The final stage of the BCS International Diploma assessment process is an oral examination. This lasts for around 50-60minutes and is conducted by two examiners. Typically, the examiners split the exam in half with one asking questions while the other is taking notes.
For the majority of exams, a written approach is taken. The oral exam is clearly different as it involves an interactive discussion. Perhaps as a result of this, several myths have evolved surrounding the exam itself and the surrounding processes.
This article is focussed on exploring these myths to determine their relative validity. The article also contains some tips to help candidates prepare.
1. The exam is nothing more than a 'friendly' chat
This myth is one that depends on your perspective.
If someone taking the exam is able to:
- Discuss the theory contained within the oral exam syllabus
- Can apply the theory to the scenarios that the examiners provide
- Build rapport with the examiners
- Focus on the discussion without being distracted by the pressure of being in an exam context
Then... you may well find yourself enjoying the discussion.
It is important to note the following points though. If you have not sufficiently prepared, are not able to apply the theory to scenarios, are not able to build rapport with the examiners and are distracted by the pressure of the exam context, then it can feel as though it is far from a ‘friendly’ chat.
Preparation and practice before the exam are both key.
- Download the syllabus
- Prepare yourself to discuss the content of the oral syllabus
- Practice discussing the content of the syllabus
2. The examiners play 'good cop', 'bad cop'
This myth is again dependent on your perspective.
Oral examiners examine candidates against the oral syllabus. They are obliged to cover each of the six syllabus areas. These are:
- The business context
- Business analysis techniques
- Business case development
- Requirements definition
- Requirements management and documentation
- Practitioner specialism (for example Modelling Business Processes)
Where a candidate has not sufficiently prepared to discuss one of the areas of the syllabus, it may feel as though the examiner is being difficult in asking questions in relation to this. They are not however playing the role of ‘bad cop’. They are following a standard process to ensure fair and consistent examinations for all candidates.
- Try to build rapport with the examiners early in the exam. This may well help calm any nerves that you may experience
- Don’t neglect any of the areas of the syllabus in your preparation
- If you don’t understand a question or a scenario provided - say this. Perhaps ask clarification questions or request that it is reworded
- Try to remain positive and calm throughout the exam!
3. There is an upper limit on the number of people that can pass the oral examination
This myth has absolutely no grounding whatsoever.
Each examination candidate is assessed by the 2 oral examiners at the end of the exam. They do this using a standard process. The oral examiners have no quota or targets for exam grading decisions. Essentially therefore, if you are ready to pass, you will pass the exam.
- If you have prepared, be confident in your abilities
- Download the oral exam guidelines for candidates
- Don’t believe everything that people tell you!
4. I can rely upon my experience as a Business Analyst to get me through the exam
Whilst difficult to achieve, it is possible to pass the oral exam without having previously worked as a practising business analyst. This is because the examination tests candidates ability against the syllabus. The oral examiners will not ask you questions about how you carry out your work as a business analyst in your organisation. However, they will provide you with scenarios and test your application of the topics within the syllabus.
- Don’t focus answers on describing how your organisation conducts business analysis work
- Listen to the questions and scenarios provided
- Answer the question that the examiner has asked
- Consider your answers carefully
5. Once you’ve passed the oral exam, you are fully qualified to complete any business analyst assignment on your own
Completing the International Diploma in Business Analysis is a huge achievement that should be celebrated. It demonstrates professionalism and the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Successful completion demonstrates to employers that you have knowledge of the core concepts needed for effective business analysis.
The BA Diploma, and qualifications in general, are however only one component of the learning journey.
Reflection on the knowledge gained, practical application and consideration of outcomes, will support deeper learning. Coaching and mentoring can also play a key role in effective continued professional development.
- Continuous professional development is essential if we are to be effective over the long term
- Apply the knowledge obtained in your Diploma learning journey to your business analysis work
- Seek out the advice and guidance of knowledgeable business analysis mentors and coaches