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How to Fix the ITIL v3 foundation Exams

The foundation exams need outside help, writes ITSMWatch columnist Rob England, a.k.a., The IT Skeptic.
Aug 14, 2009
By

Rob England





In a recent article http://www.itsmwatch.com/itil/article.php/3833766 we decide that the ITILv3 foundation exams don’t test fundamental knowledge of IT Service Management (ITSM): they test that candidates can memorise a hundred bullet points and decode arcane logic puzzles. In the previous article I made fun of these exams with questions taken from my satirical book Introduction to Real ITSM.

Here is a relevant one:

7) For which audience are multi-choice questions best suited?
  • a) kindergarten
  • b) primary school
  • c) trade apprentices
  • d) gossip magazine sex questionnaires

There are now reportedly about 350 accredited training organisations pumping out thousands of ITIL foundation candidates every year so I guess I must accept the use of multiple-choice exams to automate the marking. (Their use for intermediate and expert exams is much harder to justify but we will leave that another article).

If we must live with multiple-choice foundation exams, the least they could do is to commission expert consultants to apply adult-learning best practices to the design and composition of the exam questions. You would think this is the obvious thing for the ITIL industry to do. After all, it is all about best practice and the inner circle of ITIL is composed almost entirely of consultants. I’m pretty sure they didn’t get expert help―it is evident reading the questions.

The previous article discussed the questions that test holy writ (how well you have memorized the book content rather than the principles), and the ones that you need a Ph.D in logic to decipher. In addition there are those of the remainder which simply aren’t very well written questions from an adult learning point of view.

Here is another question purportedly from the official mock exams (these may be from an older version of the mock exams since the syllabus and exams have changed several times in the last two years):

Setting policies and objectives is the primary concern of which of the following elements of the Service Lifecycle?

  • a) Service Strategy
  • b) Service Strategy and Continual Service Improvement
  • c) Service Strategy, Service Transition and Service Operation
  • d) Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement

Apart from the potential confusion of all those “Strategy” words, look at the implicit unspoken part of this question. It actually starts with “According to something said somewhere in one of the ITIL books, setting policies and objectives … ” One could fairly argue for several of the answers here based on general principles, depending on how one interprets “policies and objectives”. There is nothing fundamental being tested here.

Testing Knowledge?

I found it pays not to know much about ITIL. Certainly, it is disadvantageous to have formed your own opinions. You will stand a much better chance of passing if you do no thinking at all, just memorise the books. Few people would dispute there is a quality problem with ITIL v3 exams. This seems to stem from procedural issues. Ian Clayton pointed out four of them on my blog:

  1. The exams lack control questions (these are questions that do not score, but are included to QA, repair, or sample student methods and know-how).
  2. The exams lack the number of questions required to properly test a student's knowledge.
  3. The length of study time is more aligned with the business needs of the education providers (ATOs) than the student.
  4. There is no third party test of exams where volunteers under non-disclosures sit live exam papers and offer a critique or guidance. There is a distinct feeling that exams are written and tested by persons who lack the experience of designing exams.

Clumsy execution in the ITIL world is often excused on the grounds that it is run by volunteers. This is not the case with certification. The governing body is filled mostly by commercial organisations (except itSMF). There are eight examination institutes. Just one of them, EXIN, reported 160,000 foundation trainees last year. Every candidate pays a three-figure sum just as an exam fee (not including training fees). There are tens of millions of dollars in exam fees flowing into the industry every year.

It would be nice if some small part of that were spent on hiring adult education experts to design, write and test best-practice exam questions, and to quality assure the delivery.

Rob England is an IT industry commentator and consultant, best known for his blog The IT Skeptic.

Tags:
ITIL, ITSM, EXIN, The IT Skeptic, ITIL Foundation Exam



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