The Effectiveness of a Study Group Approach for Studying for the CBAP Exam

As many students nowadays, I graduated from college after 6 years of attendance. Being in college for that long, you definitely learn a trick or two about good studying habits. One that I personally liked and which seemed to be most useful in acquiring my CBAP® certification is Study Groups.  If you are wondering what a study group is, it’s a small group of people who regularly meet to discuss shared fields of study.

When IIBA announced the released of the CBAP® exam, I couldn’t help but thinking: “With this many years of experience in the field, it would be nice to finally get recognized as someone who knows something about business analysis”. Luckily for me that year, our local IIBA chapter started offering study groups. I volunteered to be the first to lead one. Before getting my certification, I led 4 study groups. And I can’t press upon you the benefit of leading one. One of the most important benefits of a study group is the ability to cover much in a short period of time.

Whether your study group is virtual or face to face, you have a chance to acquire knowledge from folks who have different background, experiences, knowledge and skills without spending another 5 years learning from books. To successfully pass the CBAP®, you must have an understanding of 32 business analysis tasks, 51 techniques, and 20 underlying BA competencies as they are outlined in the BABOK®. After 10 years of experience as a business analyst, I can’t claim that my experience covers all these knowledge. Studying with others  helped me gain experience through their stories.

In my first group, we were honored by the attendance of our Atlanta’s well known Barbara Carkernod, author of Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis. You can imagine the wealth of knowledge this group benefited from (all of them are CBAP® today). When others share their experience, it become easier to remember the subject you are trying to learn. Short stories or examples are usually easier to remember than long, dry Business Analysis concepts. When you put both the concept and the stories together, you can retain almost anything.

The second most important fact of a joining a study group is the shared effort of producing study materials.

One approach I use to set up a study group is to require that each participant bring something to the table. I would create a schedule, outlining the section that we would cover and let everyone pick the section of their choice. The person responsible for the section would create a presentation, quizzes and bring research materials on the subject(s). This approach is the most efficient learning tool to pass the CBAP® because it allows the participants to LEARN the subject in detail enough to TEACH it to others.

If you are looking for the most inexpensive way to study for the CBAP®, find a virtual or face-to-face study group in your area. Join the study group and don’t forget to contribute. You will only gain by giving…

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  1. David Morris says

    … and I can now say that the study group served me well … because I passed today … I am now CBAP too! Hooray!

  2. DougGtheBA says

    I’ve recently started facilitating a CBAP study group and have found that it’s very rewarding. I’m a big proponent of teaching something to learn it best, and having the ability to absorb the material as taught by several different study group members in several different ways is great.

    In addition to the delivery of material, the wealth of life experiences really sheds light on individual topics that I would not normally have access to.

    To Linda’s point about managing content with available time, that continues to be my issue. There is, as many of you know, a mountain of material to cover in the BABOK review. We are trying to find the correct balance between getting it done before 2037 and having adequate time to perform a thorough presentation and discussion.

    Doug Goldberg

    I’d encourage the use of study groups

  3. Nathan Caswell says

    Study groups are a very powerful tool for learning a fixed body of knowledge. From my own educational and professional experience and work with both high school and undergraduate students it provides a significant advantage.

    But like any powerful tool, it requires some care in application.

    There seem to be four parts to the value generating mechanics:
    1. prompt answers to questions so gaps are corrected and associated within the full, rich, question context rather than as a point fact to be integrated later.
    2. prompt challenge to mistaken ideas, again with the advantage of being associated with the full context.
    3. opportunity to articulate answers to questions clearly, which contributes to solidifying the learning (telling ‘the story’ is as valuable for the teller as the audience)
    4. peer interaction that provides an immediate existential motivation

    If you buy these value statements, some of the conditions for a good group emerge:
    1. There needs to be a s.m.a.r.t goal that matters to each participant. Open ended “this is interesting, lets collaborate” groups don’t work. “CBAP prep” is specific and measurable but needs some thought to attainable, realistic and time boxed. My experience is that a problem set due tomorrow provides pretty effective time boxing. 🙂
    2. Participants need to be evenly matched, equal contributors to the group. A participant who is ahead becomes dominant (teacher or source of misinformation) and reducing the interaction value. A participant who is behind becomes a freeloader and time waster. The “just listening” participant adds no value, doesn’t get much value, and can become a burr on the saddle.
    3. Participants need to be “mid range” in mastering the relevant material. Starting from nothing requires either rtfm or lecture. The dynamics are also different at the “near mastery”, becoming more challenge/response review than new learning.
    4. It’s a strongly interactive team to the 5+-2 rule applies.

    There are lots of other group learning structures, and I’ve probably taken a more narrow definition of a study group than is necessary. Binary/partner interactions, extending to networks for larger teams, and larger groups with a facilitator, extending to hierarchical leader for larger teams, bracket the study group. These along with the more social ‘get-together with a theme’ are good and effective vehicles.

    But, I think there is so much advantage to the ‘right sized’, highly correlated interaction of the small team pursuing a well defined goal that hitting that sweet spot is worth the effort.

  4. Linda, thanks for sharing. Study groups are the way to go. I have been involved in the study groups Linda discussed in Atlanta and have been able to give back! When I took the exam there were no vendors selling prep products so this was the only way to go.

    People learn best from stories. By hearing others stories about certain tasks in the BABOK really heps solidify your understanding of the BABOK.

    If you excel in a team learning environmnet join a study group or start one on your own!

  5. David Morris says

    I found out CBAP study group hosted by Ports of Auckland (New Zealand) a great help in preparing. It’s unfortunate they switched to v2 in April, as I’m sitting the exam (tomorrow afternoon) on v1.6.

    We met every two weeks, and tried to cover a knowledge area per month.

    Our sessions took the format of someone preparing a brief 5-minute presentation on a section of a knowledge area, to generate discussion (and it always did).

    Everyone else had the responsibility of preparing 5 multiple choice questions on the same section (ensuring we all had to read and understand in advance).

    It didn’t always run smoothly, and as BAs will, we often got bogged down in the definitions, but it was a real boost to know that others were going through the same process. I can greatly recommend them to everyone else.

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