This content is part of the Essential Guide: Get ahead of the game: How to be a more technical tester

How to kick-start your ASTQB and ISTQB exam preparation

If this is the year to build your software testing career, the ASTQB and ISTBQ certification tests might be a good idea. Expert Amy Reichert explains how to start preparing.

So, you've decided to get ready for the ASTQB and/or ISTQB certification exams for software testing. Congratulations! It's a good choice for building your QA career. What do you do now: Sign up for coursework that includes practice tests, or do it yourself or in a team or study group? The approach you take to ASTQB and ISTQB exam preparation depends on how you best learn and recall complex information.

I cannot speak for the ISTBQ certification coursework because I've never done any. I am more of a do-it-yourselfer. For each of my certifications, I've actually studied on my own and organized a study/discussion group with my fellow quality assurance (QA) team members.

Regardless of which ASTQB or ISTQB exam preparation path you decide on, you'll need to decide where to start. I suggest starting by reading through three software testing "classics" to get a solid understanding of software testing fundamentals. Each of the following books provides technical expertise and real business world charisma:

The approach you take to exam prep depends on how you best learn and recall complex information.
  • Software Testing in the Real World: Improving the Process, Edward Kit
  • Testing Computer Software, Cem Kaner, Jack Falk, Hung Quoc Nguyen
  • How to Break Software: A Practical Guide to Testing, James A. Whittaker

If you'd like to read more, try:

  • How to Break Software Security, James A. Whittaker
  • Exploratory Software Testing, James A. Whittaker

Granted, these are older books, but they are accessible at reasonable prices in either new or used condition from multiple online retailers. Each should be part of your QA testing library, whether personal or company-based.

The reason I suggest these books for ASTQB and ISTQB exam preparation is because they provide practical information that can be applied regardless of the software development methodology in use. Even though they were written prior to the popularity of Agile or Agile-esque practices, all the techniques are modifiable to work with Agile. You may even be surprised how well many of the older techniques work in a fast-paced, team-orientated development system.

Next, print out or download the ISTQB certification study guide for the exam you are taking. Make sure you pick the correct one. If this is your first certification, you'll need to start with the CTFL or foundation-level certificate. Once you have that one, then you can expand into four different flavors of the Advanced Certification.

You will notice that the ASTQB and/or ISTQB exam preparation study guides support specific concepts and definitions. Keep that in mind, because the test is built on those exact definitions and concepts. Make sure you know what the guides say, because it may be different than your personal beliefs. The important part to remember is, whether or not you agree with the concepts presented, the certification test assumes you agree.

After your pass the certifications, use the knowledge you gain by reading the suggested books and the study guides as references or a toolbox of options. The information you learn can be used to improve your company's test approach and design, so your reward is two-fold: you're certified and you can add to your QA business success by using your knowledge to improve QA practices by applying a variety of testing techniques.

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