How to Pass the Latest Version CBAP® v3 Certification Exam on the First Try


It’s not easy, but it’s possible

The purpose of this article is to help YOU (fellow business analyst-perfectionist) to pass the CBAP® V3 certification exam efficiently without overspending on prep materials. I wish there had been a CURRENT guide available for me when I stormed the CBAP® fortress back in April 2017. After completing thorough online research, I found a few useful but outdated articles and other useful but disparate tips for how to pass the exam. But there was no comprehensive guide for passing the CBAPv v3 exam on the first try.

First of all, let me clarify the scope of this article.

In scope:

This article describes my path to success and includes my opinion on different resources, materials, and study techniques that worked for me.

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with any mentioned in the article publications, authors, online resources, etc.

Out of scope:

  • Comprehensive International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) Application process and eligibility requirements (although references to them will be made). This information is easy to find on the official IIBA website.
  • Actual exam questions. I’m not going to talk about exact exam questions since it violates my personal “honor code“, as well as IIBA’s Code of Ethical Conduct.

Let’s crunch some numbers.

Table 1. Total expenses to pass CBAP exam

Fees, Material & Tools Comments Money spent, $
One year IIBA membership Not required, but highly recommended. It includes a free BABOK PDF copy, gives good discount for the test and (to be on the safe side) – for the re-test $125
IIBA CBAP® Exam Fee Obviously, required $325
A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) Main read, included with IIBA membership Free
CBAP® Certification Study Guide v3.0, Richard and Elizabeth Larson Supportive read. Includes helpful mnemonics, exam tips, explanations, examples, tables, sample tests $60
Watermark Learning CBAP® Online Study Exam
Far from ideal, but the best from what there is on the market right now. I honestly wish there are more competitors in this area. More competitors lower price & better quality. Useful Tip: If you are not sure how many days to subscribe for – choose the option with more days.

$130 for 60 days of access.


Time spent – around 120 hours during three months (totally subjective matter and unindicative metric). I don’t recommend using the time that you spend to prepare for the exam as “I’m ready” indicator. I elaborate a little more on this matter later in the article.

Should I take business analysis (BA) preparation courses?

It's totally up to you. I don't argue that such courses are useless. I just firmly believe that with considerable persistence and consistency in preparation approach anyone with appropriate practical experience can pass the exam without quite expensive business analysis boot camps or training courses. In my case, I had enough Professional Development hours to comply with IIBA requirement - minimum of 35 hours in the last four years.

Is it worth getting certified?

Yes, yes, and yes! It is worth every minute and every cent spent for preparation. Not only is the certification necessary for many job requirements nowadays, but the experience of preparing for it is priceless. When I was going through the BABOK, I often had those “a-ha” moments when my BA experience intersected with theoretical concepts. To be completely honest, there were “oh, really?” moments as well.

Nonetheless, the process of preparation gave me a crystal clear vision of my past BA experience and supplied me with a decent number of tools for future BA endeavors. It’s like going through your rather large but extremely unorganized library of books that you have already read, structuring and organizing it, so you can access any information that you need in seconds. Very helpful!

BABOK, “MoSCoW edition”

So what exactly should we focus on in BABOK and what material can we pay less attention to? How should we prioritize our study materials to prepare most effectively?
Looking back to my preparation and test taking experience let me paraphrase well-known prioritization technique - MoSCoW method:

Must Know: Knowledge Areas, Tasks in those Areas, Techniques and how and when to apply them, Inputs and Outputs to/from Tasks.

Should Know: Have a certain degree of confidence of how to map techniques to tasks, remember definitions from the BABOK.

Would Be Nice to Know: The BABOK Chapters on Underlying Competencies and Perspectives. If you have some experience (which, I assume, you have by default, considering 7500 hours required by IIBA to sit for a CBAP exam) and a bit of common sense, don’t focus on those chapters.

What helped me to pass an exam on the first try?

  1. Summarization. While going through the BABOK (I did three full cycles of reading it), It’s paramount to summarize everything that you consider important and handwrite it in your notebook for future references. Easier to repeat (see next bullet point below), better to recall, helps memorizing and deeper understanding of the topic.
  2. “Repetition is the mother of learning”, says old Latin proverb. And I can tell you ancient Romans knew how to conquer the world achieve goals. Repeat, repeat, and repeat one more time. Dust yourself off. Repeat again. I passed the exam on the first try due to the constant repetition of my notes, BOK’s Knowledge Areas, Tasks, and Techniques.
  3. Practice makes perfect. A key factor in my success was the Watermark Learning CBAP Online Study Exam. Even though their questions have some percentage of typos and wrong (sometimes horrible) formatting, overall it is an excellent tool to prepare for the test. More importantly, this simulator helps to decide WHEN you are ready. Even though IIBA doesn’t disclaim how much you have to score to pass, the common understanding is - somewhere between 70% and infinity. For example, during my last (6th) full-length 3.5-hours/120-questions exam simulation I scored 78%, which gave me a certain degree of confidence and a signal “go!”. Without such signal, it’s hard to determine the level of readiness, and it’s easy to slip into an analysis paralysis state.
  4. Work on mistakes. Last but definitely not least. A beneficial feature of Watermark’s “exam simulator” is the possibility to go through your questions after an exam and see explanations to why the right answer is right and why the wrong answers are wrong and underlying logic behind it. It is vital to meticulously look through your answers and pay attention to not only wrong answers but also to right answers (those that you were not sure about but somehow kind of guessed the correct answer).

Honorable mentions.

  • Decomposition. You will be laughing, but I used Agile approach (with it’s “iterations”, “backlog”, and “retrospectives”) during my preparation. Thanks Jeff Sutherland for his inspiring book “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time”, which I read several years ago. Decomposition of my goals, objectives, and tasks helped a lot. The only idea of handling such a huge chunk of information can make anyone sick to the stomach. Break down the work into smaller pieces that you can “swallow” in one iteration. Adjust it if needed.
  • Create a habit of studying. Consistency is a key. The habit of studying is similar to the habit of brushing your teeth. The process does not particularly fascinate you, but you’ve been doing it for so long, so you keep doing it anyway. Another great book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg helped me to understand the power of habit (sorry for tautology). Full disclosure: with the habit of studying every day I developed a side-effect habit of drinking a glass or two (or three…) of wine after (not instead!) a study session as a reward.
  • Study smart, not hard. In his book “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy” Chris Bailey argues that time measurement of productivity is not enough anymore. Now, in Knowledge Economy, we need three metrics - time, attention, and energy to measure productivity. And I couldn’t agree more! We can spend hours working on something with low energy and/or being constantly distracted, and accomplish little if something. We can be extremely busy and yet not productive. Thanks to Chris, I stopped drinking coffee just to wake up in the morning. If you can't wake up without a cup of coffee, you have a caffeine addiction problem, and you need an intervention. I started consuming caffeine in a smart way - only during my preparation sessions, my so-called “sacred time” when I wanted to reach the highest level of productivity. I also learned from this book to turn off my phone while studying to increase attention, which helped me to concentrate on the primary task more and eliminate possible destructions. Fun fact: According to the scientific research done by University of California, Irvine, and Humboldt University, Berlin, it takes almost 25 minutes (!!!) to get back to the task after an interruption. Furthermore, the study argues, “After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.” Simply put, interruption, destruction, and multitasking are evil and counterproductive.

I always cherish the notion: If someone did something great or accomplished a difficult task, so can I. And if I could pass CBAP® V3 exam, believe me, you can surely do it too. Good luck!

Author: Alex Filipenko, CBAP®

Alex is a solution-focused business analysis professional with extensive experience in a number of different business domains.

IIBA®, the IIBA® logo, BABOK® Guide and Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® are registered trademarks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis. CBAP® and CCBA® are registered certification marks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis. Certified Business Analysis Professional™, Certification of Competency in Business Analysis™, Endorsed Education Provider™, EEP™ and the EEP logo are trademarks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis.

Posted in: CBAP, IIBA & BABOK
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Serj Kornev posted on Monday, September 4, 2017 7:52 AM
Great article, Alex! If this does not inspire analysts to go get certified, I don't know what does.
Richard Larson posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 4:58 PM
Hi Alex, iI enjoyed your article and thank you for sharing your tips on passing the CBAP. There are multiple ways to study and prepare, so your tips will help people. Thanks for using our materials and for mentioning them in the article. I'd love to get your thoughts on areas our Online Exam could improve. I will write you directly.
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