What are the most popular ITIL Intermediate exams?

The ITIL v3 certification structure does allow some flexibility in your pursuit of obtaining the ITIL Expert designation.  Not a perfect laid out option tree; but a few options nonetheless.

At the Intermediate level, you can take the Lifecycle Stream.  More focused on Managers.  Or you can go the Capabilities route.  More focused on Practitioners.  There are combinations where you could mix and match.  The numbers don’t add up as nicely.  But it is possible.

You gather 3 credits for each Lifecycle module.  4 for each Capability module.  Consequently, I was wondering what the more popular route was and what exams were the most taken.  My pokey research is limited.  What I gathered is unofficial – and possibly dated.

Preliminarily, it appears that the streams have a fairly balanced number.  This could be due to focused pathways or picking and choosing between the streams.

Not surprising, Service Operations (SO) is the most popular exam to take.  Service Operations is what most in IT are used to.  What they do daily.  Safe.  Familiar.  Which makes it the easiest.  Pair that with the next easiest  – in terms of familiarity – Operational Support and Analysis (OSA) – and you have knocked out 7 Intermediate credits.  Not a bad start.  Eight more to go.  You can go with 2 more Capability exams or 3 more Lifecycle exams.

The ones not really getting any love are Service Strategy (SS) and Continual Service Improvement (CSI) on the Lifecycle side; and Planning, Protection, and Optimization (PPO) on the Capability side.

Again, not surprising.  They are bigger picture.  More theoretical at points than the others.  Often not want many in the IT field do regularly.  Plus, they incorporate material and subject matter outside of daily IT operations – i.e. Quality Management and Marketing.

Curious what path you took.  Please share your thoughts, if you may.

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the Service Strategy Exam

“Show up when you want. Start the exam at any time.” Those were the instructions I received from the community college that was proctoring my ITIL v3 Intermediate Service Strategy exam. I like this arrangement very much. I am very pleased that I have this arrangement for each of my ITIL exams.

Taking exams encompasses a lot of stress. The more you prepare and the more you relax, the better off you are. All of us though take on some stress when taking an exam. Some more. Some less. Anything to be done to reduce the stress level, the better off we all are. Having the exam time be up to my own choosing the day of was a definite stress reducer.

Coming from the project management certification circus, I was very accustomed to highly structured and highly stressful exam environments. Having taken, and subsequently preparing hundreds of others sit for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, I was used to a highly controlled environment. At least compared to the other exams happening all around you. When taking the PMP exam – at least here in the US – you are often in a room with other exam takers. Rarely are any of those other exam takers dealing with the 4 hour mental anguish of the PMP. You can tell. They are done sooner. Generally more relaxed. And not taking breaks during their exam. But the rules and restrictions on you seem to be more intense – I even had a student come back to me and explain that a proctor accused her of cheating because she took off her sweater. Time spent worrying about your surroundings is less concentration on your exam – where it needs to be. Fortunately, the ITIL test environment is not that stressful.

The ITIL Intermediate exams are 90 minutes. Less than the PMP marathon or Six Sigma. Nonetheless, greater than the Foundations and some other certification exams. But unlike the vast amount of extra time given to you on the Foundation exam, you most likely will need all 90 minutes for your Intermediate exam. I have averaged about 80 minutes for each of mine.

Only 8 questions. Only 4 possible answers for each question. Seems simple right? Not really. Because to some degree, each question has 3 right answers! Only one can safely be classified as a wrong answer. Key on the word ‘degree’ when I stated that there are 3 ‘right’ answers. There is a ‘right’ answer; a ‘more right’ answer; and the ‘best or slightly better than all others right’ answer. You get points on level of ‘right’ you pick.

Starting with 0 points for wrong. One point for an answer with a touch of merit. Then 3 points for the mostly right. And finally, 5 points for the most correct answer. Splitting the hairs between the first and second answer is where you find most of your time being sapped away.

All eight questions are given to you in Scenario format. Each scenario is about 1-2 pages in length. Each answer choice is typically a paragraph of varying length.

You have 90 minutes – or 11 minutes per question – to read the story, read the answer options, re-reading the story, eliminating possible answers, bouncing back and forth between your finalists, poking around back in the story, slapping your forehead in hopes of enlightenment, and then picking an answer (at least your answer for the moment).

In the end, you must score 25 points to pass. 40 is the maximum, with all 8 answers with the best choice (I almost did this in my SO exam). In my first exam, I scored a reassuring 33 points. The results are displayed instantly. Your attitude changes instantly too.

The Strategy for Getting Ready for Strategy

One month ago, I started my trek into the world of ITIL Intermediate exams. First up: Service Strategy, a.k.a. SS.

Being a month elapsed, I may not recall every detail. But I hope to share with you some insight to this and the other exams.

January 13. Sunny skies in Seattle. Stars aligned? Best day to take my first exam? You bet!

Now many of you may purchase a packaged deal – requisite training and proctored exam bundled in. I choose a different path. A cheaper path. Many classroom based trainings are upwards of $2000 to $3000. Each! And with 5 to do, that is costly. I found it easier to purchase online training, get the core publications, and purchase the exams individually from APMG.

My cost breakdown:
Online course: $550
ITIL books: $80 (online only- 1 yr subscription) for all 5; about $16 each
APMG exam: $400
Being certified: Priceless – haha just kidding

Total: $966
That is a cheaper path than sitting in a class. Especially since most prep classes are not in the Seattle area. Requiring travel costs, hotel, food, and other expenditures.

Although, there is a lot to be said about being in a class. Being fully immersed in the session. Immediate feedback and clarification. Discussion with like-minded colleagues. And most importantly – blocks on distractions. If the class is being held on-site at your workplace, that advantage is typically wiped away. Unless you have a very disciplined workplace that respects your training time.

When taking online sessions, there is only you to decide the start/end times. Only your inner voice telling you to pay attention and ignore the call of the fridge, email, or TV. Ergo, online courses are not for everyone. You must be disciplined. You must schedule blocks of time as if you were IN-CLASS. Your email must remind people that you are in training and that their little needs are of no concerns to you – for the next few hours at least. It is too easy to procrastinate or get distracted online. You must treat it like an in person class. Even if it is a class of one.

Working from home, diving into an online class was easier for me. I have an environment that supported “lock-down” study sessions.

In the end, I saved approximately $1,000 (give or take; probably more give). And remember, this is just the 1st of 5!

Next post: About the actual exam that sunny morning in January.

My Strategy – Start with Service Strategy

My strategy.  Not necessarily one that is best for others.  Not certain retrospectively if it was the best for me.  But it worked.

Taking on the lifecycle path within the ITIL certification schema, I figured I needed to start somewhere. Staring at 5 choices. No set place required to start. But having to start somewhere, I selected the big picture first – and first on the list. Developing most management experience from the business side of IT, Service Strategy seemed the most logical.

Those in the trenches, I would recommend starting with the Service Operations exam. When I took that exam, it felt like a breeze. Could it have been because I had already completed 2 other certifications by then? Certainly. All the topics revolve around the same thing: IT Service Management. They all relate. The management on one area depends in part to the management of the others. After all, the first chapter of each core publication is practically the same.

Which ever topic you select to tackle first, it will most likely be the most difficult. Getting comfortable with the format and topic is one of the first hurdles. Then you build momentum. By far, the Service Strategy exam is the one that I studied for the most. Thoroughly reading the core publication on top of hours of online instruction took many hours over many weeks. In all, I think I spent 30-40 hours in study prep. But considering by syllabus, ITIL v3 Intermediate Service Strategy classroom based training sessions are 24 hours. Granted, that often includes the exam and breaks. Although, I imagine most attending a class spend near that time to reading and completing any other side work.

Subsequent study prep times were less.

My strategy for starting with Service Strategy paid off. Not only did I pass on the first attempt – I passed with Distinction. That was quite a relief.

Tackling the Remainder of the ITIL Intermediate Stream

One of the big decisions you need to make is whether you are going to go primarily down the LIFECYCLE stream or the CAPABILITIES stream.  Ok, it’s not that big of a decision.  Not like buying a car or which ice cream you are going to order.  Well, it is a little less costly – barely – than buying a car; and more life affecting than choosing your ice cream flavor [side note: I tried Pumpkin ice cream the other day – pretty good!].

Covered in another post and podcast [to be attached here soon], the ITIL certification schema has layers.  All must do the Foundations and the Managing Across the Lifecycle exams.  But in the middle it is a little more squishy.  More squishy if you eat a lot of ice cream.

You must gain 15 intermediate credits.  Many place themselves in one of the 2 camps: Lifecycle or Capabilities.  You don’t have place yourself strictly in one camp or the other. You may pick and choose.  Although, I did.  I am firmly placed in one camp.

The different streams are based on different mindsets or purposes, if you will.  They represent a different approach.  A different angle to the ITIL framework.  Lifecycle’s path more ‘management’ focused.  Capabilities more ‘practitioner’ focused.

I am in the management mind.  I am collecting the certifications under the lifecycle stream: SS, SD, ST, SO, and CSI.  Means I must do all 5 (if I don’t cross over) to acquire my full 15 Intermediate credits.  My intentions are to continue viewing IT Service management and ITIL practices in the more holistic views.  Seeing the picture.  Seeing where it is best applied.

Coming from a more strategic, business, and project management background, this was an easy choice for me.  You may have a tougher choice.  Depending on where you have been and where you wish to go.  If you want to be the ones executing the best practices and have background in the trenches, go capabilities.  If you see yourself defining strategy, determining broader applications, go lifecycle.

In any case, they all meet up again in the MALC capstone exam.  See you at the top