Advice on Taking ITIL Intermediate Exams

Now having cleared all 5 ITIL® v. 3 Intermediate Exams on the Lifecycle Module path, I wish to share some of my suggestions on clearing them.

One suggestion I mentioned in an earlier blog post was to look to eliminate 1 answer choice off the top. There is one answer that serves as a distractor. Often, it sticks out. Find it. Get rid of it. The distractor may have it’s own direction or something the others don’t.

What I mean by “it’s own direction”, is for example: 3 answers may have a “negative” or all “positive” response. Say, “inform the CIO the suggestion cannot (can) work at the present time…”. Whereas, 1 answer has the opposite approach. That makes it stick out. That is the one you must remove. Granted, there are not many blatant examples such as this, nonetheless there are a few from time to time.

Frequently, the distractor has its own errors. Maybe terms/definitions wrong, off topic, repeats irrelevant material from scenario, or something you can -or should – spot as erroneous.

The other suggestion I have for you: READ THE QUESTION FIRST! It took me a few exams before I started doing this, and I wish someone told me to do this from the start. The scenarios are long. They have lots of information. Potentially, more information than you need. How do you know what is important and what is not? Exactly. You don’t. Unless you read the question first.

Some scenarios are written to be used multiple times for various questions. Each question seeks out different learning objectives from the same scenario. Worrying your little head about all the fine details unnecessarily clouds your mind. This is a timed exam. No reason to waste your time.

Scroll down to the question first. Don’t even start reading the scenario – you may not stop. Read the question – usually a line to a paragraph in length. Then read the entire scenario! Now you have a frame of reference. You know what they are seeking from you. You know which data points are important. You know what to look for.

Before, I would read a scenario slowly. Taking detailed notes. Making certain I had all the information comprehended. Only to read the question and discover some of the information was totally irrelevant. Sometimes all the scenario information was absolutely important. But a few times, I had to demonstrate in the answer is comprehension of a concept. Essentially able to answer without reading the story at all. The story helped put the question in perspective and give it “meat”. But not that crucial to answering the question. If you don’t read the question first, you do not know if the story and all its details are absolutely important, certain parts important, or very little of it.

That is my recommendation. Try it out on your practice exams first. It takes some behavioral change; but an easy one to make. It pays off in your ability to answer the exam questions and the time management. My later ITIL Intermediate exams I was finishing with 20 -30 minutes remaining. Earlier Intermediate exams I was taking them down to the wire.

I shall post more suggestions. More are being included in my ITIL v3 training courses and study book materials. Alas, I do not mind sharing some of my experiences for free.

An analogy of Why ITIL

In trying to explain why implement ITIL (IT Service Management) best practices within an IT organization, I played out a scenario of an IT professional speaking with an IT manager knowledgeable of ITIL frameworks. Here is essence of what I ad libbed. Want to throw it out there and seek critique because I wish to use this or similar in my books, trainings, etc.

IT professional does not see the point of changing the way we have always done things. He announces, “Business will use IT Tool X and Y because that is the tool we have and they will like it.”

“Ah, that is the fundamental problem of IT,” chimes in the IT Manager presenting ITIL v3 to the group. “That is why best practices such as ITIL are so important. IT is a powerful component of a business. But we are here because of the business.

“Our business has options. If we are not doing the best and striving to the aims of business, then what good are we? What is stopping senior management to outsource or find some other means? And the few customers outside our company we provide service for, aren’t there 100 other places or ways they can meet their needs?

“We are the backbone of business because we provide the support for the business. Allowing business to achieve its needs and value. We must place ourselves in a position to strive for better support to our business. This is done by delivering better quality at increased cost effecitiency and the best fit. Imagine if your backbone was bent and bent on doing its own thing. You cannot have your backbone sticking out. Your backbone certainly cannot survive without you. A misaligned spine is not going to do you well. If you were business, would you care about a backbone that was crooked and did not support you in the way you needed?

“Now business can swap out all or part of their backbone – us, IT. Physically, we cannot do it as easily in our bodies. Maybe some adjustments or paying attention to our posture a little better. Or a painful surgery. Getting rid of our IT department may be painful at first, but if the business sees more long term advantages of it, why not?”

ITIL at its core is providing an alignment to the needs of business with the capabilities and resources within IT.

When Taking an ITIL Intermediate Exam – get it down to 2

There are only 4 choices on your Intermediate exam. You know that one is the distractor. Find it first and eliminate it! Search for the one that does not belong. Either because it contains an error or sticks out from the others.

There is often a pattern with the four answer choices. Two answers – or possibly 3- typically have common threads. Material may be identical, with point here or there being different. When the question was authored, the correct answer may have a few of the points or words altered – turning it into the “mostly correct” answer. Consequently, if you notice that 2 or 3 answers have the same core response and one that goes on a whole new path, the one on the off path is most likely the distractor.

Doing this first step at least guarantees you a point. Scoring any distractors – worth 0 points – hurts your score hard. Getting rid of the answer that does not belong cleared out from the start makes it a “best out of three” chance. From here, you can start weeding thru the points that are good and picking the best of what remains.

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.