Congrats on deciding to take the plunge and get ITIL 4 Foundation certified! If it’s been a minute since you’ve sat for an exam, you may be a little anxious about the whole thing. Totally understandable. I’m here to rid you of those worries with four time-tested tips to help you pass the ITIL 4 Foundation exam on your first try. Also, be sure to try our ITIL 4 Foundation practice exam, which can be found at the bottom of this post.
Off we go!
1. TAKE AN ITIL 4 FOUNDATION CLASS
This is hands-down the best way to ensure success on the exam. It’s a two-day course, so you won’t have to be away from the office for long (Plus, if you’re PMP or CISSP certified, it’s a great way to pick up 16 continuing education credits or PDUs). Can you take the exam without the class? Sure, but it will dramatically increase your study time – and stress level. There is no substitute for taking an interactive, in-person class with an experienced ITIL instructor who knows the material backward and forward, has helped thousands of students successfully pass the exam, and has implemented ITIL in lots of organizations. An in-person course also gives you the unique experience of thoughtful discussion with your instructor and fellow students. These conversations provide insight into how to implement ITIL concepts (including common pitfalls to avoid), which is hopefully the reason you’re interested in getting certified in the first place.
2. BE SMART IN HOW YOU STUDY
This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many students think they can simply sign up for a class or read a few blog posts and pass the exam with flying colors. While those things will certainly improve your likelihood of passing, they’re not by any stretch a replacement for studying.
Plan on spending about an hour studying key concepts the evening after Day 1 of class. (Please avoid the all-nighter the night before the exam – it does not work.) If your training provider is a good one, they’ll give you activities to make studying more fun and/or quick reference guides that highlight the essential information from class. The key here is to concentrate your study time on the most important ITIL concepts; don’t just memorize the terms (that’s about the least fun way to learn something new, anyway). Strive to understand the why behind it all.
Why the why? First, you’ll encounter a ton of new terminology over the course of the class, but the exam doesn’t stop with asking you to define these terms – it asks you to think about them in real-life context. So, simply memorizing the vocabulary flashcard-style isn’t going to cut it. It’s like learning a new language: You can memorize all the nouns you want, but if you can’t conjugate those verbs and form a complete sentence, they don’t do you much good. The more effort you dedicate to studying the truly important things, the less time you’ll need to study overall – and the better prepared you’ll be to take the exam. Plus, you’ll be much more effective when you return to work, as you’ll be able to clearly articulate that why to others and apply the tools and techniques you learned in class.
Pro Tip: Consider creating Mind Maps of each concept covered in class. It’ll help pull you out of linear thinking and allow your brain to organize (and retain!) content more naturally—plus you get to draw stuff!
3. REMEMBER TO RTFQ
Similar to the old IT adage, RTFM (Read The *Flipping* Manual), make sure to read the FULL questions on the ITIL 4 Foundation exam! This is important because one word can change the entire meaning of a question. Some of the questions can be worded in a tricky or confusing way, so make sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Students who are most successful on the exam make a conscious effort to slow down and RTFQ (Read the Full Question) as well as each of the four possible answers. Keep in mind that you have a full hour to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. This is plenty of time to go through the exam more than once and revisit any questions you were unsure about on your first pass. Don’t rush through it and end up losing points as a result. Be methodical. If you take me up on tip No. 2, you’ll have more than enough time.
Pro Tip: Read the answers backwards. That is, read (D) first, then (C), and so on. We tend to scan in the direction we read (top left to bottom right), so by reversing the order in which you read the answers, you’re forced concentrate on the actual answer, not just scan a word or two to get the gist.
4. WRITE ALL OVER THE EXAM
If you’ve taken the PMP exam, you’ll remember that most instructors tell you to take time at the beginning to do what they call a brain dump. Some students find it helpful to do the same at the beginning of the ITIL 4 Foundation exam. I recommend taking the exam on paper (that’s how we deliver it in our classes) because you can write on the exam itself; and you can write down any mnemonics or tricks you learned during class. Online exams do exist, but in taking that route, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to create your own reference manual of sorts at the outset. It’s a truly valuable asset and I humbly suggest you take advantage of it.
Note: Online ITIL exams are no longer offered at testing centers. The certification authority now only offers online proctoring. If you do choose an online exam, you will need to have a computer (with administrative rights), a webcam, and a space where you can take the exam alone. Plus, you can’t write on your exam or take any notes – no paper allowed.
Another helpful way to mark up the exam is to cross out any answers that are obviously wrong. The sadists who write the exams like to test your knowledge of certain concepts by asking several variations of the same question. There may be a few questions checking that you know the difference between outputs (tangible deliverables) and outcomes (results for a stakeholder), for example:
In the example above, answers (A) and (B) can be eliminated because they are not the end result of a set of activities. Choosing between (C) and (D) is much easier than choosing among (A), (B), (C) and (D). And in the event that you still need to guess, eliminating obviously incorrect answers increases your odds from 25% to 50%. On your first pass through the exam, it helps in that you’ll be visually reducing your choices, simplifying the decision-making. It also helps should that question be one you want to revisit later; it’s a huge load off when you come back that second (or third) time around and remember you really only have two options. I can assure you that any bit of relief is a life-saver when you find yourself in panic mode toward the end of a timed exam.
Many students actually write their answers on the exam itself, waiting until they have completed the entire exam before transferring the answers to the answer sheet. This technique may be helpful, especially when reviewing questions that stumped you the first time.
So, that’s it.
Take a great class, be smart in how you study, read each question carefully, and don’t be afraid to write on the exam. If you follow these four tips, you will successfully pass ITIL 4 Foundation the first time, have bragging rights forever, be able to put a shiny new certification on your résumé, and walk away with lots of new ideas to put to use when you’re back at work. Now carry forth with confidence!