ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels and paths

ITIL is IT’s go-to framework for delivering IT services. From ITIL Foundation to ITIL Master, here’s everything you need to know about the latest ITIL certifications.

ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels and paths
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The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) offers best practices for delivering IT services using a systematic approach to IT service management (ITSM). The ITIL 4, released earlier this year by Axelos, was updated to include a stronger emphasis on maintaining agility, flexibility and innovation in ITSM, while still supporting legacy networks and systems.

ITIL certification is near the top of almost every list of must-have IT certifications, and for good reason. As an IT management framework, ITIL can help businesses manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale and change.

With the transition to ITIL 4, changes are being made to ITIL’s certification schema. ITIL 3 certifications remain valid, and ITIL 4 certification levels will be rolled out over the course of 2019. Professionals just starting out, or working with ITIL 3 Foundation level credentials, are encouraged to pursue ITIL 4 certification. Intermediate candidates are encouraged to continue their ITIL 3 journeys until higher-level ITIL 4 certifications are made available later this year.

Here you will find the costs, requirements, levels and paths for ITIL certification, as well as information about certification compatibility between v3 and v4 and rollout information for higher-level ITIL 4 certifications.

ITIL 3 certification levels

While Axelos has announced and released some new ITIL 4 certifications, the ITIL v3 certifications are still relevant and available to IT professionals over the next year. The final phase of the ITIL 4 certification scheme isn’t set to launch until 2020, so if you’re on the path to ITIL v3 certification, it’s worth continuing through those courses as they’ll translate to the ITIL 4 certification model.

The ITIL v3 qualification scheme uses a modular credit system called the ITIL Credit System. All ITIL and ITIL-related qualifications within the ITIL Credit System are assigned a specific credit value. As those credits are applied, the applicant qualifies to test for a higher level of certification. Ultimately, a total of 22 credits is required to achieve ITIL Expert certification. There’s a separate set of requirements for ITIL Master qualification; candidates must already be ITIL Expert certified before they can achieve ITIL Master status.

There are six levels of qualifications within the ITIL v3 certification scheme that include the following:

  • ITIL Foundation, which scores candidates with 2 credits, consists of 40 multiple-choice questions. No prerequisites are required to take this examination. It deals with key elements, concepts and terminology associated with ITIL service lifecycle management.
  • ITIL Practitioner was added in July 2016 and earns candidates 3 credits toward their ITIL Expert certification. It is considered the next step after the ITIL Foundation, which is a prerequisite. An ITIL Practitioner will be able to explain how to use the ITIL framework to support business objectives, and focuses on organizational change management, communication, measurement and metrics.
  • ITIL Intermediate Level, which scores a candidate with 15 or 16 credits, is open to those who have already passed the ITIL Foundation exam and have completed an accredited training course. The intermediate level includes two paths: Service Lifecycle, with five examinations (Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement); and Service Capability, with four examinations (Planning Protection and Optimization, Release Control and Validation, Operational Support and Analysis, and Service Offerings and Agreements).
  • ITIL Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC), which scores the candidate with 5 credits, requires the candidate to have passed the ITIL Foundation exam, along with an additional 15 credits from passing ITIL Intermediate exams, giving them a minimum of 17 credits to take this exam. This is also the gateway exam to achieve ITIL Expert Level.
  • ITIL Expert Level requires the candidate to have accumulated 22 credits that have been gained by passing the ITIL Foundation, Intermediate Level and MALC exams.
  • ITIL Master Qualification requires the candidate to already be ITIL Expert-level qualified. To achieve the ITIL Master Qualification, candidates must "explain and justify how they selected and individually applied a range of knowledge, principles, methods and techniques from ITIL and supporting management techniques, to achieve desired business outcomes in one or more practical assignments."

When a candidate completes a given level of the ITIL examination, he or she is given the certification and the attributed credits. Each level of certification has its own requirements, all of which include earning a specific number of credits.

ITIL 4 certification paths

The ITIL 4 certification scheme is similar to the ITIL 3 certification scheme, but it’s been streamlined to offer two main designation paths with seven modules total between both certifications. You will progress from the Foundation level to either the Managing Professional (MP) or Strategic Leader (SL) paths. You can stop at either path, or if you choose to complete both paths, you’ll be eligible to earn the ITIL Master designation.

ITIL Foundation

No matter which certification path you commit to, you'll first need to pass the ITIL Foundation module. This introductory exam covers the core concepts and principles of ITIL 4. As an entry-level certification, it’s designed to teach newcomers the basics of ITIL 4 and to certify that even seasoned pros have the foundational knowledge to move onto more advance certifications.

The ITIL Foundation course takes place in a classroom over two and a half days. At the end of the course you’ll take an exam consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions. The exam lasts 60 minutes and you will need 26 correct answers to pass. Courses are offered through accredited training organizations – you can search for one near you on the Axelos website. Alternatively, you can also choose to self-study using practice exams and other study material from Axelos or third-party providers.

The ITIL 4 Foundation exam was the first to release on February 28, while the rest of the exams are expected to launch in the second half of 2019. Axelos recommends continuing your ITIL v3 certification path, as credits will transfer to the transition module for the ITIL 4 certification scheme.

ITIL Managing Professional (MP)

The ITIL MP certification is for IT practitioners who work with technology and digital teams across the organization. It covers the knowledge necessary for running IT projects, teams and workflows using practical and technical skills. To complete the ITIL MP certification, you’ll need to pass a series of exam modules:

  • ITIL Specialist Create Deliver & Support
  • ITIL Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value
  • ITIL Specialist High Velocity IT
  • ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve

ITIL Strategic Leader (SL)

The ITIL SL certification is for all digitally enabled services in the organization, not just IT operations. This certification focuses on how IT influences and informs business strategy. To earn your ITIL SL certification, you’ll need to pass two exam modules:

  • ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve
  • ITIL Leader Digital & IT Strategy

ITIL Master

If you complete all modules required for both the MP and SL certification paths, you’ll qualify for the ITIL Master designation. To become an ITIL master you will still need to pass an assessment, which requires you to “explain and justify how you have personally selected and applied a range of knowledge, principles, methods and techniques from the ITIL Framework and supporting management techniques, to achieve desired business outcomes in one or more practical assignments,” according to Axelos.

The ITIL master designation requires a strong background in ITSM and extensive hands-on experience working with ITIL, but there is no training course or fixed syllabus for this designation. You’ll be tested on a situation of your choosing, so the material will be personal to your experience. These are the only details currently available about the ITIL master designation, but more information will be released in late 2019, according to the company.

ITIL 3 certification compatibility

While the ITIL 4 foundations certification has already launched, the advanced modules and designations aren’t set to launch until late 2019; ITIL Master is set to launch as late as 2020. ITIL 4 is backwards compatible with ITIL 3 — and if you’re currently working towards any v3 certifications, Axelos recommends continuing the track to ITIL Expert.

The courses included in the ITIL 3 certification scheme have been assigned a credit value based on its level of ITIL content, so they will remain valuable to your ITIL professional education. If you’re in the middle of a v3 certification or still have courses to pass for the ITIL expert certification, you should stay on track rather than waiting for the ITIL 4 certifications to launch.

Those with 17 or more credits, or candidates who earned the ITIL expert certification under ITIL 3, will be eligible for the ITIL 4 transition module. This module is designed to get candidates quickly up to speed on the changes to the new release and sets you on the path to earn the updated ITIL managing professional (MP) designation.

If you want to find out more about how your ITIL 3 certifications will transfer to the updated ITIL 4 certification scheme, Axelos offers recommended routes for candidates in this position.

ITIL certification training

You can prepare for your ITIL 4 certification a few different ways depending on how well you know the material. If you are familiar with ITIL 4 and feel comfortable self-studying for the exam, you can download study materials and practice exams through Axelos’ website. Organizations can also opt to have ITIL trainers come train people at the organization and get certified in-house.

If you’re new to ITIL or want a refresher before taking the exam, you can opt for an accredited training provider, which you can find through the Axelos website. Several companies offer training and courses both online and in-person. Companies that offer self-paced learning, online course, hybrid classes and flexible learning paths include:

  • Global Knowledge
  • SimpliLearn
  • Beyond20
  • Good E-Learning
  • ITSM Academy
  • Pink Elephant
  • LearningTree

ITIL certification salary

The ITIL 4 certification can help boost your salary, increasing the amount you can earn in several positions. On average, IT workers — or those in relevant positions using ITIL 4 — earn an average annual salary of $93,000 per year, according to data from PayScale.

PayScale also offers data on how an ITIL 4 certification can boost salary across several specific IT positions:

Position Average salary
CIO $169,256
IT director $130,076
IT manager $101,244
Service delivery manager $100,252
IT project manager $91,871
IT business analyst $71,420

ITIL certification cost

Registration fees for both the ITIL 3 and ITIL 4 certification exams vary by location, ranging from around $150 to $500. While you can self-study for ITIL exams, coursework is strongly recommended, and fees for classes, whether completed online or in a classroom setting, vary by location and institute. Training can run up from $500 for an online course to well over $1,000 for classroom-based intensive instruction, and training may or may not include exam registration fees.

ITIL resources

Along with ITIL 4, Axelos has launched My ITIL — an online networking resource that connects candidates with publications, tools, templates and insights from industry leaders. One year’s subscription to My ITIL is included with your ITIL foundation exam and will give you access to resources and content relevant to your ITIL training.

  • Access to ITIL publications and templates
  • White papers
  • CPD tools for professional development planning
  • Digital badge for your ITIL Foundation certificate

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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