CBAP certification: A high-profile credential for business analysts

Is the Certified Business Analysis Professional a worthwhile cert for advancing your BA career? Here we offer training and exam info, salary data, and more.

The Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) is a credential for business analysts offered by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). IIBA is a nonprofit professional association founded in 2003 to promote the field of business analysis. The organization describes CBAP as a credential that “recognizes seasoned BA professionals who have over five years of practical business analysis work experience.”

In other words, CBAP is an advanced credential that requires extensive experience and training. You will also need to pass the CBAP exam, as is the case with most credentials. We dive into CBAP prerequisites in more detail below, and discuss what a CBAP certification might mean for your career; but first, let’s look at where CBAP fits into the landscape of IIBA’s credentials, and learn about the body of knowledge CBAP-certified business analysts are expected to master.

CBAP vs. CCBA vs. ECBA

CBAP is the most advanced of IIBA’s core sequence of credentials for business analysts. It follows the Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) and the Certification for Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA). As you might expect, the requirements get more extensive as you climb the ladder: CBAP requires more training, work experience, and knowledge area expertise. AdaptiveUS, a company that offers training for all of IIBA’s certs, breaks down the various requirements, but the important thing to know is that CBAP holders are at the top of the heap; while you don’t need to have the lower-level certs to get your CBAP certification, you should be fairly well established in your career as a BA before you consider it.

CBAP and BABOK

Like IIBA’s other certs, the CBAP draws from A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, also known as the BABOK Guide. The BABOK Guide is a publication from IIBA that aims to serve as a bible for the business analysis industry, collecting best practices from real-world practitioners. It was first published in 2005 and is continuously updated.

The BABOK Guide lays out the tasks and knowledge a business analyst should understand and is divided into six sections, referred to as knowledge areas:

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  • Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring
  • Elicitation and Collaboration
  • Requirements Life Cycle Management
  • Strategy Analysis
  • Requirements Analysis and Design Definition
  • Solution Evaluation

The BABOK Guide serves as the foundational set of knowledge for the CBAP exam. Even if you’re an experienced analyst, you’ll want to review the content of the BABOK Guide before taking a CBAP exam to fully understand its perspectives and terminology.

CBAP requirements and application process

To receive CBAP certification, you must:

  • Have 7,500 hours of work experience as a business analyst within the past 10 years. Some of that experience must directly pertain to at least four of the six BABOK Guide knowledge areas — at least 900 hours for each area, adding up to at least 3,600 of your required 7,500 hours.
  • Complete 35 hours of IIBA-approved training within the four years leading up to your application. IIBA refers to these as professional development (PD) hours (see training section below).
  • Provide two references (these can be current or former managers, internal or external clients, or another CBAP recipient) and agree to the IIBA Code of Conduct.
  • Pass the exam.

Documenting the experience requirement may seem onerous, but you may ultimately find it rewarding. Laura Brandenburg, blogging on the topic for Bridging the Gap, a BA-focused training company, says the process led her to better appreciate the breadth of knowledge she had gained over the course of her career, and helped her reconnect with old colleagues as well. If nothing else, you’ll gain plenty of material to keep your resume polished.

CBAP certification training

IIBA outlines what kind of training courses qualify towards your PD hours on its website

  • They must be moderated or facilitated, with a moderator for the session, or an instructor who leads students through the material.
  • There must be a measurable learning objective or set of objectives that are directly applicable to changing the behavior or improving the skills of a business analyst.
  • There must be the opportunity for students to interact with the material by asking questions or otherwise making the learning meaningful.
  • There must be an opportunity to practice the task or objective being presented and be assessed by the facilitator.
  • The subject matter must be directly aligned with the BABOK Guide.

IIBA does not offer training courses, and in theory, you could make a case for a wide variety of courses that might fit this description. In practice, you will probably want to choose from IIBA’s list of endorsed education and training providers; you can see a list of nearby training courses and upcoming exam prep opportunities. These courses generally hew closely to the exam syllabus and draw directly from the BABOK Guide.

CBAP exam

Once you’ve completed all prerequisites, you’re ready to take the CBAP exam. This consists of 120 multiple-choice questions that you’ll have three and a half hours to answer, in two formats: scenarios, which consist of short descriptions leading into a single question; and case-based questions, in which page-long business cases lead into several questions about that case.

The current breakdown of questions across the BABOK Guide knowledge areas are as follows:

  • Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring: 14%
  • Elicitation and Collaboration: 12%
  • Requirements Life Cycle Management: 15%
  • Strategy Analysis: 15%
  • Requirements Analysis and Design Definition: 30%
  • Solution Evaluation: 14%

While IIBA does not publicize the passing score for the CBAP exam, consensus from observers is that you’ll need to answer about 70% of questions correctly. If you fail the exam, you can retake it up to two more times in the year after your initial application. 

CBAP exam fee, CBAP certification fee, and IIBA membership

As with many certifications, there are a number of fees associated with CBAP certification. Applying for certification costs $125, which is nonrefundable. Taking the exam is $325 the first time and $250 for each retake. You’ll need to pay for the required PD hours as well, although that can vary widely from course to course.

You may also wish to become an IIBA member, which costs $139 in much of North America and Europe, and less in many developing nations. IIBA members get a $125 discount on exam fees, as well as a number of other benefits. 

CBAP exam locations

While CBAP exams used to be mostly administered in person, since the coronavirus pandemic began the exam has shifted to a remote proctored model administered by PSI. This allows you to take the exam from your own home, although you’ll still be under a proctor’s watchful eye via your webcam. IIBA’s website has details on some of the strict rules for taking the test in this way: For instance, you are only allowed to be off-camera for a single 15-minute break, and can only have a clear water bottle and blank paper on your desk to begin the exam — and, once you’re finished, must tear up any notes you’ve taken, to prevent you from passing on too much information about the questions to others.

CBAP books, study guides, and sample exam questions

As noted, the primary document you’ll want to use to study for the CBAP exam is the BABOK Guide, which is available from Amazon as well as from IIBA itself. Two other guides are generally held in high regard by those who have taken the exam: CBAP Certification Study Guide by Richard Larson, and the CBAP Certified Business Analysis Professional All-in-One Exam Guide by Joseph Phillips.

You’ll probably be exposed to some sample exam questions during the training you’ll take for your PD hours. But if you want to get a sneak peek as to what the questions will look like, you can check out some samples from training companies such as AdaptiveUS, TechCanvass, or ProProfs.

CBAP certification salary

Possibly the biggest question anyone wants to know about a certification is: Will I make more money if I get this cert? Unfortunately, this is devilishly complex to answer, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is trying to sell you something (a certification, probably). In particular, a CBAP certification requires fairly extensive professional experience, which can itself lead to a boosted salary, so while many CBAP holders earn good money, it can be difficult to untangle cause and effect.

Nevertheless, IIBA offers some salary data that suggests a CBAP can boost your pay. According to its 2019 salary survey, CBAP holders globally made on average $81,852 — 19% more than noncertified respondents.

CBAP benefits: Is CBAP worth it?

That said, there are other benefits, perhaps harder to quantify. We already noted that the process of documenting the professional experience requirements can be a positive exercise. And if employers and potential employers know you’ve done the work associated with the exam and application, that can open doors for you. “The CBAP designation will garner you some attention for what it inherently tells me about you,” says Kyle Crawford, who started his career as a business analyst and currently works as manager of information services at Bowling Green State University. “The process to earn the certification interacts with your work experience, and they both strengthen and provide additional context to the other.”

“I expect heading into an interview that there will be plenty of jumping-off points for discussion as the time a candidate spent documenting their experience usually grants them a deeper understanding of its impact upon the entire company,” he continues. “This reflection, along with the breadth of required experience, often leads certified candidates to a less siloed, more holistic view of projects, understanding and accounting for downstream impact others might not have considered. The effort to keep their certification up to date also attests to them being motivated to keep apprised of the industry and constantly seek to evolve their skill set.”

That certainly sounds like something you’d want a potential employer thinking about you before you even meet them, doesn’t it? Good luck with your certification journey.

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