People lined for an exam

CAT Exam

In this article I’ll give you an idea of how my exam for the Certified Agile Tester (CAT) went, how I prepared, if I was nervous, and if I thought it was hard.

How did I do?

The first time I took the exam I didn’t pass. With the risk of sounding like an excuse, I’ll try to explain why I thought I failed the first attempt. Perhaps my reflections will help some of you pass the exam the first time. The iSQI does not provide any other information than whether you pass or fail the exam and the percentage of correct answers in each test (the practical exam and the written exam).

Reasons why I may have failed my first attempt at the CAT Exam:

  • Read too little
  • Wrote too little answers (focused on being right in every answer)
  • Had higher thoughts of my knowledge of agile testing than anticipated
  • Practical
    • Missed “required” sheets
    • Unclear traceability between strategy, plan, tests, defects, and re-tests
    • Too few defects reported
  • Written
    • Need more corrects answers (remember that no incorrect answers can subtract from your score, only correct answers can add to your score)
    • Practice more with the sample questions in the CAT Manual
    • Need to write faster to give more answers

In the time leading up to my second attempt, I worked on these issues and it seemed to have worked as I passed the exam with much better scores than the first time. You may need to work on the same things, but try to think about what issues you may run into and work on those before you may have to compile a list like this after a first attempt.

How did I prepare for the exam?

I have always hated preparing for exams because there is so much pointless tension connected to it. It is really stressing me out. On the other hand I really love researching a topic for use in a presentation, an article, or similar. Given I had a bit extra time in the weeks before the course, I decided to create a website about the CAT course, to help others study for the CAT exam. With that decision I added a real purpose to my effort and removed the pointlessness of the tension.

Was I categorising too much?

In the beginning I spent a lot of time grasping the structure of the CAT Manual 3.0. I listed all the learning objectives for each module with their K-levels. I phrased the learning objectives as titles on articles that would become part of the website. For each of the articles/learning objectives, I listed a handful of questions that would answer the key topics of the learning objective. The idea was then to simply fill out the questions, supplement with what would learn from the CAT Manual, and later from the CAT Course itself.

In hindsight, this was a big mistake and it is completely against the Agile manifesto and principles of just-in-time learning. Even though I wanted to get an overview of the CAT Manual to be able to start with what I would find the most important or the hardest to learn, I ended up wasting time on categorisation, prioritisation, and the whole idea of how the website would be like. The CAT Manual is carefully designed for the students to follow from start to finish and I should simply have done so, writing my notes to my articles as I went through it before the course.

As I am writing this, I worry that I am making the same mistake again, by spending time on reflecting on the exam outcome. However, this will be my only opportunity to do so. The next steps after this reflection is to read the CAT Manual again and fill in my notes in the article scaffolds that I already created. While waiting for the exam results, I wanted to use the opportunity of having them fresh in memory, to summarise my experiences of each day on the course. I didn’t expect that I would have to take the exam again.

Was the exam hard?

Before giving my subjective opinion on it, I will try to retell some of the other participants’ concerns especially on the practical exam, which we discussed in the lunch break.

There is a lot of handwriting involved in the exam. As I suspect most people in IT, I am not practicing pen writing at the level required by the CAT exam. Of course at the written exam, there is a lot of writing to do, but there it is really simple and you only have to concentrate on one thing: answering the question within the given time. At the practical exam, you need to write a lot as well, only using another technique. You also have to juggle a lot of things and be careful to make all your notes traceable all the way from the bugs that you find and back to the specifications and the user stories. On top of that, there are the required products that you need to deliver.

At my first attempt at the exam, one of my colleagues had some technical issues with the linux distribution that was running the assignment. I really felt for him while I was glad that it wasn’t happening to me. I’m not sure I could have handled the added stress very well. Believe it or not, at my second attempt I found myself in a similar situation, where I wasn’t provided with the credentials to the database. In both instances, it was handled very well by the instructor and the invigilators and both my colleague and I were given extra time as compensation.

The written exam questions were very much like the sample questions. At least, I did not find them hard to understand at all. That said, I should probably have put more effort into answering them with more variations – I only answered with the required number of answers and no more.

Why is the exam so long?

There is a lot to cover, so it probably cannot be any shorter. Many topics are covered in the CAT Manual and the CAT Course, so to test the participants in as many of them as possible, the exam has to be long.

Was I nervous about the exam?

I wasn’t really nervous because I was confident that I would pass the exam. I based my confidence on the fact that I work by the principles presented in the CAT Manual and that my first encounter with software testing theory was a lot of self studying and reading. I felt that I had seen and heard of everything in the CAT Manual and had tried most of it. To say the least, I was very confident that I knew the subject matter.

How was my effort before and during the exam?

Perhaps I lost track of the primary goal, of passing the exam, when I shifted focus from only studying for the exam to using what I learn to building a website to help others take the exam. My first impression of my effort is that I spent a lot of time and energy on researching and studying the CAT Manual, but thinking back on it, I spent too much of my time and energy grasping the structure of the CAT Manual instead of memorising the actual content.

Leading up to the exam I let myself be tricked into thinking that the Lean principles of delivering just enough to give value also applies to the exam situation. That is NOT the case here! I would answer each question in the written exam with just enough information to satisfy myself. I did not give any variations on the answers, making my answers more clear and increasing the chance of gaining extra points.

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