Pluralsight blog Where devs, IT admins & creative pros go for news, tips, videos and more.
Pluralsight + Digital-Tutors - 3,000 tech & creative courses - starting at $29/month Get it now →
June 18, 2013

Don’t make these 7 common ITIL® Foundation certification exam mistakes

By exam questions

The ITIL® Foundation certification exam is the entry-level exam into the world of IT service management. Although it is viewed as a fairly simple exam, many people fail to pass it in their first attempt. Let’s unpack some of the common mistakes that exam takers commit.

Semantics of the ITIL® Foundation Exam

The ITIL® Foundation certification exam is objective in nature, which means you will be asked a question and expected to select one of the four available choices. One of the choices is the correct answer while the rest are incorrect.

There are 40 questions and, in order to pass the exam, you need to score at least 26 of them right, which equates to getting 65% of the answers correct. You have one hour to complete the exam.

The ITIL® Foundation certificate, however, does not indicate the percentage you have secured. Instead, it demonstrates that you are ITIL® Foundation certified.

7 Common Mistakes

According to the ITIL® official site, 90% of the exam sitters pass the Foundation exam, and this percentage varies slightly from region to region. So, if this is such an easy exam, why do 10% of the candidates choke?

The answer is simple enough: people make mistakes. They don’t select the right answer. I will unravel some of the common reasons why you might end up choosing wrong.

1.       Answering based on experience

People who take up ITIL® training are mostly professionals. They come with a number of years of experience on their hands. The organizations they work for will most likely have some processes implemented, if not entirely ITIL® systems.

When a question comes up on the ITIL® exam that directly or indirectly relates to an activity practiced in their respective organizations, candidates often choose the answer that aligns with their organizations’ practices, rather than what ITIL® prescribes.

For example, you could encounter a question that asks you to identify the owner for the incident management process. What if at your organization this task is usually handed off to the service desk team? If the answer choices include both service desk and incident manager (owner for incident management process), you may be tempted to answer service desk, and not what ITIL® prescribes.

As a best practice, ignore what you do at work and come to the training session with an open mind. Whatever procedures your organization follows should be left at work so you can try to retain ITIL® practices, at least until you attempt the exam.

2.       Lack of preparation

Sure, you only need to get 65% of the total marks to pass the exam, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on studying. Only going over a few chapters of material may have gotten you through college, but when it comes to ITIL®, it’s time to get serious.

The entire ITIL® syllabus is interlinked. You could encounter a question that might focus on a single phase of ITIL® but you will also come across questions that delve into multiple processes. To answer such questions, you need to know all parts of ITIL®.

Point blank: do not go into an exam aiming to score anything less than 100%.

3.       Missing textbook definitions

Yeah, committing entire sentences to memory is a pain, but the ITIL® Foundation exam requires exact definitions. Questions are picked directly from the textbook; the question will present a definition and you are expected to select the term that corresponds to it, or vice versa.

My advice is to be familiar with the definitions of ITIL® terms. Even if you are not able to commit entire sentences to memory, pick up certain keywords and associate them to terminologies. I estimate at least 15% of the questions to come from definitions alone.

For example, the official definition of a service is delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without ownership of specific costs and risks. The keywords that are to be committed to memory and associated to service are value, facilitating outcome, cost and risk. Whenever you see these keywords, your mind should read service.

4.       Rushed reading

I find that many candidates ride on a bullet train when they sit for exams. In the melee, it’s easy to misunderstand the question and end up selecting the wrong answer.

Don’t be in a hurry to answer the questions. 60 minutes to answer 40 questions is plenty. Read every question fully and carefully. Understand what the question asks of you, answer it without looking at the choices (if you can) and then select the right answer from the list.

Following this pattern, you can answer all the questions within 35-40 minutes, depending on your computing speed, and you can dedicate the remaining time to review and revision.

5.       Looking for trick questions

Commonly on certification exams, in order to test how well you have understood a particular subject, questions are often turned around to confuse and kill the living daylights out of you.

ITIL® Foundation is no different.

The questions are not convoluted, so don’t expect similar sounding definitions to show up on the exam. The idea of an ITIL® exam is not to scam you with trick questions, but to test your basic understanding of core concepts.

Take the questions at face value and answer them to the best of your ability. Don’t trip yourself up by looking at a simple question and thinking “It can’t be that obvious.”

6.       Leaving a long gap between training and exam

You could argue that if you truly know the subject, you can take the ITIL® Foundation exam at any time, no matter what the gap is between your training and the exam. I agree, but people who attempt ITIL® are hearing many of the concepts for the first time, and  the number of concepts that make up the entire ITIL® exam may be too many to remember and reproduce during the exam.

As psychologists believe, our mind remembers things that it is emotionally attached to in the long run. ITIL® concepts do not fall in this category; they get committed to your short term memory. If you wait for weeks or months after you get trained to take the exam, the chances of you passing diminishes proportionally as the days go by.

I advise you to take the exam within 2-3 days after you finish training. If your training runs for three days, try to take it on the third day right after the training session. From my experience, it gives you maximum returns.

7.       Answering 1,000s of questions from dumps

There’s an test taking urban legend out there that claims that if you spend your study time answering a ridiculous number of questions on your test’s subject, the chances of a good chunk of those questions appearing on your exam are good. And as a result, you’ll pass your test with ease.

Although this technique may be helpful for other exams, this is not the case with the ITIL®. There are two full length sample tests released by the ITIL® accreditation bodies. This is a better option, not only because ITIL® is too detailed to rely on dumps, but also because whatever material you’ve scoured the internet for is not directly from the horse’s mouth. You don’t always know who put those questions together.  Many training institutes come up with their own dumps to entice customers to join their platforms. These questions are made up on a whim without an expert overseeing the process to verify that the question corresponds to the ITIL® Foundation syllabus, and whether the pattern and answer choices are indeed right.

Answering ITIL® dumps can mislead you and confuse your concepts. Don’t take that route. There is no visible advantage you’ll get from answering hundreds or thousands of questions. If you know your concepts, stay with it. The two sample tests will give you an indication of where you stand.

My advice is that you take a practice exam and check which parts went wrong. Correct your mistakes by reading through the concepts and then attempt another practice exam.

Want to improve your ITIL® skills before the big exam? Check our ITIL® Foundations training and sign up for a 3-day free trial to access all of our courses.

About the Author

is a veteran in service and in project managements. He advises businesses, organizations and enterprises on how to build service management framework and deliver value. He is currently penning a book on communication in organizations, specifically aimed at IT departments. He holds PMP, ITIL© V3 Expert and Cobit 5.0 certifications and is an accredited ITIL© trainer.

Author's Website: