ITIL Certification: a technique for passing multiple-choice exams

Multiple-choice exams test how well someone can do multiple-choice exams. Depending on how well written the qustions are, they might also test some understanding of the topic ... or not. With good technique you can get a pretty good score with limited knowledge.

[Updated September 2011]
Here is a consolidated guide to Multiple-Choice Exam technique, which most of you are here to read.
The original post follows below for those looking for it...
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Multiple choice ...is still a test in english comprehension and not understanding... I have no doubt that they are challenging, but an accomplished student can always win over an accomplished subject matter expert.

I long ago learned effective multiple-choice technique:

  • Analyse the question:
    1. What is it actually saying?
    2. what is the Boolean logic? Sort out all the NOTs/ANDs/ORs to find out what they are really asking
    3. Any tricks?
  • Analyse the ANSWERS as much as the question: the answers are full of clues
  • Eliminate the obvious wrong answers. Usually you are now down to two
  • If the answer is not obvious, always re-read the question, more slowly this time
  • Look for a subtlety in the wording of one that would eliminate it. Some ITIL questions asked "which is the BEST..." so one answer is MORE right than the other.
  • Now make a value call to pick from any remaining options
  • When all else fails, guess. Usually you are down to two so you have a 50/50 chance. ITIL doesn't penalise wrong answers, so you might still like those odds.

...and there are a few other tips in this column from ITSMPortal

  • If two choices overlap or mean essentially the same thing, both are probably incorrect (unless there is a choice of all of the above or both B & C)
  • Watch for absolutes such as all, none, always, never, only. Circle these words and realize that they usually indicate a false choice, unless you recall the lecturer emphasizing an absolute statement during lecture (sorry ! you would have to attend a course for that one !)
  • If there are "partner choices," usually the correct answer will be one of them. (Partner choices are opposites or have one or two words different.)
  • Look out for questions which may answer other questions.
  • Add a few key ITIL concepts such as if assess is in the question the answer is likely to be Change Management, cause = problem management, accurate data/info =SACM, user = Service Desk etc.

...and these from Geoff Harmer

  • Highlight negatives in the question so you don't mistakenly answer
  • "Best describes" usually means "find the answer that has nothing wrong with it"
  • The longest answer is sometimes the correct answer. it takes more words to explain ITIL!

...so multiple-choice tests your ability in Boolean logic, English comprehension, subtlety of meaning, and judgement calls. Some basic understanding of the terminology is required to also understand the questions. Equipped with those skills and this process you should scrape a pass in most multiple-choice exams.

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You might also like Introduction To Real ITSM, my satirical book on ITSM, which includes a twisted ITSM exam. Folks seem to find it funny.

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Here is the original post which comments on the state of the exam questions back in 2008...

We had this sample question discussed here recently:

19 Which is the first activity of the Continual Service Improvement (CSI) model?

a) Assess the current business situation
b) Carry out a baseline assessment to understand the current situation
c) Agree on priorities for improvement
d) Create and verify a plan

which is ambiguous at best.

And buraddo made the comment that

...multiple choice (which when written in ambiguous form as per this blog entry example or using the classic, which answer is more right than the others trick) is still a test in english comprehension and not understanding... Its not whether they make you think, but whether they make you think about the right stuff. I have no doubt that they are challenging, but an accomplished student can always win over an accomplished subject matter expert.

I long ago learned effective multiple-choice technique:

  • Analyse the question:
    1. What is it actually saying?
    2. what is the Boolean logic? Sort out all the NOTs/ANDs/ORs to find out what they are really asking
    3. Any tricks?
  • Analyse the ANSWERS as much as the question: the answers are full of clues
  • Eliminate the obvious wrong answers. Usually you are now down to two
  • Look for a subtlety in the wording of one that would eliminate it. Some ITIL questions asked "which is the BEST..." so one answer is MORE right than the other.
  • Now make a value call to pick from any remaining options
  • When all else fails, guess. Usually you are down to two so you have a 50/50 chance. ITIL doesn't penalise wrong answers, so you might still like those odds.

...so multiple-choice tests your ability in Boolean logic, English comprehension, subtlety of meaning, and judgement calls. Some basic understanding of the terminology is required to also understand the questions. Equipped with those skills and this process you should scrape a pass in most multiple-choice exams.

But only the very best-written multiple-choice questions actually test competency in the subject.

My pet hate is examples such as the #19 discussed above. This question does not test knowledge. It tests memorisation by rote of the list in the book. Which one comes first? Depends on where you start: CSI is a circular process. In the book the process starts with one particular point, but knowing that has more to do with treating the ITIL books as holy writ to be memorised and less to do with understanding what service improvement is all about.

Other examples of memorising the sacred texts are:
"Which of the following is NOT described as a function but as a process..."
"Which of the following is NOT one of the 7 Rs that must be answered for all changes..."

ITIL V3 is big business now. An ITIL certification counts, and people pay good money to get one. Questions require expert writers, rigorous quality assurance and - an IT Skeptic hobby-horse - effective feedback and review.

After a wobbly start that I think arose from having the vested interests in control, the exams seem pretty good now. Feedback on this blog was about 50% positive. But there are still some bad questions out there. So far I'd give OGC a C pass for preparing the exams.

Comments

another effective multiple-choice technique

another effective multiple-choice technique:

in 2008 i'v succesfully passed the ITIL managers Bridge, 2 of the intermediates (capability) and 2 of the intermediates (lifecycle) and used the techniques as described here. I also failed 2 tests. I also advice my students (i am a ITIL trainer) to use these techniques...for I believe like you that MCTests are a lotery.

Another suggestion I give my students is to make a tabular list on your notepaper saying "this is a 100%, 50/50, 25% correct answer"....where 25% would be the equivelent of a total guess.

after completing the test add-up all your 100% correct answers. When this sum is larger than the number you need to pass....your passed. This gives a good feeling for the final result. If not, well, maybe start again.

Happy testing
Eppo Luppes
Getronics Consulting Netherlands

Learn the diagrams

Right, having done the exam it seems the questions can almost all be answered by learning some of the key diagrams without learning a word of the text.

If you are lucky they will even give you the diagram as part of the scenario.

ITIL Certification will become irrelevant

The use of mult-choice exams is just one more step on the road to irrelevance for ITIL Certification. It is a commodotization of the product to optimize for volume delivery which will see ITIL certified people so easily available that the market value will drop. Once this happens the attractiveness will fall and the attention will move to the next shiny bauble.

Its an investment which will have $0 value in X years. The beauty of market forces is you have to guess what X will be.

Brad Vaughan
blogs.sun.com/buraddo

Is commoditization bad?

At one level surely it is a good thing that the basic qualification has become commoditized. If the Foundation level was not multi choice I think the industry would struggle to meet the demand. Good multi-choice exams also help the profession decide what their body of knowledge really is. When the first founadtion exam came out it highlighted that we had been fudging a lot of issues at the manager's level and were often inconsistent in our terminology. Actually I think the Skeptics "Which of these is/is not a function/process " example is quite a good question from that respect. What is important to me is that the answer to any question should matter, and reinforcing that there is a difference between processes and fiunctions falls into that category.

We should bear in mind as well that the multi choice exam format does not come over to the candidates as being trivial.

I guess we could all do our bit to help by becoming examiners...it is a thankless task.

James

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