There is a great deal of discussion at the various virtual gathering places of Enterprises Architects (and those that want to be) on what certifications are the most important to have. The answers vary a great deal, mostly depending on perspective. Those who are already EAs respond with the assumption that everyone has almost as much education, experience and influence as they do, and recommend the pursuit of areas that will enhance their abilities. Then there are those who own a particular framework who suggest that the certification they offer is the most desirable for any EA (which I sometimes agree with except for the “most” quantifier). Then there are the practical bunch that point out that TOGAF® is the most widely recognized certification and the framework that many of the others are based on. In essence, if you are competent in TOGAF® you can easily become competent in most other frameworks.
Once someone suggests TOGAF®, the thread moves to how to pass the certification (though many other threads about other frameworks and why certifications don’t matter will continue even though the original poster is ignoring them by this point). I recently achieved TOGAF® certification, and wanted to share how I did it before I catch the disease that seems to affect many TOGAF®-certified EAs where they mutter about how easy it is and just take a course or read a book. I also like to write, so you’ll have to suffer through some of my prose to get everything that worked for me (and some things that didn’t). However, if you are as impatient with my writing as I am with most others, you can skip to the end for the outline and links. Go ahead, it won’t hurt my feelings…much.
I’m also not going to go into a deep review of the exam structure or material covered. This is more about where to get the material and how to use it than the material itself. The structure of the exam will be reviewed in terms of how to approach in a manner that will help you pass, and the material will only be referenced at a high level for context.
While I have worked with enterprise architecture for a dozen years, it has always been with the various custom frameworks of clients and employers (when any at all) which tend to use internal terminology and definitions. For example, one employer labeled “Information Architecture” as the practice of how users interact with information and focused on the use of wireframes, navigation and content taxonomy. Another employer referred to “Information Architecture” when they were discussing the design, designation and distribution of data and its containers. Neither organization listed “Information Architecture” in a glossary, so if you didn’t happen to already know their definition you could become very confused (and appear very stupid) in discussion about “Information Architecture” and the organizations capability to contribute Subject Matter Experts on the topic. Having been confused and appeared stupid in training class for an employer’s internal Enterprise Architecture Framework over this difference in nomenclature, when the time came to chose between TOGAF® Level 1 training and TOGAF® Level 1 & 2 training, I opted for the first. For my particular learning style, this was a good choice, even if made for (perhaps) the wrong reason.
If your learning style leans towards interactive exchange with an instructor and other students or you have no experience with TOGAF®, I would highly recommend taking a Level 1 class as a starting point. Level 1 focuses mostly on the terminology of TOGAF®. In TOGAF® terms, Level 1 is the Preliminary phase of the ADM. The Level 1 exam covers all phases of the ADM, and touches on all of the other sections to assure that an individual certified at this level can have a conversation about TOGAF and not be totally lost. The exam is multiple choice, and the questions are at least twice as hard as any of the practice exams I have seen. So if you opt for the classroom instruction, review the course materials thoroughly afterwards. Many courses will give you the exercises performed during the class broken out by sections. I found it helpful to repeat the exercises to note which areas I did not score perfectly in and review those topics again.
If you are one of those people who absorb information very quickly or have been following the actual TOGAF® approach in your day-to-day work, going straight to a combined Level 1 and Level 2 class will probably be more to your liking and benefit. Level 2 of the TOGAF® exam and certification is a deep dive into how to take all of those terms and apply them in real-world scenarios. Level 2 is an open book exam, where a scenario is presented, a challenge is described based on the scenario, and then four approaches are described and your job is to pick the best one. One of the four is totally wrong, and the others have degrees of correctness. The training class I attended had us answer the class exercise questions by putting them in order. While this is not how the exam is done, I found that approach very helpful in choosing the most correct answer on the actual exam. One exam approach that I found invaluable was to break down the question into TOGAF®-specific areas and then see which answer addressed the most of them according to the document.
Don’t let the open book aspect of the Level 2 exam fool you into complacency. While it does not have the rote memorization aspect of the Level 1 exam, the answers all sound pretty reasonable if taken alone. Also, for those who have dealt with Enterprise Architecture where TOGAF® was not followed some of the answers that sound most real-world are the 0 point responses. The key to this part of the exam is to know the structure of the TOGAF® document so that you can quickly locate relevant sections and verify how closely an answer matches the document. Another point to remember is that in addition to the document, there is a general approach core to TOGAF® which is the collaboration between business, technology, Enterprise Architecture and Project Management.
Of course, there are those who learn perfectly well from only reading (or reading in addition to work experience) and they are welcome to ignore my training course recommendations. In fact, for simply passing the certification exams (as opposed to scoring well, which I have a preference for), you can get by without a course, too, if you follow all of the suggestions described here using the written material and any practice exams you can access.
I would highly recommend taking the exams separately as I experienced some dismay during the Level 2 exam as I noticed which answers I got wrong on the Level 1 exam, which is a distraction.
Planning is Everything
One note from my personal experience is that having taken the path of a Level 1 course and certification followed by a combined Level 1 & 2 course (there was no Level 2-only course available to me at the time) I assumed that I would be able to simply take the Level 2 exam to complete my full TOGAF® certification. Turns out I need to have discussed this with the training company before taking the course as I received a voucher for the combined exam instead of just the Level 2. I could not exchange the voucher, and the testing center would not allow me to take only the Level 2 with that voucher, even though I had taken the Level 1 course with the same training company and the exam with the same exam provider. Fortunately I don’t know if this rigid process would have resulted in my not having been certified if I failed the Level 1 exam the second time around, though I’m sure it would have entailed a great deal of time consuming communications to correct that situation had that been the case. I suppose it is very much in the spirit of TOGAF® to never assume that all parties think about the same model from the same viewpoint.
My Ultimate TOGAF® 9 Certification Preparation Process by the Numbers
OK, so here it is, as promised:
Before the exam…
- Read TOGAF® 9 Certified Study Guide
- Attend a course
- Read the TOGAF® 9 spec cover to cover
- Review the course materials
During the exam…
- If possible, take the Level 1 exam and Level 2 exam individually
- If not 100% positive about the answer, mark it for review
- For Level 1, do not spend more than two minutes on any question for the first pass
- Complete all answers in the level before reviewing
- If you don’t know an answer pick one at random and mark it for review
- Once completing all the answers, begin the review with the first question. Some of the answers will now be obvious from later questions, so go through the marked questions quickly the first review and answer the ones you know are confident about
- On the first review, do not spend more than 1 minute per question
- If not 100% certain, leave marked for review
- On the second review, take your time and answer to the best of your ability, leaving those you are not 90% sure of marked for review
- Review until you run out of time
- For Level 2, list the parts of the question that map to TOGAF® then check each answer for addressing those items. The one that addresses most of those items is the most likely answer
In all honesty I can’t say that any one source for how to pass the exam is going to work for everyone capable of passing. I hope that I have given you one of the better approaches, including the suggestion to look for blog entries and articles and discussion that have further tips specific to your needs. What I have described here worked very well for me, with the key advice I found at one site being to look for the answer that was the most TOGAF®-ish and that was generally the best answer. The studying approaches I described are what allowed me to apply that excellent advise.
© Scott S. Nelson