Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

How I passed the CBAP

I recently took and passed the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) certification test offered by the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA®). Since my employer, CodeSmart, paid I was doubly anxious to pass on the first attempt. Yay! I did.

A couple of things helped give me an advantage. The first was a lot of experience in business analysis. Not just the title of Business Analyst, but the activities I did within this role were in alignment with the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®). While the specific terms or context of knowledge areas and processes were new, they concepts themselves were very familiar. The second advantage was previously achieving certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP). Many of the tools and terms crossovers the professions including estimation, work breakdown structure, and the underlying competencies required.

CodeSmart also paid for me to take online training through ESI. I received a 20% discount for having visited their booth at the PMI North American Global Congress in October. The eTraining was available for 42 days from registration. It provided some introduction to the course, to the BABOK, and pre-assessment test and then units by knowledge area. It concluded with test tips, drills, two more practice exams, and a course evaluation. I felt the course gave good exposure to what to expect on the test and some guidance on study but was rather high level. It was by no means a waste of time, but I couldn’t solely rely on the course and be sure of passing.

As test day got closer I began to read the BABOK® through. I didn’t do anything too special at this time. I had previous experience with a large number of the tools and techniques covered. But the more technical diagrams I felt I could use some review on. I spent one evening reading the BABOK and searching online for examples to study until I was sure I understood each better. I am glad I did this. It helped me get at least a few questions correct on the test.

I knew I wanted to commit the map of knowledge areas and processes to memory. I am a visual and kinetic learning, so simply reading the BABOK or practicing the drills of the course were not going to be much help. In the end (the day prior to the exam) I used a big pedestalled white board in my living room. The idea was to map the knowledge areas with processes plus underlying competencies. I took one pass without additional study or reference and got 53% percent of the mapping correct. I then drilled myself by drawing the mappings and practiced, waiting a couple of hours and tried the mapping again. This time I got 98%. I slept with the white board in my bedroom that night knowing that if I woke up panicked about the material, it would come in handy. In the morning I wiped the slate clean and tried the mapping again and again got 98%, getting a different section wrong then previously. I felt that I had retained enough to be comfortable taking the test. In the end, having this down pat didn’t provide that many additional correct answers.

CBAP KA - Task Study

That sums up my study:
• Online course
• Read the BABOK
• Ensure understanding of tools and techniques
• Commit to memory knowledge areas and processes including underlying competencies.

The test itself was an online computerized test proctored at a local community college. The test is 150 questions and they allow three and a half hours. You have the ability to flag questions either answered or unanswered. The test navigation allows you to move from previous or next question or previous or next flagged questions. In taking the test I went through each question and answered if I was relatively sure of the answer, flagging those that I skipped, or wasn’t sure enough. Once I got to the end I took a break and then went back to review the flagged questions. I did feel more confident the second time looking at the flagged questions. I struggled with the decision to review the questions a final time or to submit the test. I had plenty of time either way. In the end I submitted the test reasoning that the number of questions I would change on a review would not make an impact on my overall score unless I was one or two away from passing and any changes I made were in my favor rather than against it. I hit submit, was presented with a survey regarding the test experience, and the second I submitted the survey received a “congratulations on passing” message. I don’t yet know my actual score, but I know the important thing.

I would recommend doing some research or asking around before picking a study service. Price, hours to complete, and depth of material will vary. You want to make sure any service you buy, if any, meets your style of study. Some people may be comfortable without purchasing a study service at all. I would have been disappointed if I had paid the full amount for the ESI program myself. The 20% discount helped. Good luck in your own search for certification. I hope this blog has helped, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Also see this PRESENTATION I gave to CBAP/CCBA Study Group members from the Seattle IIBA Chapter in January 2012.

25 responses to “How I passed the CBAP

  1. Chris Abbey January 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Thanks Vicki an informative review. Sounds like you did a great job of preparing yourself.

  2. Veena January 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Hi Vicki, Congratulations on this milestone achievement! It is awesome you got through in first attempt.
    Thank you for your detailed post. I have enrolled for the ESI CBAP prep class aswell and was hoping it would help me atleast 60-70% from a final exam perspective. Would you recommed that I take that course after I read the BABOK or before I read the complete Babok? I appreciate any help in this regard.

  3. vickipps January 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Thank you both. As for when to read the BABOK, I would recommend in line with the ESI class with a review to follow. I think it will help put it into context. But multiple reads won’t hurt.

  4. mirela January 25, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Congratulations Vicki!

  5. Christina January 28, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Hi Vicki,
    Thanks for posting your experience. What would you advise to someone that doesn’t have the PMP or the CBAP? Which one should I go for first?

    • vickipps January 28, 2011 at 8:13 am

      With experience between project management and business analysis being equal, I would say the CBAP. The learning is a bit more straight forward and it would be good training ground for the PMP. But, if you have more project management experience, I would leverage that experience for the PMP first.

      I hope that helps!

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  8. Pat March 23, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I took the exam and was not successful. Read the BABOk cover to cover, enrolled in the ESI course, purchased a CBAP online course which provided hundreds of sample questions, which I took and passed everytime, memorized all of the K.A.’s inputs/outputs, vocab etc, and still no success. Felt I did well on the exam, but did not receive the ‘Congrats” message. Would love some advice on how to proceed. Thanks very much!

  9. vickipps March 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Pat, I am so sorry to hear that you have not YET passsed the exam. My favorite quote these days is “you cannot fail until you give up”. Don’t give up. You now have a lot of information regarding the test that you did not before have. I would suggest writing a journal for yourself of what you did to study and prepare for the test. Include your impressions of the proctor site, the test and questions itself, your process for going through and flagging questions, just anything that may help you in the future. Do it now while it is fresh. Hopefully you get some feedback from IIBA on your score by knowledge area to help you with additional study in these areas for next time. A final thought, try using the processes and tools outlined in the BABOK as much as you can in your day to day work. This will give you practice and more practical experience to understand the process and benefits for each.

    Please don’t give up. Good luck to you on the next attempt and please let me know how it goes.


  10. vickipps March 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    While we are on the subject, my local IIBA chapter newsletter has a lot of practical advice regarding the CBAP certification process –

  11. Jerome April 10, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    I passed the CBAP exam. I did exactly the same thing during the exam as Vicki. Ofcourse having prepared for PMP few years back also helped. I also bought an online study exam. I didn’t enroll for any special course other than a course to get the 21 PDUs for CBAP application.

    The below website has some pdfs for knowledge areas vs techniques. It was really helpful.

  12. Victor Yeung June 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Vicki,

    I am a new comer to the IIBA – Vancouver BC Chapter.

    My goal is to write and pass the CCBA in the near future, and CBAP in the longer run.
    I came across your post today (June,2011) and it seems you can go for a CBAP without a CCBA.
    Is that the idea I am getting?
    Many thanks Vicki!

    • vickipps June 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      Yes Victor, it is correct that you can get a CBAP without a CCBA. The CCBA is very new and was introduced to allow those who may not have the full 7,500 hours experience get a step up on the way to CBAP. But if you have the required hours, then CBAP is available.

      • Victor Yeung June 7, 2011 at 8:03 am

        Thanks Vicki, for replying back. My current plan is CCBA, then CBAP, then PMP. Seems like a long path now that I put it that way.

        May I ask you another question please? I notice your chef and cook blog.
        What if a candidate has a master degree in management information system, and another has an arts degree + CBAP and/or PMP.

        Which one is more desirable in the interviewer eyes? Which one is cook and chef?

        Thanks again for your website, it’s very helpful.

      • vickipps June 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm

        The point of the article is that you cannot judge a chef or a cook from credentials alone. Credentials paired with natural aptitude and sincere interest make the chef. But all else being equal I’m not sure I can say. A Masters in Project Management would outweigh a PMP in my mind as they invest 2 years and a lot of money to learn the “art” of project management. I’m sure Management Information Systems covered project management, but you wouldn’t be able to tell whether the desire and interest was in network management, program management, or a CIO level position. Not sure if that makes sense or not.

  13. Reaa May 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    thanks for the information. going for my CBAP in 1 week and I’m taking prep exams through Watermark Learning as well as reading the BABOK over and over. With over 5 years in the BA field, I’m hoping that I have what it takes to pass the exam. I’m 1 week away from the exam and having read the BABOK at least once as well as doing about 10 practice exams, I haven’t had much time to really really soak it all in cover to cover. I’ve been reading it in bits and pieces. Pray for me 🙂 Your article was very helpful! thanks for sharing.

    • vickipps May 17, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Thank you for commenting. I have heard good things about Watermark Learning prep. I wish you great success on the exam. Please follow up and let us know how you do!

  14. Reaa May 16, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    P.S. I like the idea of the large map. I’m somewhat of a visual learner too and I think that would definitely help in putting all the bits and pieces that I’ve read together to gain a better understanding.

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  16. Ana Lucia Pegetti February 5, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Hy, Vicky! May name is Ana and I´m from Brazil. From your experience, which exam was the most difficult: CBAP or PMP? And why? Thanks and Congratulations for your CBAP!

    • vickipps February 5, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Thank you for the comment and question.

      The PMP is harder. There are two main reasons for this.

      1) Processes fit within a matrix of Process Group and Knowledge Area increasing the complexity of learning the framework. BABOK has processes only by Knowledge Area.
      2) There is more formulas for memorization with PM.

      Both are difficult as far as deciphering the real question and picking the best answer. I hope this helps.

      • Ana Lucia Pegetti February 5, 2013 at 11:53 am

        I really appreciate your help: it was very useful. Just one more question: how many hours of studying to each one you think is needed?

  17. Riddhi February 21, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks for the information and help 🙂

  18. Santhosh June 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Hi,I found this post very useful during my preparation days,I have shared my CCBA journey in the below post

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