Tips for ISEB and ISTQB exams

5 Dec

Just read a good link, so want to share it to everyone who want to get ISTQB certificate.
Hope that I have much free time in next year to learn and take this exam
I would like to share with you my experience with the exam. The opinions presented in this article are my personal thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Let’s not go into debate if certification is needed and if it has real benefits. For arguments pro certification you can check  and for arguments against you can refer to The choice is yours.

After Foundation Level, you need to choose certification path ISEB or ISTQB. I took ISTQB since having advanced level with 3 specializations makes sense from carrier development point of view and the path Foundation -> Advanced seems to be straight forward. The Expert level created recently with 4 specialities seems to be over the top. You can read more about the ISTQB certification path here:

ISEB tries to split hair in four with Foundation->Intermediate->Practitioner->Advanced levels. I think, it’s too much effort to get to advanced level. More about ISEB certification path can be found here: And actually ISEB has announced recently that Practitioner Level certification will be possible only till 15 March 2010 and they switch to ISTQB certification only. There is one, quite nasty effect of such solution. Nowadays you can see mistakes in job offers like ISTQB Practitioner level required. Who is going to tell which Advanced certificate you have? ISEB or ISTQB? So in most of cases you will have to defend yourself that you have chosen longer certification path.

I have passed exam for ISEB Certified Tester Foundation Level and ISTQB Certified Tester Advanced Level – Test Manager exams, so I will write a bit about both levels.
Preparation for exam

First of all for every exam you need to prepare. Question about preparation is the most asked one. Some people say that you don’t need any preparation, others say that you can not pass the exams without proper training.

What is my opinion?

From my experience I can tell you, that answer to that question is tricky. For the Foundation Level the syllabus provided by the organization should be enough as source of theoretical knowledge, but … Reading book about testing in general, like Software Testing by Ron Patton is highly recommended. Professional experience as a tester can both help you and disturb you. Why? That depends on terminology and methods used on the projects you took or take part in. If on the project everything is set-up and named according to ISEB/ISTQB syllabus and vocabulary, exam should be easier for you, you can refer to “how do we do that on the project?”. If not, you will be very confused and the referring to “how do we do that on the project?” will just fool you. Preparing for foundation level, you don’t need to worry much about the Reading List at the end of syllabus.

Don’t forget to read vocabulary and learn the terms that are in there. Look at these simple questions: what is Test Case and what is Test Procedure, what’s the difference between them? Did you get it right? It’ s very easy to give a wrong answer if you are confused by terminology.

If you are not sure about following the standard on the project, go for training. Then you should have clarity and your knowledge will be ordered.

There is big question about self-preparation. Are you really going to seat and learn in the evenings and weekends? If not – better go for training.

With preparation for Advanced Level, the case is even more complicated. The Syllabus is for sure not enough. It looks more like set of guidelines, description of scope. Experience from projects can help you, but whatever is your experience, most probably you are not familiar or you simply don’t remember all test process improvement methods and all software development methodologies, frameworks. Going for training is definitely a good idea.

Full certificate is split nicely into three parts with a reason. It’s a lot of material to learn and understand, especially for Technical Test Analyst module. It’s better to prepare to and pass them one by one.

When you study, a good idea is to make notes in form of Mind Maps. I find this form very useful and easy especially for quick refreshing of my knowledge.

For Advanced Level Test Manager, there are few books that can be used for preparation

The yellow one – Software Testing Practice: Test Management: A Study Guide for the Certified Tester Exam ISTQB Advanced Level by Andreas Spillner, Tilo Linz, Thomas Rossner, and Mario Winter

The black one – Advanced Software Testing – Vol. 2: Guide to the ISTQB Advanced Certification as an Advanced Test Manager by Rex Black

The green one – Guide to Advanced Software Testing by Anne Mette Jonassen Hass

I can recommend you the green one. It worked for me really well.

For the two Analyst modules we have a similar set:

The Software Test Engineer’s Handbook: A Study Guide for the ISTQB Test Analyst and Technical Analyst Advanced Level Certificates by Graham Bath, et al.

Advanced Software Testing – Vol. 1: Guide to the ISTQB Advanced Certification as an Advanced Test Analyst by Rex Black
General tips and tricks for exam
1. The best and most successful trick is: do the study or go for training or do both.

2. For both ISEB and ISTQB you can find example exam questions in the internet. It is wise to take these exams and get used to the form of questions.

3. Studies show that when you have answered a question and you change the answer because you are not sure – usually you change it to wrong one.

4. Having the exam on the last day of training is not very good idea. You can be brain-fried and it will be difficult for you to focus and understand questions. But don’t postpone the exam for longer that 2 weeks – then most probably part of the knowledge acquired on the training will be vanished and in practice you can start studying all over again.

5. Questions are quite long, often describing specific situation on the project, so useful thing is to highlight/underline the question itself and highlight the most important context of the situation i.e. safety critical/non-safety critical. Always search for keywords. Why is it so important? Because in the text there are introduced so called distractors. And as you can guess, the role of distractor is to bring your focus and attention to the least important information.
6. There are no negative points for incorrect answers. If you really don’t know the answer, feel free to guess. In worst case you will get 0 points.

7. You don’t have to answer questions in order. First go through the examination sheet and answer to questions, you are sure about. For questions where you have doubts mark the most likely answer on the side of page or just move to the next one. Mark that page with some sign like question mark to find it easily later. Why to use such a technique? Because if you are short on time you can just guess answers to the rest of questions having questions you were sure about answered.

8. Roman Type questions – it is a variation of multiple-choice question. You have presented several statements in an ordered list marked with letters or Roman numerals (thus the name). Your task is to chose the right combination of true statements. Let’s see an example:

Which of the following answers reflect when Regression testing should normally be performed?

1) B & D are true, A, C & E are false
2) A & B are true, C, D & E are false
3) B,C & D are true, A & E are false
4) B is true, A, C, D & E are false

How to deal with that type of question? At the first glance they look like you have choice of 4 answers, what seems to be difficult. But

you can lower number of options by selecting 100% right and 100% wrong options. In the example above A, C are bold statements and are 100% false, therefore options 2 and 3 can be excluded.

A. Every week
B. After the software has changed
C. On the same day each year
D. When the environment has changed
E. Before the code has been written

1) B & D are true, A, C & E are false
2) A & B are true, C, D & E are false
3) B, C & D are true, A & E are false
4) B is true, A, C, D & E are false

We have 2 options now. B is in both, so it’s clear that Regression Testing should be done after the software has changed. What about environment? Environment can also influence results of testing because it’s changing the Test Conditions, therefore B and D are true, so the correct answer is option 1.
Foundation Level
1. On foundation exam you need to pay attention to previous questions. Sometimes answer to current question is in the stem of the previous one.
2. Quite a lot of questions contains parts of even whole sentences from Syllabus.
Advanced Level
1. At least in exams provided by GASQ questions are marked with level of difficulty and have weights K1 – 1 pts, K2 – 2 pts, K3 – 2pts. So if you have choice where to spend more time, go for K2 and K3 questions.

And that would be it. Pick you certification path. If you are just starting, better go for ISTQB path, which has future and takes less effort. The choice of taking training or not is yours. I hope you find this article helpful and have something to base your decisions on.

Good luck on exam!



2 Responses to “Tips for ISEB and ISTQB exams”

  1. Mitchel Everett December 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I really love these tips. I have been searching all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Google. You’ve made my day! Many thanks!

  2. Ajoy Kumar Singha July 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    Looks like the first paragraph on the debate on if we should take ISTQB exam or not is influenced from a post from

    Good tips.

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