ITIL Foundation certification: 6 tips for acing the exam

ITIL experts offer firsthand insights into the best way to prepare for — and pass — the ITIL Foundation certification exam.

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an IT service management framework that helps businesses improve service processes — and it’s a valuable skill for your resume. The average salary for an IT director with ITIL skills is $126,000 per year, according to data from PayScale. ITIL skills are associated with a 19 percent higher income for IT directors — the second highest paying skill after team leadership, which is associated with a 21 percent boost in salary.

Certifications for ITIL range from Foundation to Master Qualification. The ITIL Foundation is the entry-level credential in the ITIL Qualifcation Scheme. To achieve the ITIL Foundation certification, you’ll need to score at least a 65 percent on a 60-minute closed-book exam that consists of 40 multiple choice questions.

After you complete your Foundation certification you can move on to the ITIL Intermediate Level certification, which offers two paths: Service Lifecycle and Service Capability. You can also earn your ITIL Practitioner certification any time after passing the Foundation exam.

Here ITIL experts offer tips on how to prepare for your ITIL Foundation certification exam.

Take a course

There are several online courses that will help get you up to speed on everything you need to know before taking the ITIL Foundation certification exam. If you’re taking the ITIL exam, you’re probably already familiar with the general principles that guide the framework, but you still want to be prepared.

“Don’t lose sight of the fact that the ITIL framework lays out a logical flow of how IT organizations can implement and manage new services that they wish to implement. Many individuals tend to get lost in the weeds during training and slip up on some relatively easy questions on the exam,” says Mark Smiley of Cask.

You can opt to self-study for the foundations exam using study materials from Axelos — the company even offers a mobile app for Android and iOS so you can take practice exams and get study tips on the go.

Take a sample exam from APMG

If you take a class through an accredited training program, the cost of your course may include one or two practice exams. However, if you’re studying for the exam yourself or just want to get your hands on more practice exams, APMG offers free samples of the ITIL Foundation exam.

“Take your time on the exam and answer the question the exam is asking — not the question you hope the exam is asking or the question you remember seeing on a practice exam,” says Erika Flora, ITIL foundations instructor and president of Beyond20, an ITIL training and consulting company.

The questions on the practice exams won’t match up perfectly with the actual exam, so be sure to read each question carefully on both the sample and real exams.

Schedule your exam while your knowledge is fresh

Once you’re done studying or your course has ended, make sure you schedule a date to take the exam right away.

“The information you receive in the courses are packed into a very short amount of time, and the pace is quick. Do yourself a favor and take the exam within a few days of course completion, while the information is fresh in your head,” says Smiley.

The exam fee ranges from $100 to $500, depending on where you take the exam. Some courses will include the fee of the exam in the overall cost of the course, especially if it’s an accredited program. If you pay for a course, double-check to see whether they include an exam registration voucher.

Focus on what matters

While you’re studying, you might find yourself overwhelmed with everything ITIL has to offer, especially outside your specialties. Try not to get bogged down in minutia — just focus on the key concepts of the framework.

“At the end of the day, you can only be asked 40 questions, so make sure you understand the main, core concepts,” Flora says.

But don’t just memorize facts, only to forget them after the exam — instead try to learn the “why” behind key concepts, Flora adds. It will not only help you remember important information during the exam, but it can help you bring ITIL practices to your organization more effectively after the exam. 

Apply your real-world knowledge

If you’re taking the ITIL Foundation certification exam, you’re likely at a point in your career where you’ve had hands-on experience with the ITIL framework in an organizational setting. That knowledge will help you during the exam, since “many of the questions on the exam can be answered correctly just by applying the common-sense logic you already possess,” says Smiley.

 “As you go over a new concept, think critically about your work environment and consider how or why things are being done as they are today. Ask yourself if this fits the concepts that you’re covering as you study. If not, then what would need to change in your environment?” says Christoper Kuhn, COO at OTRS, a service management suite provider.

Search for service diagrams

While studying for his ITIL certification, Matt Cox, senior manager of solutions at Samange, says he found it helpful to search Google for examples of service management diagrams. These diagrams helped him relate what he was learning to his everyday work and to make sense of the ITIL framework.

“A good start is to do some Google detective work to find high-level examples of how the framework is applied to processes. Once you do that, think about the 'things' offered to you at work and how you need them to get your job done. All of that is ITIL in play and if you understand this and focus on examples then learning the framework will be a breeze,” says Cox.

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