ISTQB Certification - Thoughts, Experiences, Tips?

Hello everyone!

A week ago out of nowhere I stumbled upon the ISTQB certification. I’ve been looking for something that would increase my value on the market as an automation tester, basically to enhance my knowledge as well as give some weight to my CV.

I downloaded the syllabus for the ISTQB Foundation level certification and started slowly studying it. I must say, I love how much of useful theory I found there, which I can apply to my day-to-day work as a TA!

My questions about the cert are mainly:

  • What are your experience with the Cert? Have you found it useful? How far have you pushed it (meaning above foundation, how many levels have you covered)?

  • What are your tips on the preparation for the exams and the exam itself? (Since I’m prepping for the foundation level, this question mainly refers to this level but any tips are welcome!)

  • If there are any recruiters reading: Would you pay attention to the ISTQB cert in the candidates CV? Do you think it brings value to a candidate?

Thanks in advance for everyone’s time!

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Hi @stall1wow Welcome , good question. I think the ISTQB has 2 purposes, (3 if you count it as just a way for an external body to make money.) But no seriously.

  1. It looks good on your CV and shows people that you are serious enough to spend the time and pass the test, even if it’s not really a good measure of your skill.
  2. It will , as you have found out, force you to be a better communicator. I found it forced me to structure my thinking and my language a bit more than I had ever done in the past. For some people the ISTQB certificate also instils some confidence, but I’m not convinced about that.
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I completely agree with your second point there!

Right after I started reading the syllabus, I subconsciously started memorizing some basic theory that, mind you, is actually extremely important when communicating to the team about SDLC and testing process.

Before that I mainly used my own logic and experience to make statements and prognosis about stuff - but now, I have a literal reference point from technical literature that I can use and prove my points if anyone wants a debate.

Without a doubt I feel more comfortable with communicating formalities to the team. Loving it so far!

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There are a lot of replies on a similar thread, which you might find useful:

Hey @stall1wow
Good post - tricky subject.

I see this a lot as a ‘requirement’ but it is a buzzword.

The certification is effectively an understanding of ‘Software Testing’ as a whole and so is a rather large blanket.

Totally agree, it gives you the terminology so you can at least understand what is going on in the team etc.

Anyone serious about going into testing with no experience - Go for it. However, it is very easy with real testing experience to have more knowledge (Yep - Chicken and egg time!)

As an employer - I prefer experience and people having the aptitude and mindset to be a Test Analyst. Qualifications are not a sign of skill and experience (sorry!)

Experience with Cert - None, I did the ISEB all the way to Practioner, those I have worked with that have ISTQB Foundation Vs those who do not - skill set varies, hence why I do not use it as an indicator.

Prep tips - Mock after mock after mock.

(Of course, if you are looking to work in America - it will be a necessity I guess)

In Summary - Personal preference.

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Thanks for pointing that out. I guess I should’ve searched the forums before asking, My bad.

But thanks again, there’s tons of relevant info I was looking for in that thread already. Hats off to you sir!

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No worries, good luck with studying if you decide to take the certification exam!

I think ISTQB is significantly less common in jobs in the US compared to Europe, from what I’ve seen.

Definitely. As far as I know the Board is physically located here in southern Germany, though members may come from all over the place.
I have several certs from ITSQB.
Advantages: as was being said, you have those in your cv, which is a big thing in Germany especially if you work for public institutions, sometimes the require it. Plus: you get a basic understanding of the theory of testing and learn the common terms and what they mean.
Disadv.: you have to spend the time (not much) and money (much if you need a course before the exam, the exam fee shouldn’t be that high).
Just reading the syllabus won’t be enough I’m afraid. The exam really gets into the exact meaning of the terms you learn. Try to find test exams, there should be some around on the net and try to do them.

My view on this has changed over time.

I used to think of the ISTQB as quite a poor way to go about testing, and also about how to operate in a business, how to think about epistemology, how to remain motivated and so on. At the same time being a requirement for certain companies, so a necessary addition to CVs for certain applications.

I still think that it’s a poor way to do testing. But I also now think that it is a foundational building block in the global lowering of perceived value of testing and testers. It becomes a requirement for companies that don’t know any better, and so testers have to pass through the system to be accepted - but the things it teaches are devoid of epistemological thinking, or “borrowed” in quite an inexpert way. It’s mainly concerned with fact checking with testing as a borrowed afterthought, as if testing is all about a partial pattern matching outputs of a deterministic system independent of purpose and reason. The glossary it provides would be funny if it didn’t represent everything I despise about pretend testing - and sets up terms that I think hinder the progress of thinking in the world of testing, which is why I’m more careful with words like “automation” than I used to be. My interaction with the examinations have shown them to be of poorly written multiple choice questions that can be brought down to a 50/50 or better with some good exam technique, but that was some time ago and I don’t know if they have proper exam writers now.

The ISTQB, unless it has changed a lot since I last looked at it, teaches a test-case-driven mentality for testing, reducing it not only to a very shallow form of testing but also a very boring, uncreative and frustratingly expensive one. It removes a lot of the fun and engagement from the work.

I thought I’d see if they still teach about “defect density” so I searched the latest syllabus material, and they do. Defect density is idiotic, and I always think of it as a quintessential example of the mathematical, deterministic thinking of old factory-school ideas in inexpert measurement for wishful thinkers.

They also have a stranglehold on determining industry standards - the ISTQB and testing ISOs are strongly related and don’t seem to take on board outside criticism. That is one reason many people signed a petition rejecting 29119, to show that it was a standard that we would not simply agree to because one particular school decided that it was so.

So while I used to feel that ISTQB was just a poor way to go about teaching, learning and implementing testing with an examination that doesn’t prove the course contents I also now see it as an immoral one that hurts testers, testing and the global perception of both.

Saying that, I can understand someone who knows testing already getting the bit of paper by passing the test to apply to places that require it. I try not to judge anyone just because they have an ISTQB certification, because I think that all certifications are pretty weak evidence of actual ability, and people I know who have ISTQB certifications can go on to think deeper and do better things. So if I were hiring off a CV I’d ignore it (and honestly I mostly ignored degrees, too, as I know great testers without one and poor testers with one), and concentrate on their ability to think about, explain and do testing. If a course helped them to do that then yay. If it hindered that then boo. But if they can approach a new system in a new context and ask good questions and answer good replies no matter the wording or teaching of their past then I’m impressed either way.

In short: bad for society, should be neutral in a CV but isn’t because companies don’t really know what testing can offer. Do what you must, but don’t bring your bloodied sacrifice to my door.

I offer some associated reading to get a flavour of the less visible history involved and thinking on associated subjects:

https://developsense.com/blog/2014/09/a-response-to-anne-mette-hass
https://developsense.com/blog/2015/01/very-short-blog-posts-23-no-certification-no-problem


Quick aside:
I have never done the course. To see what the exam is like I downloaded an example exam paper from Oct 16, 2023 and filled it in on the fly to see how I’d do. Unfortunately their answer sheet doesn’t match the question sheet so turns out that I can’t check (e.g. a question that asks you to pick two answers only has one in the answer sheet). The answer sheet looks like it’s the old one, from the previous release, as the versions and dates don’t match up properly.

One might say that a freeform risk-based approach should have picked up such an important oversight.

I did find a lot of questions which were “we came up with this term, identify it” and such. Many were about being able to give a name to something but not actually do it, or about doing something that fell into a world of administration. Many subjects wouldn’t actually help humanity to do anything of value, but demand of us that we name and identify them. And there was a question with defect density in it, which was fun.

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We are going through the final bits of an ISO where I work. There is a separate thread all about that someplace, I’ll update it after we get our certificate I think.

But Chris is perhaps like me on these certification bodies, jaded. They are trying to run a business, not to improve software quality. They are doing much the same thing as schools and universities do, they try to stay open and attract top students who will pay the most money to them. For people who use them well, they are a tool. And yeah, I remember having a question on defect density, it also made me a bit worried about the ISTQB material, but I was in the exam room, and I got my passing mark. I probably got that one wrong though. Did it make me a worse tester, no.

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Hi @stall1wow!

Always an interesting question to ask people. Lots of great responses from the group already.

I’ve done a few of the certifications and wrote some quick thoughts on them. They’re my opinion, and may not reflect other peoples. I also appreciate they may not answer anything for you.

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I largely agree with what Chris has written, and believe ISTQB has done immeasurable damage to the testing profession because it teaches a seriously flawed approach. Don’t study their material (except with the most sceptical eye) and don’t do their certifications.

When hiring testers, I prefer people who do not have ISTQB certification, and we never put any of our staff on their courses. Unfortunately, we do have to recruit people with ISTQB certification, in which case we have to make them unlearn everything they have been doing and learn our approach, which is context-driven exploratory testing.

The ISTQB’s preoccupation with metrics is a sure sign of bad thinking. Anyone with even the slightest understanding of statistics recognises that no testing metrics have any statistical validity. One bug is not equivalent to another. One test case is not equivalent to another. So counting them is meaningless.

And what I refer to as second-order metrics such as “defect density” and “defect escape ratio” are simply one meaningless number divided by another meaningless number. Guess what the result is! While I could perhaps regard the collection of metrics as merely misguided, I regard the calculation of these second-order metrics as gross misconduct and I would fire anyone I caught doing that nonsense.

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You have a specific use-case:

  • “something that would increase my value on the market as an automation tester”

  • “to enhance my knowledge as well”

  • “give some weight to my CV”

There are a lot of very strong and very coloured opinions on certifications, ISTQB and testing in general. I find people are often passionate to the point of flaw about their particular stance on it. So I want to address your goals as objectively as possible, using my experience as a guide. I’ve personally completed the Foundation, Mobile Application Tester and Advanced Automation Engineer, and I’ve studied for the Technical Test Analyst, but never actually sat the exam.

  1. Increase value in the market as an automation tester.

In short, the ISTQB Foundation will do nothing for this. All ISTQB certifications focus on theory rather than practice. Even the Advanced Automation Engineer won’t actually teach someone how to write an automated GUI/API/Unit test etc. Your market value as an automation engineer will be enhanced by experience, tool knowledge, ability to answer questions in the interview, etc. Concepts, tools, frameworks… they’re what employers are looking for.

  1. Enhance knowledge.

I think the ISTQB is actually pretty good for this, although many disagree. It’s helpful to formalise concepts. In my experience, a lot of people enter testing either from engineering routes or business analysis roles, meaning they learn on-the-job, usually specifically the way in which things are done at that particular place of work. That’s often a very narrow, very custom perspective on things.

Recently I took my daughter around a lot of top UK universities to look for the best Computer Science/Engineering course for her undergraduate degree. I took the opportunity to ask every course director how much focus they put on testing. The answers? “None”. “It’s too specialised”. “We teach students how to write unit tests, but they’re not marked on them”.

However flawed the ISTQB is, it’s important that there’s a formal place to study somewhere. Provided you treat the knowledge the way you should with anything (with healthy scepticism, willingness to challenge what you’ve been told, not accepting the theories as infallible rules), you will benefit from the formal study.

  1. Give some weight to CV

This depends on region and industry. Bigger firms will use them as a candidate filter, same as they use other arbitrary qualifications (or “years experience” and other meaningless conditions).

Ultimately, a CV benefits from having milestone achievements on it. That being said, you might find greater success with proven achievements in automation specific milestones. Listing what it is that you do, with metrics representing the impact, will be more interesting to an interviewer. If you want automation specific certifications, there are also options like A4Q Selenium webdriver (although opinion on that is also mixed).

I think the majority of employers are looking for experience over studies. I don’t think it will hurt you to have the ISTQB Foundation (unless you have an interviewer with an ideological chip on their shoulder about the whole thing), but it won’t open the floodgates to new and exciting careers either.

Final thoughts:

Importantly, the ISTQB certifications aren’t super hard. It can be easy to fail the exams due to the nature of how they ask questions, so it’s worth revising.

They’re also not a significant undertaking - they’re not a massive time commitment. The affordability of the certificates depend on your circumstances, but many people get theirs paid for by their employer. However, they’re not mandatory to have, so if time or money are an issue, it won’t disadvantage you significantly to give them a miss.

My opinion is that it’s important to recognise the appeal in wanting to demonstrate knowledge formally. When someone asks why my professional opinion on a subject is worth listening to, it is convenient to point towards various achievements and recognitions I have gained over the course of my career. There are a lot of people who are intellectually opposed to the ISTQB (and their observations are valuable an often correct), but they often don’t acknowledge that sometimes people just like to have a certificate on the wall which says “they are good enough to have been awarded this”.

Ultimately, the certification doesn’t really tell me too much about someone’s ability. I’ve met very experienced testers who, on closer inspection, are really just good engineers. They don’t represent high quality testers because their skills are all focused on coding, rather than deploying their critical faculties, understanding good test management, developing the soft skills necessary to extract the most value from stakeholders, and so on. The problem is, they might have the ISTQB. They might not. It really doesn’t impact who they are at all.

So for the reasons you set out above… it’s not going to achieve those goals specifically. But they can be enjoyable exercises and relative fun to do. They shouldn’t harm your CV either; I think anyone who would look down on you for having participated in some formal learning, without taking the time to review the substance of your work, is exposing themselves more than they’re exposing you.

Sorry for the over-long response!

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I’ve just recently passed the ISTQB so can maybe offer a few helpful tips to passing.

In terms of passing the exam:

  1. Download the syllabus off of the ISTQB/BCS website for the version of the exam you’re taking and keep reading through that, you don’t need the large book. Download the 3 mock exam papers off the website and have a go nearer the time of the exam, so that your final revision is more focused on what you need to brush up on.

  2. In the beginning of each chapter they list keywords/glossary, learn the meanings of those words and you’re pretty much halfway there already - ISTQB are obsessed with keywords. In that same respect, if you’ve done lots of revision and come across a word in the one of the answers of the exam that you don’t recognise, you can pretty much rule it out as a correct answer.

  3. If you take the exam remotely as most people do, you’re not allowed to use paper/notepad, but you can use a mini whiteboard and marker pen - that helped me, esp. for test techniques.

If you want my two penneth, I didn’t like ISTQB. It seemed archaic and so far off what I experienced in my time testing that sometimes I wondered if I was still reading the correct book.

I totally get why people feel that they need it, I had to as part of my apprenticeship, and it’s good to see another perspective of testing but in my opinion, do what you need to do to pass and then look for other approaches to testing to see what is beyond the horizon.

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For background, I spent 2 years as a trainer, one of the things I taught a lot was ISTQB.

I don’t think that the certification will add much weight to your resume, but I still think there’s some value in the content. I don’t want to rehash everything that’s been said here, so I’ll walk through I think is particularly useful.

  • In chapter 1 there’s valuable info that helps define the difference between errors, defects, root cause, etc and sets up some really useful vocabulary. The vocabulary isn’t universal by any means, but does help to create a framework in your mind for your teams vocabulary. Essentially giving shape to techniques and theories that we talk about have never agreed on formal terminology for. A lot of this can be really useful reference information in interviews.
  • Chapter 4 is where the real value is in my opinion. Especially if you’re looking to move into automation. The test design techniques are USEFUL! And many of them you’ll say “I’ve always done this” and then realize that you did it somewhat, but the technique that the syllabus and or class will show you makes these techniques really powerful when put into practice (Boundary Value Analysis, Equivalence Partitioning, Decision Tables, State Transition).

I don’t think that any of the testing training has gotten it 100% right and I feel like ISTQB has gotten a bad rap from some who have made attacking it part of their marketing. In other words, ISTQB, BBST, RST, they all have pros and cons, none of them are perfect, but you take what’s valuable and leave the rest.

If you decide you’d like to take the exam and need help with a troublesome section, feel free to reach out, I know the content really well and I’m happy to lend a hand.

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I took the exam to become more familiar with testing methods. My job didn’t require any formal QA training, so I always felt like a wasn’t very technical. The exam gave me an introduction to techniques and terms that I might not have learned otherwise. My job paid for the exam, but I spent a lot of time on self-study (probably too much time to be honest).

I used a Udemy Course and a book called Foundations of Software Testing to study. The Udemy course was essential to me passing the exam.

I also used TM Square’s ISTQB cert channel to review testing terms.

I think that the test is an acceptable way to gain familiarity with QA concepts, but you spend more time learning how to pass the test than improving your techniques. I’m glad that I completed the foundation level exam, but I wouldn’t go further unless it was a job requirement.

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My experience with the Foundation Level was quite positive. I was brand new to testing and didn’t know anything. It gave me a good basis and confidence. My company tries to have all European testers certified. We don’t work like ISTQB assumes, but it’s still useful to have the framework as we mostly hire inexperienced testers. I don’t know how useful it would be for experienced testers.
I also did the Test Analyst and the Security Tester. While I got something out of them it was mostly because of the courses preparing for the exam (good trainers, networking, …). They are theoretical. I don’t mind that, but some colleagues struggled. You also need to pick and choose what is applicable to your situation.

Regarding exam preparation forget about the book. I couldn’t find any connection between it and the exam. Focus on the syllabus and the test exam. I found the preparation course really valuable and helpful, but also expensive.

I’m not a recruiter, but I have been part of several hirings. For a person with prior experience having no ISTQB means getting hired as a junior with promotion after completion of the exam. The certificate has no bigger impact than any other experience, even though it is important to the company. For automation testers seeing coding experience is way more attractive.

I don’t know if it is the right decision in your case. As an automation tester you already know about testing (hopefully :wink: ). Looks like you would be paying for it yourself as well. On top of that the impact on your CV is questionable and in case of biased people might even be harmful.

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If you can ace all the mock exams, you are good to take the test. I think it is a good experience to study and take the class. It forces you to learn a vocabulary that could prove useful for your career. In the United States, certifications I believe are not highly rated, but being able to talk like you know your stuff is highly rated. A certification might help you in that way. It gives you a language to communicate what is already in your head about how you can help test. This language might be similar to the language of the person who is interviewing you - so you will be speaking the same language. This is helpful because sometimes we think we are communicating when we are not - like when you tap out a song with a pencil, you think the other person will know the song, but they won’t. It will just sound like a person tapping random things, but to you, since you are listening to the song in your head, it is obvious what the song is.

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I do agree with mark,
having certifications doesn’t make you a good tester without years of testing experience. It helps in communication and test language. In some companies it’s an requirement to be certified.

If you are automating scenarios/test cases made by others, then you are not testing, but scripting. Like James Bach and Michael Bolton say, there is no manual or automatic testing. you can only automatically check.
As an automation engineer, you also need to write libraries, use/write stubs
automate use cases (using test techniques), where you need your thinking.

Test courses can help you in test case design and write the relevant documenation
Ask questions (why, why, why, who)
Challenge designs

if you do any certification, forget your habits and learn exactly what is in the course documentation

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