How to Study for and Pass the CBAP® Exam in 24 hours

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On February 12, I wrote and passed the CBAP® exam on the first try.  I had completed my application way back in September but hadn’t been able to find an exam sitting date that I felt would give me enough time to study.  I finally decided in December that I would never find the perfect time so I set the date for early February and told myself I’d find a way to make it happen.

I had read how the typical applicant was spending about 80 hours studying and preparing for the exam prior to writing and wasn’t sure how I’d fit that amount of effort in.  Besides working with my consulting clients I was preparing for my first child, dealing with insurance companies as a result of a vehicle collision, evaluating a couple of new business opportunities and performing a renovation of our basement.  Oh, and I thought it was a good time to learn how to take my SLR camera off of automatic so I started taking photography lessons too. 

For me there was no time to commit to a study group.  I could have taken a self-paced online prep class but didn’t think the value was there given the cost of such programs, nor did I believe I would actually be able to find enough contiguous time to benefit from such a course.

Knowing I was in a time crunch I needed to focus on the activities that would provide the most benefit in my limited studying time.  In the end I spent about 24 hours total time in preparation for writing the CBAP®.  Here are the things I did to maximize my productivity while studying for the exam.

1. Read the BABOK

There were no shortcuts for this step: you need to read nearly every single line in the BABOK and take the time to learn what the message is behind the words.  I am by no means a speed reader nor do I have a photographic memory so to help avoid information overload and help with concept absorption I would read no more than one chapter at a time.

To help with concept retention at the end of each task within a chapter I would stop and reflect on my personal experiences to draw parallels to what the BABOK was conveying.  Thus I didn’t need to memorize what was written, but rather I needed to simply make a connection to existing memories, which for me is ten times easier.  This dramatically reduced the amount of time I would be staring at a page trying to remember each and every word.

Like others have mentioned, I found that the terminology in the BABOK did not always jive with my on the job experiences, but I found that the more I read the easier it was to correlate my existing knowledge with the generic terms found in the BABOK.

If you are an auditory learner then this step may be especially challenging for you.  To my knowledge there isn’t a complete word-by-word audio version of the BABOK, although there are some audio ‘flash card’ type products that provide terminology definitions and the like. 

Total time spent: 8 hours

 

How to Study for and Pass the CBAP® Exam in 24 hours2. Start Practicing

I am a kinesthetic learner, so for me the best thing to do once I had read the BABOK was to start cracking on practice exams.  As a result I needed to find some good resources that had plenty of practice questions.

After reading Brian Hunt’s CBAP journey, I signed up for Watermark Learning’s CBAP Online Study Exam (see my full review of the services I used below).    After I signed up I took a couple of the warm up sessions to get used to the wording of the questions.  At first I did quite poorly; I was surprised by how precise your responses needed to be in order to get the correct answer.  I also realized that there would be many straight knowledge questions that needed me to have a better handle on the specific inputs and outputs of each task (particularly the inputs). 

This feedback was a good wakeup call for me and allowed me to focus on ensuring I understood the precise wording the BABOK used and how concepts were related to each other.

Total Time Spent (first practice sessions): 2 hours

 

3. Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Once I started using the practice questions, I would read a chapter of the BABOK completely and then the next day I would answer all of the questions relating to that knowledge area.  This helped me make sure that I was not simply using my short term recall memory but that some of the information had sunk in.  After each section I would go back and find the specific areas that I had scored incorrectly and spent 1 or 2 minutes on each section to ensure I learned why I had gotten the question wrong (as opposed to trying to force in the right answer).  This helped remove any lingering recall in my memory for the incorrect answer and helped me gain an appreciation for the correct answer on a deeper level.

Each section took about an hour to complete; since I rarely had more than an hour to study at a time the following day I would read a new chapter and then the next day I would answer the questions on that knowledge area.  I followed this process for about two weeks and then ended up having to take almost three weeks off between studying periods due to other commitments. 

Total Time Spent: 8 hours

 

4. Final Preparation

With the long layoff between my practice sessions and my final preparation I did a quick re-read of the main chapters while taking 50 question practice exams.  The last couple of days before the exam I started doing spot-reading of areas that I didn’t feel I had a complete understanding of supplemented with taking two full exam sessions.  The practice helped me feel confident about my overall grasp of the BABOK and helped me focus on particular areas that needed some improvement.  The night before I took one final practice exam in about an hour and a half and then went out to take my mind off of the exam.

Total Time Spent: 6 hours

 

5. Write the Exam

Once I got into the exam I felt that my preparation had been well geared towards passing the exam.  While I had been running through full practice exams in 90 minutes or less I let myself take the time on the actual exam to study each question carefully and then come back and review questions I was not confident about after I had gone through the entire exam.  I ended up taking about 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete the actual exam.

The key to success for me was to have an understanding of what the exam would be like and then working backwards to look at what tools and techniques would be effective in ensuring I could successfully complete such an exam in the timeframe I had to work with.

 

Product Reviews

Watermark Learning

As I mentioned I used Watermark Learning’s set of practice questions.  They had over 750 questions with a range of difficulty and covering all the knowledge areas.  They also had a variety of practice exam options, allowing me to select questions from one or more knowledge areas, take ‘warm up’ sessions that were mostly easy questions or do a full-blown practice. 

Signing up for their service was easy and I was able to get access right away.  The questions were well-written although I found that some of the responses I received when I got a question wrong were a little poorly worded or did not have enough detail.  The interface itself was straightforward and clean.  It would have been nice if they had a ‘flag question’ feature like the real CBAP exam does to make it easier to navigate to questions that you want to return to.

My largest challenge with this service was that with only 750 questions I started to memorize the questions and answers after a few full practice sessions.  Others who leverage other methods may not encounter this problem, but I think that given the exam is 150 questions a good practice set should have 10-15 times the amount of questions on the full exam.  I know it is difficult to create quality practice questions as I have done it for other exams, but believe that for the price a few more questions would be warranted.  Nonetheless I believe this is a solid product overall that would be a great help to most people preparing for the exam.

The BA Mentor

With about a week to go I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t over-trained on one sample set of questions, so I started looking for another service that could provide me with good sample questions.  I came across the BA Mentor’s offering and decided to sign up (on a Saturday night mind you). 

After I purchased the service I received an e-mail with my username and password along with a link to the site.  I logged in but couldn’t find where I could start accessing my questions.  After clicking through their site a little bit I found a link to their training area which is where the questions were to be found.  I clicked on the course I purchased and had a pop-up flash on my screen and then disappear.  Thinking it may be a browser issue I tried logging in with 2 other browsers with pop-up blocking disabled, to no avail.  Feeling a little frustrated, I started hunting on their site to try and ensure I was in the right area of the website or if I was just missing something.  After going back to the main site and clicking on the FAQ I found out that access to the questions was not immediate but could take up to 24 hours due to a manual process on their side.  This was a little frustrating as I was not expecting any delay and there was no mention of this delay during the sales process or in the follow up e-mail.

When I eventually received access the following day I started with a couple of their 15 question ‘quizzes’.  Aside from this offering there was the opportunity to take a full 150 question practice exam.  There were no options to take questions within a specific knowledge area only. 

While taking the practice exams I could not scroll left or right in the browser window using Google Chrome, which was an issue given the question navigation had a hyperlink to each question followed with left or right arrows at each end of the navigation links.  Thus if I took the 150 full exam I couldn’t scroll to the right to click on any question beyond 25 or use the right arrow.  I did not have this problem in Internet Explorer or Firefox.

Overall I found the content of the practice questions to be good but the wording and phrasing of the questions to be quite poor.  There were numerous spelling and grammatical errors in the questions and answers, and often I had a hard time understanding what the question was trying to say.  I eventually got used to the phrasing but it did take awhile.  Furthermore I found that their question randomizer did not do a good job of giving me different questions.  I took 10 or so 15 question quizzes and one full exam yet I would often have one or more of the same questions in back-to-back quizzes.  Considering that they advertise to have over 1000 questions I would not expect this to happen with as much frequency as it did.

While this service did help with my preparation, overall I would not recommend the BA Mentor’s practice exam questions in their current state.

Author: Jarett Hailes is President of Larimar Consulting Inc. He has worked with large and small organizations in both the private and public sectors as a Business Analyst and Project Manager.  In addition to receiving his CBAP he is also a Scrum Certified Product Owner and ScrumMaster. Jarett brings experience and expertise from a variety of industries ranging from mathematical modeling, technology commercialization, finance, law enforcement, education and housing. For more information, visit http://www.larimarconsulting.com


CBAP® is a registered certification mark owned by International Institute of Business Analysis. This certification mark is used with the express permission of International Institute of Business Analysis.

Certified Business Analysis Professional™, EEP™ and the EEP logo are trademarks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis.

IIBA®, the IIBA® logo, BABOK® and Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® are registered trademarks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis. These trademarks are used with the express permission of International Institute of Business Analysis.

Article photo © lightpoet - Fotolia.com

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COMMENTS

BrianTH posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:34 PM
Good article Jarett!. Your experience is similar to mind (detailed at http://cbap.posterous.com/) - I also prepared by reading up BABOK and creating a number of mind maps, mnemonics and other aids.

I also tried a number of different exam simulators (see http://cbap.posterous.com/a-personal-evaluation-of-cbap-exam-simulators-2) and like you was both impressed with the quality of Watermark Learning's Exam Simulator, and very disappointed with BA Mentor's offering. In fact, I thought it was so bad that I refrained from naming them in my article the provider of the "widely advertised CBAP exam simulator (which) was unusable as the question set appeared to have been created by outsourcing the task to non English speakers with a poor grasp of how to construct an exam question. " It's complete rubbish!

Congratulations on getting CBAP in such a short time.

BrianTH posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:35 PM
Oh - thanks for mentioning my article!

Best Wishes,

Brian Hunt CBAP
larimar posted on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 8:28 AM
Thanks for the comments Brain - coming across your site helped me shorten my learning curve as I was able to leverage what you had gone through.
Rich_Larson posted on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 6:57 PM
Hi Jarett,

Great article, and thanks for the good review of our CBAP study exam. I'm glad it helped you reduce your study time. Two quick comments: one, I'm guessing you have the background and experience to enable you to shorten your study time to so few hours. Most people I teach or who subscribe to our exam need closer to the 80 hours you mention.

Two, you are right, and good practice questions are indeed hard to write! We have recently added 140 challenging questions and now have over 900 in our bank. All of the new ones are situational, application-questions that CBAPs need to master to pass the exam. Thanks again for a thoughtful article and review.

Rich Larson, CBAP, PMP
Watermark Learning
larimar posted on Sunday, March 13, 2011 8:56 AM
Thanks for the comments Rich. Glad to hear you have more questions added to the bank, this will increase the value of your already great resource.
nrmarrivada9 posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:07 AM
Hi Jarett,
First of all, congratulations on getting the certification (in such a short time). And thank you very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts on cracking CBAP exam. I found your suggestions to be very appropriate and am sure that they will be of immense use in my prep.

M Reddy
GCOM Software Inc.
larimar posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:24 PM
Thanks M, glad it was helpful to you!
Lerzah posted on Friday, March 18, 2011 4:08 PM
Jarett,

Congratulations on getting your CBAP designation. That’s a major milestone accomplished.

I found your review of Watermark learning and BAMentor quite thorough and valuable. As Principal of BAMentor, I take responsibility for problems you experienced with the site and materials.

The question bank did contain lots of spelling errors most of which have been fixed this week. In any case, the questions are solid and highly useful in preparing for the CBAP once we get past some of those errors.

We do make it a high priority to ensure students get access to the exam simulation within the hour or so after purchasing (current process is semi-automated as you noted). Nevertheless, we are looking into making this a more streamlined process soon including resolving other concerns related with the less-supported browsers like Chrome.

I founded this company with the goal to provide valuable and affordable training to business analysts and we will continue to commit to this while providing a better experience.

Best wishes on your new journey as a CBAP recipient.

Regards,

Linda Erzah, CBAP
Principal
888.856.0958 x101
Email: lerzah@thebamentor.com
Web: www.thebamentor.com
« Business Analysis Training you can afford »
larimar posted on Friday, March 18, 2011 7:40 PM
Hi Linda,

Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear that you are taking steps to evolve and improve your product based on customer feedback. I appreciate your efforts and hope that the sign-up process is a little bit easier for future CBAP students. As I mentioned I found the content of your questions to be appropriate and think with some tweaks you will have a good product.

Jarett
Tatiana157 posted on Sunday, July 21, 2013 3:20 PM
Hi Jarrett,

Congratulations on getting your CBAP!

And, thank you for your article, I followed all your steps, registered to Watermark Learning's Exam Simulator, was practicing almost every day for 5 weeks . I found your article on Google search.
I felt very well prepared and confident on the day of CBAP exam. And, I passed it!
Thank you again.

Tatiana
larimar posted on Sunday, July 21, 2013 9:24 PM
Thanks Tatiana! I am glad that I could help you.

Congratulations on passing the exam!!
jmondejar posted on Thursday, January 16, 2014 2:52 AM
To get the required 21 hours of professional development units to be eligible to take the CBAP certification, which CBAP prep course company gives the most cost effective way to get this?
alexandregarcia posted on Sunday, September 16, 2018 8:16 AM
24 hours would be the time to only go through watermark questions and trying to understand your errors....
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