If you are into Software QA or testing, you will know about the existence of some certificates issued by the ISTQB (the most important board in Software Testing). Well, recently I have taken a course to prepare the ISTQB Foundation Level test and I want to share my experiences and thoughts I got about it and the test itself, so people interested in it can have information directly obtained from a colleague who passed it.
The course for the ISTQB Foundation Level
If you are thinking of preparing the test, the first thing to know is that you are not forced to undertake a course taught by an external company. All the lessons are published and can be downloaded by everyone. However, taking a course has its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, you can save a lot of money if you don’t take the course (around 1000 € without discounts), but the notes they provide and, more useful, the mock tests they give are priceless resources in order to prepare the test with guarantees. Additionally, the resources published are only in English whereas the course and the resources given are in your mother tongue. This can be a crucial advantage for those who doesn’t dominate the English language. In the end the decision will depend on the situation of the applicant.
The syllabus consists of 6 themes:
- Fundamentals of Software Testing
- Testing throughout the Software Lifecycle
- Static Techniques
- Test Design Techniques
- Test Management
- Tool Support for Testing
In general, the approach of the subjects is very theoretical. It includes the basic definitions and knowledge that testers and QA engineers should know (and, unfortunately, many doesn’t know). Just to enumerate some of those:
- Differences among error, defect, or mistakes
- Software lifecycle models
- Static and dynamic techniques
- Functional and not functional techniques
- Differences between Black Box and White Box
- Roles inside a test team
- Phases of the testing
- Tools for testing
In addition, there are some practice topics, very fundamental and basic, but interesting since they can be the basis for the design and implementation of test cases. The majority of these practice topics are related to dynamic techniques for testing, such as equivalence classes, limit values, decision tables and sentence coverage, among others.
The course takes normally 3 days (8 hours per day) and they recommend 3 more days of study in order to take the exam with guarantees of passing it. However, sometimes it can last more days if it is arranged in a different way by a company, for example. The daily basis of the course consists in reading and explaining the theory of each chapter, followed by some exercises (tests) of the topics learned in that lesson. Obviously, any doubt is resolved by the teacher at any moment. The last day is mainly used for doing and correcting mock tests with questions obtained from real tests.
The exam for the ISTQB Foundation Level
The exam consists of 40 choose-the-answer questions. You have to answer correctly to 65% of the questions or more in order to obtain the certificate. If a question is answered incorrectly it doesn’t deduct score, so you need to answer correctly 26 questions at least.
iSQI allows to arrange the ISTQB exams in several places at many available times. The arrangement is done via web page (you need to register) and it can be also paid in that site. Nevertheless, some companies can arrange different places (its own offices) and different methods of payment.
If you are taking the exam on your own, that’s what you will find when you arrive at the place to do it: a person will guide you to a room with one PC and a program that will create randomly an exam from a pool of questions. In my case the room had several PCs and there were people doing other exams. You will be provided with a board or a paper and a pen in order to make calculations. You will have 60 minutes to complete it (75 if the exam is not in your mother tongue). The program allows you to mark questions for revision and lets you to review all answers before submission. If you have doubts, there will be no one to solve them . When you finish, the person in charge will give you the score obtained at that very moment. Hence, you will know if you have passed or not.
And now, the million dollar question: Is it difficult? Well, it is not easy.
It is almost imposible to pass it without preparing it at all. It is complicated without preparing it a bit, but it is relatively easy to pass if you moderately study it (taking the course). However, it is difficult to obtain a great score (36-40 correct questions) even with good preparation.
How is that? There is more or less 10 questions exclusively for definitions and basic concepts and you need to know them; roughly another 5-8 questions are practice questions and it is needed to know correctly the techniques; and the rest are questions related to the theory that are made to apply also experience or common sense of the applicant. And many of them (around 10) are very confusing or interpretable, so that’s the reason it is quite difficult to obtain a score of more than 35 (of 40).
So, is it the exam and course only worth for the ISTQB Foundation Level certificate? Sincerely, I don’t think so. Whereas it is true that the certificate is an important asset that more and more companies are requiring for their QA engineers and testers, it is also true that the course gives some lessons you’ll probably don’t know, since in the University (at least in Spain) there are no subjects about testing or software QA. Even if you are currently working in software testing, it is probably that you do some procedures and tasks that you learned in your company but you may don’t know basic knowledge about testing that can help you in broadening your thinking, techniques and test cases.
For all these reasons, the course is recommended for all those who has the resources to do it (time and money) and wants to begin a profesional career in the testing/QA field, but also those who are currently working in this area but they didn’t have the opportunity to learn the theoretical foundation and basis of the testing.