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The Working Parent’s Guide to Passing the CBAP First Time Around

The CBAP is generally a daunting exam to sit. When I consulted with the great oracle, Google, I never once came across a CBAP recipient who said that the exam was a walk in the park.

I have to admit, having written and passed the CCBA exam back in 2012 when I was an intermediate BA, I had the intention of writing the CBAP as soon as I could (around 2015/2016). After all, with no degree to my name I felt I had to find other ways to prove my worth and the CBAP would be my crowning glory.

I would like to say that I wrote the CBAP exam as soon as I was eligible, but sadly that did not transpire. The BABOK eventually went from version 2 to version 3 from the time I wrote the CCBA, and the BABOK basically doubled in size! Life happened in-between and I got married and became a dad of two very busy boys as well.

In 2017 we emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand. Emigration really isn’t for sissies. We had to adjust to having no family support (to give us a break from our two terrorists), no friends initially, and also had to adjust to doing more housework than we are used to back in South Africa (in South Africa the labour is very cheap, whereas in New Zealand it is very expensive, so we do all our own house and garden work).

To make a long story short, I decided to write my CBAP in 2018 as part of my development plan at the company I work for. I will admit I sat with regret that I had not written version 2 of the CBAP exam when I had the chance. The great oracle revealed articles of people who failed their first attempts at the latest CBAP exam, but went on to pass the second time around. This was rather troubling for me as I naturally do not like failing.

I had a previously-saved CBAP exam application in progress from 2016 (yes, that is how long I had been procrastinating with getting this over and done with), which I duly completed. Upon acceptance to write the exam, I then set a date; 6 months down the line. It is imperative to set a date and then study, because for someone like me who can end up procrastinating, it adds more fuel to get things done. Also, prior to setting an exam date, reading through the BABOK was more like reading a novel for fun; it had little value and nothing was really sinking in.

Shortly after I had started studying, I got news that my mom was critically ill. I had to take the long (36 hour) flight to South Africa to see her. I was there for about a week, and needless to say did not get any studying done.

With no time to even recover from the initial jetlag, I went back to New Zealand.

A week after my arrival in New Zealand, my mom passed away.

This obviously took a toll in different ways. There was the jetlag upon jetlag that I was dealing with, and then the anguish of the loss of my mom. I was in a bad space mentally, and struggled to get my studies back on track. It was as though I would read the words of the BABOK, and nothing would sink into my noggin.

Eventually, things got back on track. I was also using a study guide to help make things a tad easier (get a good study guide, you will not regret it). The CBAP exam is (mostly) not about regurgitating stuff you have read, so the study guide definitely gets your mind into the right frame for the exam.

About a month prior to the exam, I made use of Watermark Learning’s CBAP exam simulator. I had a 5 day free trial that came with their study guide. You may find some free simulators on the net, but they are not worth it for 2 reasons:

  1. You get what you pay for. These free exams are very basic and do not even have case studies. They do not give a solid idea as to what the CBAP exam is really about.
  2. You get what you pay for. Some of the free exams are still based on version 2 of the BABOK.

I thought I would be pretty ok with the simulation exam. To my horror, I had only scored 50% after my first exam! I had read articles by recipients that they were scoring 80% and above when they did their simulation exams. It also didn’t help when I spoke to a couple of colleagues who said they were scoring in the 90% range prior to their exams (admittedly they wrote version 2 of the exam which was not as challenging as version 3). Most recipients say you should be fine for the exam if you score at least 80%, and although IIBA does not give the details around the pass mark, the consensus from the great oracle is that the pass mark is around 70%.

Stress levels rose! I had to find the right balance between having a full-time job, studying, housework, garden work, and still having time for my family.

From years of personal development, I still recall that you just need to be consistent in order to attain success, and that is what I pushed for. 6 days per week, I was studying for 1 hour per night (I always leave 1 day off for rest from the toils of the week, which helps both physically and mentally).

I slowly started seeing better results, but still not good enough.


The feedback from Watermark’s exam simulator also helped one focus on knowledge areas one was struggling with.
At times I wanted to postpone the exam, but I was admittedly already weary from all the studying, and as December was closing in, I did not want to have a tough exam hanging over my head during the festive season. Plus I felt bad about the lack of attention I was giving my family (weekends I put in extra hours sometimes).

It was only a day before the exam that I scored 79%, which gave me the confidence to go and write the exam (well, I was at the point of no return since I could no longer move the exam date, so it was a case of do or die in any case).

One the day of the exam I had to fly from Wellington to Auckland, as that is the only location for the exam in New Zealand. I also made sure that my departure from Wellington was quite early. I made sure that there was enough time prior to the exam for the arrival of the flight in Auckland. This worked well in my favour for two reasons:

  1. The first bus that would take me from the Wellington CBD was cancelled, and that resulted in a 30 minute delay in waiting for the next bus to get to the airport.
  2. At the airport, my flight to Auckland was also delayed, which was almost another hour of waiting.

Thankfully, with my paranoid planning, I arrived at the exam venue with about 90 minutes to spare.

One thing that had failed me a lot during my exam simulation preparation was speed reading. One might miss one important word when speed reading the exam questions, and you end up selecting the wrong answer, so I made sure that I took my time with reading the questions on the day of the exam. When I did my exam simulations, I found that I had over an hour to spare upon completion. On the day of the actual exam though, I found that my slow reading was a bit too slow, and I started running out of time.

Thankfully I managed to complete all questions that I had flagged for following-up.

One thing I also have to say is that I am not very mathematical, however I looked forward to the mathematics in the exam, as these types of questions are very logical, and leave very little room for selecting an incorrect answer. The thing about the CBAP exam is that you cannot simply select what you think is the most logical answer according to your own work experience, which can be frustrating and confusing at times, so make sure you know your calculations for the exam as those questions should give you some good marks!

Upon submission of the exam, I was hoping for an immediate outcome, however to my dismay I had to complete a short survey first. My heart was already beating profusely to the point where it sounded like a drum being beaten at a rock concert, and my body temperature was soaring sky-high in the air-conditioned room.

I completed the exam survey, and then in what felt like an eternity (even though it was like 3 seconds), the exam result came through that I passed.

Whew! It was over. I could go back to a normal life, and I could feel an immediate weight being lifted off my shoulders.

I took a flight back to Wellington on the same day, and having woken up at 5:30am that morning to catch a train into Wellington City, only to get delayed at the bus stop in the city, only to get delayed at Wellington Airport, only to miss my taxi departing from the exam venue (I thought I would be done with the exam at least 30 minutes sooner, so the taxi I booked to take me back to Auckland Airport drove off), only to arrive back in Wellington at around 7:30pm, it was a long day and a fitting end to a long, taxing 6 months of my life.

Key points to take from this are:

  1. Define why you want to write this exam.
  2. Set SMART goals when planning for the exam.
  3. Refer to the why and goals above in order to push you, especially when life happens.
  4. Focus, focus, focus on the end goal(s) you have set.
  5. Never give up.

If I could pass this exam having gone through immigrating to a new country, adjusting to this new environment, working full time, having a family to support, and dealing with bereavement, then it is possible to pass the daunting CBAP exam first time around.