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Early in 2016, Axelos released the ITIL practitioner qualification.  It was a landmark moment for the ITIL scheme in more than one way.

Firstly, it was dipping a toe into the “How to implement” water where all previous ITIL V3 and ITIL 2011 courses had focused on “what ITIL is”.  The second was equally ground breaking as it became the first ever ITIL qualification to use the open book format.  This allows students to use the official ITIL practitioner publication to help answer the questions during the examination.  However, “open book” is not as straightforward as one might think.  Having lectured the course and written a number of the exam questions here is my guide to “Opening the door to the open book exam”.

Tip 1: Understand the rationale behind an open book exam

Open book exams would be useless if they relied on simply learn-and-regurgitate.  It’s extremely unlikely you will find the answer word for word in the text book.  The ITIL practitioner is meant to teach students how to take information and apply it in a thoughtful manner. This doesn’t mean one or two questions can’t be picked up directly so particularly those that may ask for definitions or perhaps the value of an activity will benefit from seeking out the verbatim text.

Tip 2: Remember this is a restricted open book exam

In a restricted exam of this type the open book material is limited to the official ITIL practitioner publication.  The syllabus and exams are written to interpret the guidance in that publication.  This means memorising is largely unnecessary. However, this does not mean you do not need to study. This is simply not the case. Your focus should shift to understanding the material rather than simply being able to regurgitate it as in the foundation. You will be asked questions like, “Explain the BEST way X applies to a particular situation”.  You should make sure you truly understand the material before attempting the exam.

Tip 3: Locate and mark key information beforehand

Organise the textbook beforehand to help you locate key information quickly and easily.  The Axelos exam regulations state

candidates will now be able to use an annotated copy of the ITIL Practitioner guidance in the open book exams; additionally for ease of reference, candidates may also tabulate sections of the manual (these markers are to be used for tabbing purposes only and must not contain any notes written on them). This best reflects the way the publication is used in real life, and supports the practical nature of the exam. Please note however, extra loose leaf papers are not permitted.

So get out your highlighter and mark key terms and other difficult to remember material that you might need to draw from for questions. You can flip through your book and easily spot the highlighted sections during the exam.  Consider making the margin notes you normally make on the training provider’s manuals in the text book instead.  You can take this into the exam.  Highlighter pens and multi-coloured sticky notes specifically designed for marking pages are of particular use.

Tip 4: Use the book in the sample exam questions

If you are going to use the book in the exam then use ONLY the book when answering the sample questions.  There is simply no better way of promoting your understanding of the course material and the layout of the manual.  Amongst the areas where this works particularly well are the process questions.  For example, you might be presented with a question that follows the timeline of stakeholder management.  Find the stakeholder chronology in the text book.  Work out where the scenario has placed you and where the answers fall in the timeline.  They will almost certainly all be part of the process but only one is the right NEXT stage.  Another area where the book helps tremendously is the metrics questions.  There are so many methods of the balancing metrics examiners can look at (outside in, inside out, balanced scorecards, metrics trees, etc.) that remembering them all is virtually impossible.  Using the books to understand which balances the examiner was focussing on makes finding the correct metric or combination much easier.  You might also be really lucky if the examiner used an example metric in the right answer that’s quoted in the book!  Remember, Axelos insist that examiners can point to the rationale in the text.

Tip 5: Team up with other students

Study groups are great for any type of exam, they can be especially helpful for an open book.  Discussing and debate where to find the relevant material in the manual can be a useful learning tool.  This shared experience quickly helps you learn how to apply the information you learned.  Of course, this is only during class and not in the exam!  Ed. No way, Sherlock!

Tip 6: Focus on the important things

Pay attention to where the most focus is placed during your class.  The syllabus for the course defines the number of questions in the examination and your lecturer should help by focussing you on the important areas.  If something is written on the board, repeated, or discussed for an extended period it will probably show up on the exam!

Tip 7: Stay calm

Exam anxiety can always affect performance, so make sure you know good strategies to keep your nerves in check.  Studying in the hour before the exam rarely makes any difference and will probably end up freaking you out.  Use this time to take care of yourself.  The old examination staples are still relevant: –

  • Know the time and place of the exam
  • Give yourself extra time to get there
  • Running late can increase anxiety and affect performance (That email to your boss can wait. Tell them I said so!)
  • Get a good night’s sleep before the exam
  • Anything that affects you physically can affect you mentally, so make sure you’re rested and refreshed

Tip 8:  Time management

There are 40 multiple choice questions to complete in 1 hour 45 minutes.  Be aware of how much time you have and take a quick moment to calculate roughly how long you should spend on each question.  I’ll do the first bit of maths, that’s 2 minutes 37.5 seconds per question.  You should be familiar with the case study from your course or other pre-exam study so don’t spend too much time re-reading it.  You should not be afraid of answering any questions you can without the book first.  This gives you more time with the questions where you might have difficulty and need to consult the text.  Remember that the questions will always follow the same structure as the sample papers in batches of 6 upwards and will be on the same themes as defined in the syllabus (communication, metrics, etc.)  This means if you have a strong topic you can jump to that first.


Tip 9:  Take the exam when you feel ready

Many students studying with us at Global Knowledge now choose to take advantage of the virtual learning services that we offer to study remotely.  The obvious implication is that unlike their classroom based counterparts they are less likely to take the exam immediately after the course.  This should not been seen as a negative as the open book format means retention of “understanding” is more relevant than retention of “fact”.  Remote proctoring / invigilation of exams makes taking the exam at a time when you a ready much simpler.  My advice is to plan your time carefully and take the exam when you feel you understand what has been delivered.

I hope to see you soon on an ITIL practitioner course here at Global Knowledge.  Good luck with your studies.

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