Laura’s CBAP Journey: The Difference Between Getting It and Being Exam-Ready (Week 3)

As I mentioned last week, my major goals for week 3 were as follows:

  • Submit CBAP Application
  • Initial Absorption of Solutions Assessment and Validation
  • Exam simulation for the above and BA Planning and Monitoring

There’s no turning back once you hit submit…

First off, I submitted the application. The second reference came through and I hope he said good things about me. I did a final review and hit submit. Yes, once you hit submit there are NO changes. This was a big moment. Now just 21 business days until I find out the results. That seems like a woefully long time…but no reason to pause on my studying.

Absorption and the BOK

Exam preparation consumed most of my energy this week. As I started doing what I’m calling the “absorption” of the BABOK, which is essentially a deep read along with detailed hand-written notes (this is just how I learn best), I realized I didn’t have a clue if what I was learning was enough to pass the exam. Sure I felt a bit smarter and more aware. I definitely read a few things that surprised me and was doing pretty good at “being the BOK.” But was this all I needed to know or was I missing something?

I think anyone who uses a self-study approach is going to feel this lack of confidence. It’s like, I “get it” but do I really get it? And what we mean is, will I be able to transform this newfound knowledge of business analysis (which really doesn’t feel all that new, just different terms than I’m used to using), into successfully passing the exam?

Because again, this exam is not about writing about business analysis (which I could do for a long, long time) and there’s no real-life person on the other side of the exam who can say, “I know what you meant and I see you understood the material. Nicely done.” In fact, you don’t get to say anything. You just get to read a question and select, A, B, C, or D. And hopefully you make the right selection enough times to pass.

There’s no translator and no benefit of the doubt. And of course that drives me crazy.

So to get myself out of my head on this one and into something tactical, I purchased an online exam simulator. What better way to see if I could pass than actually answer exam-like questions? I purchased Watermark Learning’s online exam simulator and will be evaluating BA Mentor’s online exam simulator when I start their prep class in a few weeks.

Why two simulators? Two reasons.

1 – This whole idea of someone who didn’t write the exam crafting questions that test my exam preparation is a bit sketchy to me. I mean, really, no offense to the training providers out there, but how do you know what’s on the exam? You don’t. That stuff is kept under lock and key in a lead-sealed vault in Toronto. (Probably not, but I’m sure it’s safely tucked away somewhere…) I figure by leveraging the resources of two companies, I’m covering more bases.

2 – I have always been a huge fan of BA Mentor on the site and recommended their materials. That recommendation has been based mostly on knowing Linda Erzah, the founder of the company, and the spirit of what makes them tick. Linda gets BA and is devoted to helping others pass the CBAP. As a reluctant participant on this journey, I can tell you I really appreciate her energy and enthusiasm. She’s sent me countless emails (in addition to her comments here) to help me stay motivated.

But now that I’m actually preparing for the CBAP myself, I figure it’s time to compare what BA Mentor brings to at least one other company’s materials, as a way of giving you a more informed opinion. I chose Watermark because they are reputable and involved. Founder Richard Larson came to visit our Denver IIBA chapter earlier this year and talked about CBAP prep, and instructor Bob Prentiss  is one of the most motivational speakers on business analysis I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. My experience with them made their materials a logical choice.

My first simulator results

OK. So that’s my why…let’s move onto what happened with the exam simulator. Well, I scored 73% on Requirements Planning and Monitoring and 78% on Business Analysis Planning and Communication. I think these are decent scores? Not so sure. They are a little lower than they should be because Watermark’s exam includes questions about the techniques with the Knowledge Area(s) in which they are referenced. This just doesn’t gel with how I’m studying as I’ve set aside a separate time to go through that humongous chapter at the end instead of doing it in pieces and parts as I go through each knowledge area.

While it’s frustrating to get a question you know you haven’t prepped for yet, I’m honing my testing skills by seeing some patterns in what I have prepped for. One mistake was glancing to quickly at terms and see “requirements” when it should have been “business analysis” and making a wrong choice. Another was to blur together inputs, outputs, techniques, tasks, deliverables, work products, etc…which all are used in very specific ways in the BABOK and, at least in this sample set, for the questions as well. This often led to a conceptually logical choice but a wrong one.

Here she goes again…

Now, I could get on my high horse and start complaining about this. In fact, I think I already did a bit earlier. The truth is that right now I just want to pass the darn exam. Even if I conceptually get it and whether or not that should be enough to become a credentialed business analysis professional, I don’t want to fail. Not now that I’ve got all of you watching me! So I’m going to learn the ins and outs and be ready to dot my I’s and cross my T’s in business analysis. And the exam simulator is definitely helping me do that. And doing it chapter by chapter helps a ton. I felt my second and third waves of “absorption” were more on target than the first one, simply because I knew what kinds of questions I might be asked.

Strangely enough, I do feel like I’m enjoying some parts of the studying. It’s sort of like putting a big puzzle together in your head, except the puzzle involves blending “how I do BA” and “how the BABOK talks about BA.” And by looking at it this way, it’s become less about memorization and more about brainwashing assimilation. Some might say I’m crossing over to the dark side. 🙂 Better or worse for Laura the BA? Not so sure yet, but I’ll chew on that and be sure to share my thoughts when they crystallize.

>>Learn More About Becoming a CBAP or CCBA

Interested in becoming a CBAP or CCBA? We cover 8 steps to the CBAP certification, that will take you to just learning about the certification to successfully sitting for the exam.

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13 thoughts on “Laura’s CBAP Journey: The Difference Between Getting It and Being Exam-Ready (Week 3)”

  1. Hi All,

    Just gave my CBAP 2.0 exam day before and got a PASS upon hitting submit. Anyone has an idea of when do IIBA formally mail post the exam. The below mentioned FAQ from IIBA scres me:
    How will I know if I passed the exam?
    Exam candidates will be notified immediately on screen once they have submitted their computer based exam. For those who fail the exam, they will be provided with additional information, specifically the Knowledge Areas that require their attention. (Please note that with the launch of a new exam, immediate scoring is not available until the Cut Score study is complete, about two months after the launch of the exam.)

    I didn’t get the line. Hope I don’t have to wait for 2 months to know that I passed. What does new exam mean ?

  2. Jenny Nunemacher

    I have to agree with your initial interpretation of the test simulations. It seemed like it was more about memorizing the widgets used to construct the BABOK, and the particular terminology. As you said: “This often [leads] to a conceptually logical choice but a wrong one.”

    However, as you prepare your mental argument for why your answer was right, even though the test (or even BABOK) said otherwise, that exercise forces to you really think about your experience and to learn from the BABOK. (I still sometimes think the test/BABOK is too rigid in that respect…)

    Although I’m still stuck on motivating to get through the work history section of the application, the initial fits and starts of reading and studying the BABOK have already reaped rewards: I volunteered to lead a stakeholder forum because I saw the need to improve its performance and value. I had some fuzzy ideas about what I wanted to do, but because I wanted to do a great job with it, I turned to Chapter 2: Business Analysis Planning for a structure. Previously, I would have said, “What? Planning? We don’t need no stinking planning!” Turns out, my efforts to plan professionally yielded great results. Ok. I’m a convert.

    Now, to *plan* my CBAP application work…

    1. HI Jenny,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I would say I’ve had this experience too, though not the tangible results yet. There are parts of the BABOK that I read, puzzle on, then say “oh, yes, that would have been helpful when…” and I can see the BABOK being a great tool to leverage for a big project or a new type of project to ensure I’m doing a better job at being a “full BA”.

  3. Linda, Come on now! Everyone knows that C is the answer… you can pass with 25% right? Kidding of course… don’t choose C! Eliminate the one absurd answer or 2… and flip a coin on the other 2! Oh wait, you can’t bring coins in the test room. Well, I guess you just need to study! 🙂

  4. Laura, I love it!

    I actually used Dragon and spoke the notes as I was reviewing the BOK, so I had notes based on whatever I said… so I can relate – my notes where significant.

    I would also consider some benefits you have…

    When many of us took the exam, we used version 1.6, which while generally impressive, it had a great many issues (missing diagrams, etc.). 2.0 is a lot better and easier to read and follow.

    There were no prep books. I found out a few weeks before my exam that the first prep book was out. I ordered it 2 day delivery. The book was nice, since I now had test questions (imagine prepping with no test questions!). That said, I had no idea if they were good or bad and some information simply made no sense (first version and all – I understand that – but it was not helping my cause!).

    I live in Denver but the closest test was in Chicago… so I had to fly up there (2 days early) with my number 2 pencils (yes lots of little circles to fill out!). I took the “final exam” in the prep book the night before in the hotel… I think I got like an 88% or something… But what did that mean? Too late to wonder, test in the morning…

    Oh… and THEN… we had to wait like 4 weeks for the results!!

    Stay focused and also remember that your scores on test exams will likely be lower. I say this because once you take a few, you tend to start to get tired of the the process. When you get into the exam, you are typically more focused.

    I also got in the habit of reading the last answer first. It forced me to think a bit more about the answers by starting at the last one. Also, when I read the D first, my brain always wants to keep reading to see what A says… so I do not stop. Think of it as asking Why 4 times – D, C, B, A…

    Finally, if you do not know the answer, remember, just choose “C”.

    1. Jake,
      You have me LOL while remembering those days of submitting the paper application, the “Scantron” CBAP exam and the 1.6 :). Those were challenging days! You were lucky to find a study guide. Some of us were not that lucky. I had to come up with my own questions, notes, explanations… etc so my studies consisted of research, asking folks and more research to fill in the blanks.

      You gave Laura some great tips on studying. I think I might just steal some of them ;). The only thing I warn folks about is that last comment you made about choosing “C”. I hear this a lot from our students and that scares me.
      Because the exam is computerized, always choosing “C” when you don’t know the answer may not be too wise. However, using a process of elimination is the best method to eliminate the wrong answers. If “C” happens to be the last choice, then go for it. But always make an educated guess!

    2. Thanks, Jake. These are some great tips. We do have it “easy” and I hope you don’t count that against us later CBAPs and CBAP-to-bes. (I took a quick look and there are multiple testing sites in Denver and Denver-metro with an exam date available just about every day…though a trip to Chicago doesn’t sound all that bad.)

      Great tip on your exam prep scores being lower. I felt that even during my first run through. I was good for about 5 questions, then I realized there were 60 to go through. I will admit that I didn’t put my all into some of them as the process bores me a bit….ok, not a bit, it’s plain boring to take exam questions. However, like you mentioned, I have no doubt that on exam day I will muster the focus and energy to give it my all.

  5. Michelle Swoboda

    Way to go Laura – keep linking the BABOK to your studying and you cannot lose!! Rooting for you!!

  6. Laura, I am enjoying hearing about your process because I am also in CBAP study mode. My application was accepted about a month ago and I am doing the deep dive into the BABOK. I am a fan of doing things “on a budget” so I am trying the minimal cost approach – repeated in-depth BABOK study coupled with $35 study guide. I will see how confident I feel at that point. I like the exam simulator idea, but not sure if I want to invest that much. I will be anxious to read more of your thoughts as you go along – you just may sway me to try it.

    1. Thanks, Wendy, and congratulations on your accepted application! I am a big fan of working “on a budget” too and really try to invest monetary resources only where I see significant value. (Of course, this hasn’t kept me from investing nearly a few thousand on professional development in the last year, in multiple areas, not just BA.) Sometimes a monetary investment is such a springboard it’s worth it.) I’ll keep sharing what I’m experiencing so you can decide if a simulator would be a springboard for you!

  7. Laura, you got it! I call it linking your experience to the BABOK… if everyone who took the CBAP did that, they would all pass. It’s about making this connection and yes there is a connection. The BABOK is not wrong in the way it describes business analysis. In fact, my opinion is that once someone understands it and learns each of its tasks/techniques, it is a great way to practice business analysis.
    Once you put that puzzle together, you are going to be successful! And soon, you will become a BABOKian 🙂
    I heard a lot great things about the Watermark learning exam simulator so I believe you are in great hands there! I think trying many simulators is the BEST way to lower your risks and increase your chances at passing.
    I am rooting for you!!!!

    1. Thanks, Linda. Your way of writing about it sounds so much nicer than “brainwashing assimilation”! 🙂 As always, thanks so much for the positive encouragement. You are such a great cheerleader on this journey, which definitely has its rough spots!

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