Laura’s CBAP Journey: Taking the Full Practice Exam (Week 11)

Up until this point, I’ve been taking sample CBAP exams by knowledge area. These are great because they help me determine if I understand a particular knowledge area or not. But they are obviously limited since I’m not being tested on a sequence of questions across multiple knowledge areas.

This past week I took my first two practice exams. The first was Watermark’s 50 question “light” exam. The second was BAMentor’s full 150 question exam. (Watermark also offers a full 150 question exam, but my subscription ran out a day earlier than I was expecting, so I didn’t get to try it out.)

I liked the light exam because it was reasonably efficient to complete and gave me a breakdown of how I did by knowledge area. I could quickly see that Requirements Management and Communication was my weakest area and used that information to plan some short-term cramming.

But it was when I got to the full practice exam that I really learned what it’s going to take next Tuesday, when I sit for the real deal. Here are a few of the challenges I’m preparing myself for.

Distraction and Boredom

While it doesn’t seem that big, 150 questions is a lot of questions. It took me nearly 2 1/2 hours to complete the practice exam. Admittedly I checked email and Twitter a few times and got up for snacks and bio breaks. But I felt I needed to do these things to keep my energy up and refocus. During the exam, I doubt I’ll have access to Twitter (though it would be great to leverage your collective expertise!) so I’ll need some quick, short distractions that will help me refocus my energy on the task at hand. And, well, at about 8 months pregnant, I’m sure I’ll need some bio breaks too and will hopefully be able to snack on a handful of almonds or something.

Uncertainty and Self-Doubt

Undoubtedly, there were questions I did not know the answers to. Sometimes this uncertainty created a lot of self-doubt.

Some were big and impacted many questions. How could I forget the purposes of the elicitation knowledge areas? (This cropped up especially after about the third question on elicitation where it became clear I was missing some key transition or output.) What was the difference between requirements validation and verification again? (I thought I had nailed it but then grew wary.)

Some were small. What’s the difference between an operative and structural business rule? Did I even see this model that looks like a decision tree and was it labeled? Is the input for this task business need (since so many are) or is it something further down the process (many more are than I thought during the exam)?

These doubts really speak to the need for a bit more preparation. As I made my way through the exam I realized it would be useful to capture these patterns so I could do more detailed reviews of these areas before my next practice session.

But regardless of how much I study, I know I’ll forget something or doubt something. So I think what’s important during the exam is to isolate these areas of doubt to specific questions and not let them creep into the entire exam.

Choose Between the Two Best Answers

Despite my doubts, I could almost always rule out two answers. Then it was a matter of choosing between the two best answers. They might both seem logical or relevant. Sometimes I could build some confidence that one seemed better than the other. Sometimes I just had to choose randomly. But choosing randomly between 2 gives you better odds than between 4. I’ll take my chances.

Opportunity and Sunk Cost

These are both concepts from the BABOK but they apply to the exam prep process too. When I looked back at my afternoon, I was a bit disappointed at the amount of time (sunk cost) I had invested in the practice exam. I wondered about the opportunity cost of this activity. In the context of exam preparation, I think the time spent taking a sample exam was well spent. In the context of all the other areas of my professional and personal life I could be investing in, it was a difficult pill to swallow. I’ll be swallowing it at least one, possibly two, more times before Tuesday. And then it will all be sunk cost behind me…and we know there’s no reason to fret over a sunk cost. At that point I’ll be able to look forward to all the magical things the future holds.

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14 thoughts on “Laura’s CBAP Journey: Taking the Full Practice Exam (Week 11)”

  1. Sheryl, thank you for weighing in as I have been trying to decide what is the best for me to do. I honestly do not have the energy after 11 hour days to study for this exam – but I believe it is important. Just not at this time for me.
    Laura – you are going to nail this – I know you and I have no doubt that you have got this. I cannot wait to hear how the exam goes! 🙂

  2. Adriana,

    I don’t agree. The reason we differentiated those concepts was that a very widespread complaint against business analysts is that they do verification without doing validation — they just assume that what stakeholders say they need is something that has business value.

    No, the name isn’t important…but it is important to be aware that you can write requirements that are clearly expressed and link back to what your stakeholders asked for, and those requirements may still have very little value to the business.

  3. Sheryl,

    “Does knowing, for example, the difference between verification and validation *really* make me a better BA, or is my appropriate application of techniques, varied by project and constantly updated, the thing that proves that I am successful?”

    I couldn’t agree more. Clearly this is just another example of a convention you need to memorize for no reason other than getting the answer right. In engineering we frequently refer as “validation and verification” the process of checking that the system meets specifications and if its outputs are correct. As long as you are doing both well when they are needed as part of the BA work, the fact that you know how to identify which name represents which assessment becomes irrelevant.

    Laura, here’s wishing that you can keep your energy up and obtain all the distractions and snacks you need to get this exam behind you on the first try :-).

    1. Adriana,

      See below for my rationale but it occurred to me after I posted it that you’re reasoning backwards. The BABOK Guide was developed first, and IIBA’s certifications were based on it second. Nothing in there was written in order to create questions for the certification exam.

      In other words, every distinction between concepts in the BABOK Guide is the because business analysts agreed that the distinction was important. You can obviously disagree with us as to the importance of the distinction, but the BABOK development teams honestly are not involved with the certification exam (and are explicitly mandated not to factor certification into their development effort).

    2. There are times I wish I had an edit button on these things. 😉

      Sheryl, Adriana, I certainly recognize that certification may not be something that’s valuable for you, and I don’t mean to imply that you ought to feel otherwise. What I’m trying to get at is that Laura’s working with practice exams developed by third parties. I have no idea how close that material is to the actual exam (I haven’t seen the real exam questions or the practice questions). My point, simply, is that they’re not the same thing.

      Beyond that, all I can say is that the BABOK Guide makes perfect intuitive sense to me…but then, I spent almost five years developing it. So I may not be the best judge of how hard it is to keep track of this stuff.

      1. In relation to this specific question, I suppose the root issue is whether or not it is necessary for a BA sitting for the CBAP to be able to recall the different meanings of requirements validation vs. requirements verification in order to successfully answer a question on the exam. I just double-checked the CBAP handbook and it really doesn’t give enough detail to make an assumption one way or the other. Though the reference to Bloom’s taxonomy, one element of which is “Knowledge of specifics – terminology, specific facts” ('s_Taxonomy) I would guess that I need to know it and remember it.

        The exam simulators have been helpful as they help me see where my recall is weak and needs to be bolstered. Of course, I won’t be able to judge them against the actual exam until I’ve taken it.

        Kevin, is there another resource I should be referencing to make decisions about what level of preparation is appropriate or necessary?

      2. Laura,

        For some reason I can’t reply to your reply, so…

        Honestly, I can’t tell you whether there is a question on the exam that relates to this or not. Access to exam questions is limited internally to those who need to see them and I, well, don’t. There are questions that test basic terminology and content, as well as questions that test higher-order thinking and analysis skills. But I honestly can’t tell you whether a question on any particular topic is or is not on the exam. As far as third party practice exams go, what I can say is that most of them are not written by people who’ve had the training exam writers get and the questions certainly haven’t been reviewed as carefully. IIBA constantly reviews our exam questions against actual results to help determine whether questions are truly effective from a certification perspective.

        If I take off my IIBA hat for a moment, and go back to my experiences writing the PMP and OCEB exams, I suspect that understanding the logo behind the BABOK Guide will serve you better than raw memorization. For example, let’s say you’re faced with a question about what inputs are required to perform a given task. When we wrote the BABOK Guide, we tried to make sure that the listed inputs were all things that you can’t actually perform the task if you don’t have, not things that were nice to have. For me, at least, there always does come a point where further study produces sharply diminishing returns, and I usually take that as a sign that I’m as ready as I’m going to get to write the exam.

      3. Hi Kevin,

        When I introduced threading, I limited the threading to 3 nested comments, so that’s why you don’t see the reply function.

        I totally understand not having concrete information about what’s on the exam and what’s not and I wasn’t trying to sneak any confidential information. Thank you for sharing your own experience in preparing for similar exams as that context helps a lot.

        But I think part of what makes this difficult is that there is a lot of ambiguity about where the standard is set in terms of the bar of knowledge required to be a CBAP. I keep thinking back to my college days. I nearly always had a good understanding of what I needed to know and a clear expectation as to what types of questions would be on an exam and this allowed me to prepare effectively. This was the case even though my course of study involved much more in the way of essay than of multiple choice.

        But that standard doesn’t seem to exist for the CBAP and maybe it’s common that it doesn’t exist for any professional certification. I don’t know. In the absence of this publicly available standard, the training companies are able (or really forced) to create their own standard against which we CBAP-preparers can use to judge our readiness. I think we also find a lot of people relying on here say, which I see I’m now adding more of to the mix, though that definitely wasn’t my intention when starting this series of posts.

        My first phase of study did definitely involve understanding the logic of the BABOK, but as I took the sample exams I realized this was not enough. Or maybe the reality is that there is some BABOK logic that just isn’t internalizing, so I start to sway over towards memorization instead. This is definitely true with the small subset of techniques I haven’t used (for example, the crowfoot notation is especially onerous to me as I can’t find the internal logic of it) and in a lot of the inputs to specific tasks (I think because my experience has blended a lot of the tasks together).

  4. Laura, I’ve been following this thread with interest since you started out by remarking on your ambivalence at gaining this certification. I, too, have a lot of ambivalence, and am inclined not to go through the certification process (for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’m in a very stable environment that values my experience over certifications at this point.) Your post today reinforces my decision a little: honestly, studying this hard to get picky things like the vocab right, seems a bit like cramming for a high school science test. The thing I dislike about these kinds of certifications is that the testing method relies so heavily on picking these sorts of nits. Does knowing, for example, the difference between verification and validation *really* make me a better BA, or is my appropriate application of techniques, varied by project and constantly updated, the thing that proves that I am successful? Granted, that is very hard to test, but I, too, question the value of the sunken opportunity cost. I’m not saying I would never pursue certification, but I share your initial feelings about whether the end result justifies the effort. Thank you for continuing to bring us along on your journey, and best of luck to you on the test. Even more importantly, congratulations in advance on the baby. Life as you know it will never be the same, but it’s the best journey you’ll ever take. (And keep us posted — parenthood and business analysis have some very interesting parallels! 🙂

    1. Sheryl,
      Thanks so much for stopping in. I understand the ambivalence. I did a quick gut check when I started this process to see if I thought it would be worth the effort and decided it would. I think I underestimated what this would take, however.

      The early parts were more fun and valuable than I expected, so that’s good. There have been insights that emerged through the process of initially absorbing what’s in the BABOK. It’s kind of odd and cool to see what you do naturally broken apart into pieces that make logical sense. It sort of demystifies business analysis a bit and gives you a more solid ground from which to work from in the future.

      But you are totally right to see me begin to burn out in this last phase. The uncertainty doesn’t help much, nor does this unexpected drop in energy during the last months of my pregnancy (which has caught me completely and naively by surprise), and especially not the relative tedium of finalizing enough memorization to feel confident in passing. But it is what it is!

      Thanks for your support and best wishes for Tuesday and for the baby. Parenthood will be an exciting journey, that’s for sure. And last I checked there were not any multiple choice tests. 🙂

      1. Laura,

        Check back in a few months. Multiple choice tests may look more appealing by then. At least you have a one-in-four chance of getting it right. 😉

        Seriously, best of luck and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

      2. No doubt my parenthood experience will cause me to eat my words on some level. Though applying the intellectualism that drove me to business analysis as a profession in the first place to parenthood is proving to be an invaluable learning experience about the world at large.

        But thanks very much for the vote of confidence, Kevin.

  5. Verification = checking to see that you did it the right way
    Validation = checking to see that you got the right result

    So requirements verification tells you that the requirements are well written, structured, clear, etc. but doesn’t tell you that they’re the right ones. Requirements validation tells you that they actually meet the business need.

    This is also why the KA is called “Solution Assessment and Validation” – because the BA’s role is to ensure that it’s the right solution for the organization.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. Yes, it always resonates when I go back and read it and I can keep the two apart conceptually, but when faced with a multiple choice question, self-doubt creeps in that I’ve remembered the right term for the right activity.

      I did notice the parallel terminology with Solution Assessment and Validation this week and that is a huge help to reinforce the right words.

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