The CPRE-FL Certification and Exam - My Thoughts and Experiences

Published: 18 April 2014

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since I posted this I have had dozens of requests for copies of the study questions I created for CPRE-FL exam. Unfortunately, I long ago took down the install of Moodle I used and the questions are in a TCExam database structure buried inside a tarball archive of that site. Assuming I even still have the tarball. In short, they simply aren't readily available and I am not inclined right now to go find them, extract them, restructure them, and make them available for others to use. And finally, as I indicate in the post below the main value of study questions is that as YOU create them, you are embedding that information in your head. Actually doing the test runs is just another way of validating your knowledge.

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, 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.


© 2014 by David Olson