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ITIL Foundation Exams Don't Test Understanding

Aug 7, 2009

Rob England

First, "Assign roles and responsibilities to work on CSI activities" is an extremely confusing and ambiguous thing for someone to work out after a couple of days of Foundation brain-blast. Remember, the issue is: should the questions test one's knowledge of the holy writ of the ITIL books or one's knowledge of the principles of ITIL?

If it is a test of basic principles then I have to say I could place (1) in either Plan or Do or Act. I would eventually get the one the examiners want by a process of elimination. If it is a test of rote learning, then the sacred book on page 113 says:

PLAN: “Framework of management roles and responsibilities"

DO: “Documenting roles and responsibilities” “Allocation of roles and responsibilities to work on CSI initiatives”

ACT: “Updating… roles and responsibilities”

So, yes the answer is there but any new student will get confused trying to recall that in a closed-book exam. And all the ITIL exams are closed book―an odd approach from book vendors. Second, what an over-complicated question! Are we testing knowledge of PDCA or the ability to mentally map sequences to each other?

Here's my rewrite:

Assign the following CSI implementation steps to the correct steps of the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) model:

- Assign roles and responsibilities to work on CSI activities

- Measure and review CSI plan objectives are being met

- Identify CSI requirements, objectives and scope

- Implement CSI enhancement





Why make it a test of mental gymnastics?


The implications of bad exams are several. First, executives and management get chased along to Foundation courses. The feedback on my blog is that many of them are underwhelmed by the exam questions. Nor will it escape their notice that most Foundation training courses are training on how to pass the exam. This undermines ITIL’s credibility.

Second, it undermines ITIL certification credibility. If senior people learn that getting Foundation certified is about learning a couple of hundred sample questions so one can pass a badly-crafted multiple choice exam, what value does that certification have? If we don’t fix this, watch the certification’s prestige decline with time as more and more companies wise up.

As Aiden Lawes, a leading figure in the ITIL world, said recently

"Value is subjective. If, for any reason, candidates place less value on certain qualifications than on others, that view will gradually be transmitted to those responsible for purchasing training programmes or defining criteria for particular job roles. Once the value of the qualifications is brought into question, the whole scheme is in jeopardy."

Third, it does little to evangelise ITIL. We all know Foundation doesn’t teach enough to be useful. It is a once-over-lightly sometimes referred to as sheep-dipping. There is value in getting the trainees speaking a common language but the other real purpose is to get them enthused, onside. Bad exams will have the opposite effect.

This debate has been raging for years now―the syllabus keeps changing, the exams keep changing, and delivery has dragged on. It still is not fixed and it needs to be fixed. This is something we will look at in part II of this article.

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