Essential checklists for your CBAP certification journey

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Flash news! Eric the BA doesn’t exist anymore; you are now reading Eric the CBAP 🙂 . Almost 10 years after I started my full-time career as a business analyst, I completed the CBAP® certification exam with success earlier this month, joining the other 6000 great BAs from around the world.  It wasn’t an easy journey (it isn’t meant to be easy anyway), but it is so satisfying to finally get to the end of it.

At first, I was thinking about trying to convince you of the usefulness of the CBAP certification, but if you’re reading this article, you’re probably already convinced (or a very loyal reader 🙂 ). Now that my journey is over (or is it just the beginning of a new one?), I came to the conclusion that the best way to share my experience and to help other BAs get certified was to focus on the things that went well (and not so well) in my journey, as well as to share some of the tools I used on my road to success (because there’s not enough of them on the web!)

Since I love checklists, you’ll find 3+1 checklists below summarizing my learnings prepared with the hope that they will help you. Everyone has his own style when it comes to studying, so do not hesitate to choose what might be the best fit for you (which is also something I learned during my journey).

And if you’re looking for tips to get the CCBA certification, continue reading, this could also help you.

Checklist 1: the long road to the CBAP certification application

Getting certified starts the first day of your Business Analyst career (or at least, the first day you realize you’re a Business Analyst). From there, you can take some actions that will ease your way to the CBAP certification exam.

  1. Start gathering detailed information about your BA work. You will need to provide extensive information about your work experience in each knowledge area when you’ll fill your application form, so keeping an up-to-date registry of your work will be an invaluable asset.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the BABoK. Not only this will help you be a better BA, it will also give you some insight on learning opportunities (new tasks and techniques), which will also help you when preparing for the exam (practical knowledge of a task/technique is more useful than just knowing it exists).
  3. Embrace opportunities to try new approaches to business analysis. Whether it’s working in an Agile environment, optimizing business processes or implementing multi-million dollars solutions, they will all help you get a deeper understanding of various dimensions of business analysis.

The Junior Business Analyst Manifesto can also give you additional advice about starting your BA career on the right foot.The Junior Business Analyst Manifesto can also give you additional advice about starting your BA career on the right foot.

Checklist 2: the short road to the CBAP certification exam

When you finally reach the CBAP certification requirements, it’s time to fill your application form (which should be easy if you followed my tips above).  Once you got the IIBA approval, it’s time to shift to higher gear and get serious about preparing for the exam.

  1. Read thoroughly the BABoK. Take your time, highlight important information, take notes, summarize key concepts in tables or schemas, and write down any misunderstanding about what you’re reading.  There’s a lot of content in the BABoK, and breaking it down in smaller chunks is a real life saver.  Do not hesitate to schedule yourself dedicated time for this exercise; otherwise, it will last forever (I know what I’m talking about 🙂 ).
  2. Establish your knowledge baseline. This will provide you a good picture of what you should focus on for. I found out the best thing to do this is to use exam simulators or flash cards (see the next section for more information).  This is also a good time to schedule your exam since you now have a better view of what you need to do to be ready for it (it will also be an excellent incentive to keep going).
  3. Focus on your weaknesses. This step is probably the most personal one since you want to choose the best method adapted to your learning style. I’m not a fan of study groups or bootcamps, so I tried a virtual course (without much success), flash cards (that the lazy man in me downloaded on the web) and exam simulators (the greatest tool, in my opinion; I’ll get back to this in a few minutes).
  4. Reality check on your knowledge baseline; repeat step B above to see if you improved your knowledge of your weakest subjects. You can also repeat step C for areas where you need some improvement.
  5. Do a final review. At this point, you should master the BABoK, and have a lot of material to use for a review (notes, tables, diagrams). I could tell you to focus on definitions, tasks, techniques or dependencies, but at this point, you will be able to identify the important things for you. Personally, I made sure that my own BABoK matrix was printed deep in my mind (more on this below)!

Checklist 3: some tools to help you in the process

  1. The CBAP Handbook | Your best friend for the first stretch of your trip. You’ll find a lot of useful information and details about submitting your application form. You can find the CBAP Handbook on the IIBA website.
  2. The data gathering spreadsheet | Since you will need to track a lot of information during your trip, setting up a good spreadsheet will be essential. As a bonus, your spreadsheet will allow you not only to capture data, but also to analyze it. The structure of your spreadsheet can be quite simple, but be sure you track the time you spend each week on which project or initiative, some notes about the work you performed, and the knowledge areas that apply to your work. I’ll share my template in an upcoming post 🙂
  3. The low- and high-tech exam simulators | Exam simulators are probably the best way to assess your business analysis knowledge. At first, I used a set of flash cards as a low-tech simulator, but I switched to a web-based simulator after a while to get more questions. The Watermark CBAP Online Study Exam Simulator was worth every penny, with about a thousand questions available, feedback on every answer and various ways to use the simulator (warm-up, drills by knowledge area and full exam simulations).
  4. The BABoK Matrix by Eric the BA.com | Probably the BEST tool I used on my journey. I’m a big fan of lists (and their multidimensional friends, matrices), so setting up such a matrix for my BABoK review was a no-brainer. However, I didn’t expect it to become my main dashboard while studying. I used it to highlight critical elements, to identify elements I needed to review, or to add detailed notes on specific subjects.

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Virtual or paper-based study: a quick note

I started studying using a hard copy of the BABoK and taking handwritten notes in the commuter train or in the subway. In my mind, it was the best way to stay away from distractions and focus on the content. However, I quickly switched to virtual tools to make my life easier (reading the paper-based BABoK and taking notes while standing in the subway can be a challenge), and actually liked it a lot. Here are the main Android apps I used on my tablet (you could probably find the same apps for iOS devices).

  1. Google Drive & Google Spreadsheets | By using Google Spreadsheets to host My BABoK matrix, I was able to access it from everywhere. I especially liked the “Comments” functionality, which allowed me to add details to the matrix without losing the bigger picture.
  2. Adobe Acrobat app | The “Review” mode on this app is amazing to highlight important information like you would do on a paper document. Once you have completed your review, you can even export your annotated document as a brand-new PDF to keep it as an archive.
  3. Evernote | My favorite to-do app was useful to track all the subjects I wanted to deepen, allowing me to focus on my study and keep distractions away.

With all these tools and tips in hand, you have no more excuses not to start preparing for your CBAP certification! Got other tips to share? Do it in the comments below!

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Eric Provost

Making sense out of chaos as a BA & UX specialist

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