CBAP community at the end of the month!

    1. Thanks so much Kevin for that clarification on the exam. It sounds like the question review process is a good one and it’s great to hear that the questions are monitored over time as well so that questions can be improved.

      Of course, not having seen the questions yet it still makes it difficult to know if my test taking skills are up to snuff, but I completely appreciate that “it is what it is” so to speak. Thanks again for sharing this…it’s really helpful to understand the intent of the questions and have your best wishes for the CBAP.

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