The CPRE-FL Certification and Exam – Thoughts and Experiences

After about three and half months of (mostly) weekend study, I sat for and passed the Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering – Foundation Level (CPRE-FL) exam today. And for anyone interested or who might benefit from it, I thought I would share some thoughts on the certification itself, the exam, and my study process.

The Certification

For anyone not familiar with the CPRE certifications from the Certification wiki page on this site, or the CPRE wiki page, you should be aware that the CPRE certification is offered by the International Requirements Engineering Board (IREB) as an entry-level certification for those who either wish to, or are, engaged in requirements engineering practices.   As a Foundation-level exam, the focus is on core concepts in eliciting, documenting, validating, and managing requirements.

The IREB is based in Germany, and most of the board members are from German-speaking countries (with the notable exception of Suzanne Robertson, who co-wrote book “Mastering the Requirements Process” with her husband James). And as you would expect, the vast majority of the CPRE certification holders are located in German-speaking countries (more than 12,500 certificate holders between Austria, Germany, and Switzerland), and unless someone else has passed the certification exam since the end of March, I would the 60th-person in the U.S. with the certification.

 

Why Sit for this Certification?

I already have a CBAP (although I may let it lapse), so why would I go through the trouble of studying for a Foundation-level exam on something I have been doing for a decade? For me, it came down to two major factors:

  1. An increasing part of my job for the last three years has been mentoring junior business analysts. And before I recommend a junior BA consider pursuing a certification or just studying the material for one, I wanted to go through the process myself.  That way I could offer experienced guidance on whether the material was worth studying, ways to go about studying, and ensure I could provide useful feedback.
  2. Also in regards to my work mentoring, I wanted to make sure I had a strong and up-to-date grasp of fundamentals when I was teaching or providing guidance to someone else. I figured that pursuing the certification would be a good way to re-confirm my base knowledge in the requirements engineering area.

You might decide to pursue the certification, or not, for other reasons. And there are certainly others worth looking at. One of those is the BCS Certificate in Business Analysis – Foundation Level, which I might try next. But one of the nice things about the CPRE-FL is that the BCS accepts it as a substitute for their Requirements Engineering requirement if I decide to try some of their (the BCS’) certification options.

Now, I should point out that I don’t think any of these certifications are likely to have ANY impact on your prospects for getting a job in Business Analysis in the U.S. For Europe, and perhaps India, they might have value.  In the U.S., the only value you should count on is hopefully the value of knowing how to do the Business Analysis job better (or at least to minimum level of competency).  But for the U.S., DO NOT count on one of these certifications getting you hired!

 

What about the Exam?

The exam isn’t easy, but it isn’t monstrously difficult either. The questions are very similar to what you see in the practice exam the IREB provides.  As per the agreement to take the exam, I won’t go into particular details.  Also, I can’t say that your exam will have the same questions as mine.  But I would say make sure you understand completely the core items spelled out in the syllabus.  You may not have to have every quality criteria of requirements memorized, but understanding the concepts behind them is important.  Know your boundaries and contexts.  Know your Kano prioritization (don’t forget to understand the graph and what it’s telling you), your documentation, prioritization, and perspectives.  Know how to read the main model types (chapter 6) and which models go with which perspectives. I suspect this is one of those exams where having a very solid understanding of the core of each chapter, but not the minute details, will be enough for you to pass.  But don’t hold me to that! 🙂

 

How Did You Study?

I used the same study process for this exam that I used for the CBAP.  And now that it has worked twice, I might as well share it so that others can try if you want.

One real benefit of the CPRE study process is that the IREB provides a VERY GOOD syllabus.  Make sure you use it!  DO NOT just study the reference book, as there is content in the book that is important for future exams in the CPRE series.  So that was my first step.  I first read through the syllabus completely, as well as the test information, so that I understood what I should focus on.

I then took the reference book (Requirements Engineering Fundamentals) and read through the first chapter completely (to introduce the subject matter and get a “big picture”).  I then used the syllabus and re-read the first chapter, highlighting the key points that addressed specific questions from the syllabus. This way I identified the most relevant material to know.

I then go through the chapter one more time looking for what I call “critical statements”.  These are the sentences in the reference that seem to be written almost as if a test question is going to be written around them (or the concept they so clearly state).  An example might be, “All aspects that are within the system boundary can thus be altered during system development”.  Look for flat statements such as “the purpose of..”, “should always..”, “most important..” and similar statements.  If you can internalize those statements, I have found that you are in a good position to infer the correct answer to a question even when you may not know “for sure”.

After I have read through the entire reference book in the ways above, I then start creating study questions.  For the CBAP I tried to the open-source web program “Moodle” (an education environment which has a quiz module) and for the CPRE I used TCExam (an open-source quiz-only program).  I was able to load those up onto one of the URL’s I have, but you may not have a web hosting environment you can use.  Don’t worry, you can actually use Microsoft WebMatrix to set up and run Moodle on your local windows computer.  Of the two, I strongly recommend Moodle.  TCExam is too poorly documented and has some strange issues with exams and scoring that I couldn’t resolve.

Both Moodle and TCExam let you create multiple questions in categories, and then define a test or quiz that pulls a certain number of questions randomly from each category.  So I go through all of the parts of the reference that I have high-lighted, each chapter as it’s own category, and create questions for all of the things I think will be on the test. Try to create a lot of questions on the same subjects, but asked in different ways. This way when you do the practice exams later, you don’t memorize the question as easily, and learn the knowledge behind the question. I also try to create questions that explicitly mirror the “critical statements”.  This way the process of taking the practice quizzes helps to imprint those critical sentences into my memory, even if I don’t get them right at first.  For this exam, I ended up with around 350 questions once I added the 25 or so practice questions the IREB provides to my question set.

Once I have all of my categories and questions set up and entered into my quiz software, I set up a practice quiz and start taking practice exams. This not only checks my knowledge of the material, but by studying the results after each exam, I also help to build and refine my knowledge.  I always set up practice exams to have more questions, less time, and a higher passing score than the actual exam requires. It WILL take you longer to do each question in the actual exam than it does in your practice set-up.  So by having more questions, in less time, with a higher passing score; I set a bar that is higher than what I actually need and hopefully provide a significant margin of error for actually passing the exam.

Lastly, about 2 weeks before I am scheduled to take the exam, I start paying very detailed attention to where I am missing questions in my practice exams. For those items, I create flash cards using basic index cards.  I try to keep those flash cards with me and drill with them when I have a break at work, between doing things around the house, and whenever else I get a break.  Just one pass every through all the cards every time.  But that is usually enough for me to finally internalize some of those issues I have been missing in the practice exams.

That whole process above took me about three and half months, with most of my studying happening on weekends. I find that trying to study after work generates very hit or miss results.  I’m tired, hungry, have been focusing on work all day, and my brain isn’t that receptive. So I may do a bit of re-reading, or a single practice exam on any given weekday, and then spend 2-4 hours (minimum) every weekend doing more focused study.

 

Last Thoughts

So if you have actually read all of that, I hope you found it useful.  If you skipped most of it, here are a few closing thoughts. Yes, I do plan on recommending the CPRE-FL certification to any new or very junior business analyst’s that I mentor, with the clear understanding that they should not expect it to directly impact their career.  If they want something to help them build up a foundation of knowledge, this is a pretty good start.  If they don’t want to go through the actual exam process, I will still probably recommend the Requirements Engineering Fundamentals book, as it covers a good foundation without being too massive and overwhelming. They can then start supplementing that foundation with reference books such as “The Software Requirements Memory Jogger”.

I still need to find a really good entry-level book that puts the whole Business Analysis process and role in a broader context that is easy to read.  “Determining Project Requirements” by Hans Jonasson filled that role for me many years ago, but there is a substantially re-written edition that I have not seen yet.  Other books like Wieger’s “Software Requirements”, “Business Analysis” from the BCS, and “Mastering the Requirements Process” from the Robertson’s are good books, but have too much of the textbook feel for me to want to recommend them as one of the first books a junior BA should read.  If you have recommendations, feel free to add them to the comments. As well as any feedback on this posting.

Thanks!

18 thoughts on “The CPRE-FL Certification and Exam – Thoughts and Experiences

  1. Stefan Sturm

    Hi David,

    the Foundation Level is intended for the advanced beginner who wants to build a solid fundament for his/her career. So your conclusions is absolute correct. For more advanced professionals IREB offers the Advanced Level modules – and later on the Expert Level.

    As you’ve explored correctly the IREB has been founded in Austria, Switzerland and Germany and therefore most of the board members are from there. But as the scheme is growing internationally very much, the board invited experts from other countries to join. They have invited experts from India, Spain, Sweden and the USA recently. If you check http://www.ireb.org/en/nc/board/member.html you’ll see them – Ellen Gottesdiener, the author of “The Software Requirements Memory Jogger”, is amongst them 🙂 So IREB is really going international!

    Best regards
    Stefan Sturm
    Managing Director IREB GmbH

    Reply
  2. Mangi

    Dave,

    Dave thanks for sharing your CPRE experience. I’ve finished going through the book Requirements Engineering Fundamentals, and attempted the sample exam and scored 78%.

    [Admin edited to remove some personal info Mangi included]

    Once again thank you so much for your effort for this detailed post.

    Regards,
    Mangi

    Reply
  3. Sunil

    Hi Dave, I am preparing for this exam and found it to be an uphill task. There are not many practice questions available to gauge my readiness for the exam. Could I get access to your question bank if it is feasible for you?

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Sunil,

      My questions are rather hard to reach right now. However, I would honestly say that you will get FAR more benefit by creating your own questions than by using someone else’s. The process of identifying and formulating potential questions and answers will force you to think about the material in a different way, and the repetition (of creating several questions for each main issue or point) will help you memorize critical material. I NEVER use questions from anyone else when studying for a certification exam until I can consistently pass my own exams with a high pass rate. Only then will I use something like the Watermark online study quizzes for CBAP, or similar options.

      That is what works for me, I can’t say will work best for you. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Daniel

    Hello Dave,

    thanks for sharing your experience. The way of preparing the exam, how to study the material needs a personal aproach, of course with input as the one you give will bring adding value. What I see is too much time invested is creating self-questions. For sure by creating questions will bring deeper knowledge in the material, but the question is how much time should I invest in this? Does it really deserve to invest this aditionaly time ? World recognised certifications like PMP, or ACP have good support in exam simulations. Why does CPRE not having this support ?

    Kind Regards

    Daniel

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Daniel,

      There may be study guides, study questions, and similar materials out for CPRE. At one time I know there was a CPRE study app for IOS. And there seem to be study questions available on quizlet.com. And I know there are exam-prep courses offered in Europe. I just didn’t look for them because they aren’t part of my process. It probably comes down to why you are trying to get the certification. If you mostly want it for as “proof” of something in order to help you get a job, then leveraging pre-existing materials and putting in the minimum effort to pass the exam probably makes sense. I took the CPRE to see what “a standard” foundation-level knowledge of RE entails now, and to see if I wanted to recommend it to BA’s I mentor. And for that purpose, I wanted to try and internalize as much of the information as possible. So all I can say is do whatever works for you.

      Reply
  5. Palak

    Dave,

    You suggestion is very good. But the application based questions are very tough. Can you tell me how do I download the TCE and do that setup? Also how did you manage to upload questions there. By any chance is it possible for you to share your questions please it will be very helpful.

    Regards,
    Palak

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Palak,

      TCExam is a hosted web application. So to install it you would need a hosted web service, or to install a local web server on your computer. You can find out more about TCExam, including how to input questions, set up exams, and more here: http://www.tcexam.org/

      However, as I state in the article I actually recommend you use Moodle instead AND you can use Microsoft WebMatrix to run Moodle on your local computer.

      As for my questions, they are archived off in a back-up copy of TC-Exam (I have something else in my current copy), so getting them would require setting up a new install and exporting them to PDF, which isn’t the most useful format.

      I haven’t found a desktop self-quiz application that I liked, that wouldn’t require a web installation. I’ve been frustrated enough that I’ve thought of trying to knock some rust off my very old programming skills and trying to write one myself. But if that ever happens, it will take awhile. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Andrew

    Hello Dave,

    I will take my IREB-CPRE FL exam in 2 days! (not in the US, but in Europe, doesnt matter) Hope I will pass… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts regarding this exam and about the preparation for it!!

    Already passed:
    ISTQB FL
    ISTQB AL TTA
    ITIL v3 FL

    Planned for 2014/15:
    ISTQB AL TA
    IREB CPRE FL
    ISTQB AL TM

    Regards,
    Andrew

    Reply
  7. Monika Grygiel

    After almost 2 months and many hours of studies, I managed to pass my CPRE_FL exam!
    I adjusted slightly my learning path. I first did the sample exam to understand what type of questions they have. I was shocked by the result – only 30%. I took a training book and read this from first page to the last to recognize the broad picture of the material contained there. I took long time, since I was using night time, working breaks and any free time available. I finally finished a book and thought to take sample exam once again and shock – only 45%! I had a closer look and realized that they reduce your correct answers with minus points for the wrong answer, which is a pain.
    Since I was close to scheduled exam – only 3 weeks left – I had to be more methodical. I used weekend to read a book once again. This time I used David’s tip and read syllabus first to know which aspects they highlight. I also read the glossary to grasp the terminology they use. I used the sample exam to recognize the type of questions they use.
    One note that I can confirm that the timing they put in syllabus for each section is the exact one. When they say 2h 30mins, it takes this amount of time. This is extremely helpful to plan your study time.
    Couple days prior exam. I read the book, syllabus, glossary and did sample exam once again for third time at the weekend (18 hours in total) to reinforce the understanding of the material and cross sections dependencies. This led me to the fantastic score of 71% during actual exam 
    Thanks David for your guidance and encouragement.
    Monika

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Congratulations on passing, Monika! The next question though is whether after all the studying and preparation you went through do you think it made you a better BA? And would you encourage any other BA’s to study for and take the exam?

      Reply
  8. Nishma Kasliwal

    Hi ,
    I have 5 years of work experience in IT industry. I currently have technical skills. I wish to take up the CPRE exam with the aspiration of moving to a role of Buissness Analyst. Will taking up this exam help me find a job as B.A ? I understand I should have 5 years of experience for CBAP. Can you please suggest any other possible exam which will help me with job prospects as a BA ?

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Nishma,

      If you haven’t given it a look yet, you may want to check the Certification page of the wiki. That page has information on every BA-relevant certification I have come across. There are two certifications you an pursue without BA experience, the CPRE-FL and the BCS Certificate in Business Analysis – Foundation Level. Both are just the first level with higher levels above them. However, whether either one, or indeed any certification, will help you get a job as a BA is completely dependent on who is doing the hiring. Some employers value certifications, some don’t. And some value certain certifications over others, so make sure you look at BA job offerings in your area and see what skills and certifications they mention. But if you have the time, I doubt either would hurt your job prospects. Best of luck.

      Reply
  9. Michael

    Dave,

    First of all, Happy New Year 2017!

    I just want to say, your thoughts and experiences of this certification are truly appreciated. I am a junior BSA (<1 year experience) with some QA experience, working in Toronto, Canada. I couldn't decide whether to join IIBA or IREB. After reading CPRE's syllabus, I found this certification is more relevant with my current situation. One of them is to improve my knowledge in structuring a less-ambiguous and standardized requirement documentation. Perhaps later, once I have solid experience, I could start thinking of pursuing CBAP. Thanks again!

    Regards,
    Michael

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Michael,

      Thank you for the feedback. You might also want to look at the IIBA’s brand new ECBA certification if you haven’t yet, just to make sure you are up to date with your options. With that said, I haven’t seen any of the materials for the ECBA but I assume the BABOK will be the reference source. And since you are looking to improve your requirements skills, I would still move forward with the CPRE. The materials to study for the CPRE-Foundation are put together much more clearly (the syllabus is very clear and there is just the single book) and I think you can actually learn from them in a practical way. The BABOK (to me) isn’t something you learn from. Once you have passed the CPRE Foundation (focus just on that initially and don’t look at other references), I would highly recommend you read “Mastering the Requirements Process” by Suzanne and James Robertson. It’s the single best book I have come across that gives a holistic overview of the requirements engineering process. And I believe Suzanne is a member of the IREB board, so it should build on what you learn studying for the CPRE. Good luck!

      Reply
      1. Michael

        Indeed Dave,

        I’ve checked BABOK, and I found the book is a bit abstract for beginner/advanced beginner BA. I will check out the book you recommended. I am very grateful for your support and guidance. Thanks!

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *