How to prepare for and pass ISTQB certification: My experience
How to prepare for and pass ISTQB certification: My experience

How to prepare for and pass ISTQB certification: My experience


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Symphonian Olha Kutniv shared her experience while preparing and passing the ISTQB certification.

After being a software tester for more than two years, I’ve gained knowledge and indispensable experience that I wanted to consolidate by getting properly certified. So, at the end of last year, I set a goal to pass the ISTQB Foundation Level certification and successfully obtained my credentials in December 2020. 

What is ISTQB foundation level certification 

The International Software Testing Qualifications Board offers different levels of software quality assurance certifications. ISTQB Certified Tester is one of the offered standardized qualifications available for Foundation, Advanced, and Expert levels of accreditation. 

ISTQB Foundation Level is the first accreditation level that you can obtain by passing an exam. It covers the basis that is required to be certified as a software tester, including both the understanding of theoretical fundamentals and practical knowledge. 

The exam is a multiple-choice test that consists of chapters, classified by difficulty (K1, K2, K3). There is a total of 40 questions. The passing grade is 65%, meaning that you are required to answer correctly a minimum of 26 questions to get the qualification. The Foundation Level certification is valid for life so there is no need to retake the exam any time in the future. 

How long to study for ISTQB Foundation exam 

Speaking about time frames, intense preparation for the certification took me a little bit more than 1 month before the final test. I was spending about 2.5-3 hours a day to study, and that’s counting only weekdays. This is not taking into account the fact that I took a theoretical course at Udemy beforehand. 

Resources used for ISTQB exam preparation:

1. Syllabus

Syllabus is the basis of all that you need to know for the ISTQB Foundation Level exam. It consists of general objectives, glossary, learning objectives for different knowledge areas, key concepts, references to sources (literature, standards, etc.). The syllabus is available on the ISTQB official website.

However, the syllabus is not an exhaustive source of knowledge on software testing. It rather gives a comprehensive understanding of concepts and test techniques for all sorts of projects, including Agile. The syllabus discusses different types of software development lifecycles and methods not going into too much detail.

2. Glossary

This source helps a lot with unclear or unknown terms. There are 589 terms sorted alphabetically with definitions, synonyms, references, and versions. There is a Glossary app that you can download to your device or use the web version. You can use the basic search options or use advanced search to set filter criteria and change display options. And there’s an option to generate a pdf report, but you won’t necessarily have any use for it when preparing for the exam.

A tip to pass the exam would be to focus only on those terms which are highlighted before each chapter in the Syllabus.

3. Foundations of Software Testing: ISTQB Certification by Rex Black and others

Practical part of the exam is not explained in the Syllabus. That’s why I was reading Foundations of Software Testing co-authored by Rex Black, Dorothy Graham, and Erik P. W. M. Veenendaal, which expanded more on such topics as test design techniques. But the book is not limited to that only. All of the topics are presented in great detail. If some chapters of the Syllabus are hard to understand, Rex Black and authors do a really good job explaining all that in his book.

4. Udemy course

In addition to the Syllabus and Rex Black’s book, I took the course on Udemy which was roughly 5 hours of audio lectures. As mentioned above, this was the first bit of preparation that I did before diving into intense study. I’d recommend doing the same, as it sets a good foundation for understanding the topics once you start studying them more in depth.

5. Company corporate course or any other ISTQB accredited course

It was much easier for me to study in a group as I had people with whom I could communicate directly and ask questions. It was a big plus having a whole group of QAs to discuss different certification related topics, especially practical tasks. It’s much harder to comprehend the explanations from the book yourself than if a real professional explains it to you in a simple way. This part was very important for me. Many thanks to Maryna Shulga, our ISTQB angel.

6. Sample exam questions with answers

There are 3 sample tests with answers that are similar to the real exam. I advise everyone to look through all of them at least 2-3 days before the certification. These sample exam questions can be found here.

Also, a good resource with questions and answers that I used was the book ISTQB Foundation Sample Exam Questions by Chhavi Raj Dosaj.

Tips how to prepare for ISTQB exam: 

  1. Try to memorize the information, not just passively reread it several times. It is a much more effective way to understand what you’ve learned than rereading. The best way is to reproduce what you’ve learned in small portions.  

  2. First learn then test yourself, not vice versa. It is really important to first read the theory on ISTQB accredited sources like the Syllabus on ISTQB website and try to memorize the information and only then take tests. The best option would be to test yourself after each chapter. And only use reliable sources. If you use some online open resources with mock tests, it is not proof of knowledge. Some of them have outdated info and this way you’ll learn things that are no longer accurate. What is even worse is when these tests have the wrong answers, and you’ll learn from these bugged tests which may lead to you failing the exam. If you still want to test yourself with online tests, make sure that the information they provide is reliable. 

  3. Take tests right after each learned section. Read the Syllabus (for chapters that are harder to understand, read the previously mentioned Foundations for Software Testing by sections. After each section take a test at the end of the chapter, check how well you know the topic and grade yourself out of 100%. Go back to the questions you know worse and test yourself again until you understand the topic.  

  4. Take the full version of the test with a timer. After you have finished all the chapters, test yourself by taking a full exam of 40 sample questions on the ISTQB official website. There are 3 examples of questions to choose from with correct answers and explanations. This not only helps you test your knowledge, but also get familiar with the test itself. The exam sheet will have similar questions and the same format. Here it is important to have enough time, so as not to have problems with any formalities during the exam. Therefore, I would recommend taking all the full versions of the test (40 questions) considering a limited time frame. Train yourself at home to take the exam for strictly 75 minutes (for non-native speakers) or 60 minutes (for native speakers). 

  5. On the last day before the certification read the Foundations of Software Testing section 7.2 Taking the Exam and make sure to have a good night’s sleep. 

A few more tips on how to pass the exam: 

  1. Be sure to test the system before taking the test. On the day before the exam, log in and get acquainted with the system – get used to the interface, pay attention to the navigation, fonts, scrolling, clock, flag colors for different labels. This will cost you less stress on the exam, and you will be able to focus just on answering the questions.

  2. Don’t waste too much time choosing the right answer.  Don’t focus too much on the questions – remember that each question costs 1 point no matter if it’s K1 or K3 complexity level. Use the orange flags if you are not sure of the answer, then go back to the same questions later.  

  3. Carefully read the task statement. A common mistake during the exam is the lack of attention and desire to answer the question quickly. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to what is required in a particular task, namely, to read the task description carefully. Be careful not to confuse such statements as IS and NOT, CORRECT and INCORRECT, TRUE and FALSE, etc. Here banal inattention will cost you 1 point. 

  4. Use scratch paper to work out the answers. If you are not sure about the answer, try the exclusion method. Write down on the paper the options you’re sure about and decide logically on the remaining ones. Also, you can write down the task number which you have skipped to answer later. This way you won’t waste time scrolling in the system when you get back to it. And finally, scratch paper is useful as an extra safety measure if for any reason there are problems with the Internet and all your answers in the system disappear. You can simply copy them from the paper.  


Speaking about benefits after the certification, I started to use more professional vocabulary at work. Also, it was a great way to solidify all my knowledge and give myself a good confidence boost.  

Olha Kutniv

Olha Kutniv

Software QA engineer at Symphony Solutions

Software QA engineer at Symphony Solutions with more than 2.5 years of experience working with Agile methodology (Safe, Scrum, Kanban frameworks). ISTQB certified tester, Foundation level. 

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