A Guide to Passing the CBAP Exam

IIBA's Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) Certification is one of the most recognized certifications for Senior Business Analysts. The exam is based on the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) Guide, which contains accepted practices in Business Analysis. Preparing to take your CBAP exam may seem like a herculean task; it can be quite daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Through this post, I’ll share the tips that helped me pass the CBAP exam. We all have different approaches to learning but here are some key points that can help you prepare for your CBAP Exam:

1. Set a Goal – Decide how many months or weeks you’d like to use to prepare for the exam. Setting a goal may be all the drive you need to get started on this journey. Though I was in the middle of an intensive project at work, I wanted to take my time to study the BABOK, not just to pass the exam, but to be able to apply its core principles on the job. I targeted a 3-month period to study for the exam. That deadline (and the fact that I'd mentioned to some people that I would take the exam) gingered me to prepare for it. Registering for the exam ahead of time is also a good way of committing yourself to extensive preparation.

2. Kit Up – Without the right resources or study guides, the whole reading experience can be a lot harder than it should be. I started with the BABOK guide but found it a bit “too much” for starters. In order to prepare my CBAP application however, I had skimmed through it to identify the basic business analysis tasks I could document without really trying to retain everything. After applying for the exam successfully, I turned to CBAP / CCBA Certified Business Analysis Study Guide by Susan Weese and Terri Wagner for an easier read. What I like most about this guide is that each chapter contains stories or hypothetical scenarios, which the authors used to explain the concepts. Here’s a review of my top 3 CBAP study guides.

3. All Roads Lead to BABOK – Regardless of which material you start with - study guides, simulations or blog posts, they all point you right back to the source - BABOK. Make sure you read the BABOK (this was the last read for me) because it will give context to everything you’ve picked up and link all the knowledge you’ve gained from all the other study materials.

4. The Glossary Matters – BABOK definitions are not always the same as the conventional or implied definitions of a term. You may have the definition of a term in your head, but it might turn out to be different from the BABOK definition. Knowing the definition of a term in BABOK, can reduce a lot of uncertainty when you encounter a multiple-choice question with similar answers to choose from. Scan through the glossary after all else is done to ensure that what you think is the definition of a term is actually the definition.

5. Your Understanding Will be Tested – While practising for the exam, I noticed that some of the options linked to the multiple-choice questions were quite similar. Taking the CBAP exam requires a genuine understanding of the concepts in BABOK to select accurate answers. So, don’t gloss over any chapter. To pass the exam, you have to understand the ideas in BABOK and be able to apply it to whatever situation or context you’re presented with. Read and think through each question carefully before you provide an answer.

6. Knowledge Areas, Tasks, Inputs, Outputs and Techniques  -  All the study guides I used had a common recommendation: Know ALL the Knowledge Areas, ALL the tasks in each Knowledge Area, their inputs, outputs and associated techniques. It’s not enough to just know the techniques; you must be able to link them to the tasks where they can be applied. Getting past this stage was quite hard because I didn’t just want to cram it. I had to go over it again and again to really get it. It’s not easy to retain all these terms without cramming. Do whatever works best for you as long as you’re familiar with them before the exam day.

7. If it looks unfamiliar, it’s probably the wrong answer – In order to arrive at the correct answer for some of the “tricky” questions, I had to eliminate some answers. If an option sounded bogus or foreign, I’d cross it out.

8. Use a CBAP Simulator – I used the Watermark Online Self Study Exam simulator to prepare. I’d read up some good reviews about it so I didn’t bother going with any other one. For a comparison between BA Mentor and Watermark Learning Simulator, click here. The more I used the Watermark simulator, the more my confidence grew and it gave me an idea of the areas to focus on in the BABOK guide. For example, I got tempted to skip the Underlying Competencies Section of the BABOK until I saw that the simulator contained questions on it. Apparently, it’s important to go through every section of the BABOK! With the Watermark Online Study Exam, I was able to drill down to specific knowledge areas after reading each chapter, to test my knowledge. The good thing about this simulator is that it directs you to the section of BABOK where the answer is, if you don’t quite agree with the answer on-screen. I got the 30-day access for $99 when I was almost ready to take the exam and consider it money well spent.

9. Create Flash Cards for the Difficult Areas – If you’re finding it challenging to retain certain terms and definitions, create flash cards. Flash cards are an excellent way to study terms and definitions and can be a lot of fun. I created a set of free flash cards you can make use of which covers the 6 knowledge areas.

10. Training Helps – Training will ensure that you don’t start from a blank page. Though qualifying to write the CBAP exam already requires that you have a Minimum of 7500 hours of BA work experience, training can help you prepare faster, clarify confusing areas and point out the key subtleties of passing the exam. I attended a training last year (to fulfil the 21 hours of professional development requirement at the time) which helped a lot. If you’re thinking of going the training route, click here for a list of things to look out for in selecting a trainer.