11 Tips to prepare and pass ISTQB Foundation Level certification Exam (CTFL) with ease

If you are in software testing, you probably heard about ISTQB certification. Setting aside controversial topics like “Certified or not Certified”, ISTQB certification is definitely one of the most sought certifications in software testing.

Is it difficult to pass the ISTQB foundation level exam?

According to ISTQB organization, the global pass-rate of ISTQB Foundation exam is around 74% (December 2014)

istqb global_pass_rate_4

“Hmm, 74% pass-rate, it’s not too difficult” you may think. But, trust me, disregard of how many years of experience you have in software testing, passing such exam is a real challenge for you if you don’t know how to prepare the exam the right way.

I would love to share you tips to help you pass the exam, but unfortunately, I’m not a ISTQB certified tester. Don’t worry, today I bring you Prashant, a friend of mine, who is not only a certified tester but also has a lot of experience in helping his team pass the exam. In today’s post, Prashant, will share with you 11 tips to prepare and pass ISTQB Foundation Level certification Exam (CTFL) on the first attempt.

…and here’s Prashant, he’ll take it from here.

As a tester I constantly keep thinking of how I can grow my skills and enhance my competency in the modern world of QA. When everyone is looking for a way out to present their skills, certifications will be a great way to demonstrate an individual’s professional competency. Certifications help us expand our knowledge beyond our day-to-day tasks. Though Certification is not a proof of achievement, it serves as a great aid for learning and self-assessment.

In the field of software testing, ISTQB is the worldwide leader in the certification program across more than 100 countries. The syllabus for the certification is developed and reviewed by leading testing professionals from academia and industry.

Through this write-up I want to help the community answer the question “How to clear the ISTQB exam?”. Specifically, I will share with you 11 tips to prepare and pass ISTQB Foundation Level certification exam easily. These tips based on my experience and the strategy that has helped hundreds of candidates to clear ISTQB CTFL certification.

Tip #1: Register for the exam first

Register for the exam first, this is necessary for you to get serious regarding the exam and avoid procrastination. Begin your preparation at least 3 months before the exam date.

Tip #2: Self-study (group study is preferable)

For most of the readers out there, the biggest challenge is to figure out a way to accomplish this goal in their busy schedule. Attending a training program might sound as a good option but I have to tell you that the training cost will be way too expensive. In this case, self-study is a good option.

However, if you are not confident to study by yourself, you can also circle yourself around the people who are interested to take the exam and form a group.  A group of individuals with a common goal will aid and motivate each other to proceed towards their common goal.


Here’s how group study works:

Once you form a team you can engage the team in activities that will help everyone in their preparation. You can also form small internal groups within the group. Each small group (2 or more depending on team’s strength) can conduct  a presentation where the team members can present chapter wise topics.

Once you are done with preparing for a particular chapter, you can evaluate yourself by taking a test on the particular chapter. The person who presented in the seminar can take up the responsibility to prepare a set of questions for the chapter presented by them. The team can hence be benefited from this activity to evaluate themselves and know the areas of improvement.

The person who scored the least has to prepare and present the concepts related to next chapter. This will establish the seriousness and the dedication that is required for the team to prepare well as they proceed towards the main exam.

“Prepare, Present and Evaluate” should be the mantra throughout your journey for you to succeed.

As you head closer to the main exam date, ensure that you take at least 2 to 3 mock tests for the entire syllabus. Ensure that the final mock test question papers are framed in the similar fashion as main exam pattern and also complete the exam within the allocated time as this helps to improvise your time management in the main exam. Basically, mock tests help you to boost your confidence.

Tip #3: Read both the textbook and the syllabus

Textbook: “Foundation of Software Testing: ISTQB Certification” by Rex Black, Dorothy Graham is the recommended textbook.

Syllabus: You can download the syllabus using this: http://www.istqb.org/downloads/syllabi/foundation-level-syllabus.html

Start with the textbook: Read the textbook first as the textbook explains every concept in detail with elaborated examples.

The syllabus is your guide:  The ISTQB syllabus is like a note made by summarizing the textbook, hence you should first read the textbook else you might not understand most of the concepts if you directly start with the syllabus. Use syllabus to aid your revision.

Tip #4: Refer to the GLOSSARY

You should refer to the glossary for the various terminologies mentioned in the syllabus right before each chapter begins.

Tip #5: Do NOT rely on dumps!

Several ISTQB aspirants are misled with the concept that they can clear the exam just by solving few dumps that are available online without any preparations.

That’s not true.

Solving the questions available online may help you to understand the question patterns or boost your confidence a bit, but you should NEVER rely only on question paper dumps! You cannot pass the exams just by solving a few random questions. Needless to say, there are several dumps available online with incorrect answers which even might confuse you.

What I recommend instead is to solve the questions in the textbook. The textbook has questions after every chapter. These questions are much more useful than the questions that are in the dumps. You can also solve the sample questions provided by several ISTQB boards.

Related: Top 10 ISTQB Courses on Udemy that I Recommend

Tip #6: Understand the structure of the exam

The Foundation Level exam can be taken online or you can opt for a written exam. The test has 40 MCQ’s (Multiple choice questions). The passing percentage is 65% . You need 26 marks to get through the exam. The best part is there is no negative marking for incorrect answers.

Understand the distribution of questions per cognitive level. Concentrate on K1 questions. You get 50% of the questions from K1 which are straightforward and easier to answer than questions of other cognitive levels. Never make a mistake in answering a K1 question. It greatly increases your chance of clearing the ISTQB exam.


Understand how the questions are distributed per chapter from the diagram below. You can focus your efforts on more important chapters and not wasting your time on the chapters from which you might get only a couple of questions. It does not mean you have to skip any of the chapters, but focus on the chapters with greater wattage first.

Remember not to skip any chapter if you want to clear ISTQB exam. The table below also helps you analyze the questions per cognitive level for every chapter.


[Reference: ISTQB exam structure – http://www.istqb.org/certification-path-root/foundation-level/foundation-level-exam-structure.html]

Tip #7: Note, revise and teach

Write notes and record important ideas from your textbook and syllabus. Writing not only helps you learn more effectively, but also revise all the concepts you have studied.

Your brain has three kinds of memory cells: sound, sight and feel. The best kind of learning occurs when you use all three at the same time. When writing notes you see the words, you say them in your mind as you write them, and you are using your movement senses as you write them down on the paper.

People only remember about 20% of the information they read after 24 hours. So revision is the key to make sure that what you read does not slip away. Instead of highlighting or underlining textbook you can:

  • Make notes
  • Produce mind maps
  • Recall what you have just read into memory and test yourself.

If you are studying with a group, you can also try to practice teaching your learning with your group.

Roman philosopher Seneca said “While we teach, we learn”.

Teaching others is a great way to understand and therefore you remember your notes. You learn better, recall better when you teach someone whatever you have learnt.

Tip #8: Be observant

Keep your eyes open for the words like NOT, NEVER in the questions else there is a chance that you may lose marks for simple questions. The same applies to the options as well. The questions asked in the ISTQB certification are presented in such a way that all the options look similar. Read the question at least two times before you mark the answers.

Tip #9: Got struck with a question? Don’t worry, just move on!

Remember that every question carries only 1 mark. Do not waste too much time to figure out an answer for a difficult question. You can keep that question aside and try to solve it after completing more straightforward and easy questions. There is absolutely no reason to answer the questions in the order they are printed in the exam. I would recommend doing the easiest ones first.

Tip #10: CAUTION – Online exam takers

For online exams, you are provided with a backup sheet. You need to mark the answers in this sheet so that you have a backup of the answers in case of technical issues. Many candidates are ignorant about this. Please remember to mark the answers in the backup sheet, it’s a life saver. In my case, when I submitted my answers there was an issue with internet connectivity and BOOM!


I had to mark all the answers again in 10 mins. If I did not map my answers in the backup sheet, then I would be in a huge trouble. Do not panic if the same happens to you, be calm and mark the answers by referring the backup sheet and verify that you marked right answers again before you ‘submit’.

Tip #11: Take advantage of ISTQB Test Mentor App

I had designed a set of challenging questions for my team when we were preparing for ISTQB exams last year. These questions really helped 2 batches in my company to successfully clear ISTQB CTFL exam. Since the questions were challenging it really pushed the team to perform better, they found themselves studying the books, even harder before taking the tests as they knew that the smallest details might be asked. I wanted to share these questions with the testing community. As a result, I and a couple of my friends have created this android app with the intention of helping ISTQB aspirants.

This app called “ISTQB Test Mentor”.

ISTQB Test Mentor provides Mock tests/Sample tests, chapter wise tests, glossary and useful links for your ISTQB preparation. You can use this app to test your certification readiness or take chapter wise tests after you complete reading each chapter (Textbook + Syllabus+ Glossary).

This app is FREE! You can download using the link below






Scan this QR code to download

Here’s a small challenge for you:

In this app, there are 20 questions for each chapter and the time limit is 30 minutes. If you score more than 15 points in these tests, consider that you have prepared well. ISTQB Test Mentor app also has awesome features like glossary, mock exams Useful links and Survival mode.

Related: Top 10 ISTQB Courses on Udemy that I Recommend

Final thought

There you have it, a complete guide to prepare and pass the ISTQB certification exam right on the first attempt. Like I said at the beginning of the post, even though certification is not a proof of your testing skills, holding an ISTQB certification a big plus for your professional profile. More importantly, it shows that you are serious about choosing software testing as your professional career.

That’s it and good luck to you!

About the Author


Prashant Hegde is a passionate tester. He leads the QA team in Razorthink software and ensures that the products he works on meet the highest standards in tight schedules and deadlines. Prashant enjoys writing and has authored articles for leading software testing magazines. He also writes in his blog about best practices in software testing and on his spare time.


  1. Andy

    A truly inspiring post! Many thanks

  2. Thanh Huynh

    Thanks Andy! Glad that you see the post inspiring 😀

  3. Deea

    Very inspiring for me too! Thanks and Happy New Year from Romania

  4. Shahana

    Thanks very much. Really appreciate your efforts. This is really going to be useful.

    Thanks Prashant Hegde & Thanh.

  5. Prashant Hegde

    Glad that I could help!

  6. Rahul Joshi

    Thank you so much for this blog this is clear,complete information for ISTQB Certification aspirants.

  7. Thanh Huynh


    Glad you the see the guide helpful!

  8. Aruna

    Can you please provide a mac version of this app. It would be very helpful.

  9. Dirk

    Thank you very much for that post, it was very helpful on deciding how to start my learning plan.

  10. Rupsha Ghosh

    Nice post.. & nice app too.

  11. Thanh Huynh

    @Dirk, Rupsha,

    Thank you. Glad you see the post helpful.

  12. Khutjo

    Wow, I’m so motivated, to think im taking my exam in a month this really helped. Thank you guys

  13. Thanh Huynh

    Glad you see it helpful.
    Goodluck in your exam.

  14. Alex

    As of Aug 2022 a lot of information here is outdated. Actual exam might have more K2 or K3 questions than K1 and questions might be equally distributed from all chapters , not with majority from just Chapter 1 and 2 . Check actual copies of exams from isqi.org . App has a lot of outdated questions and wrong answers. Reading syllabus is not enough, if you want to get this certification you must read “foundation of testing” .

  15. Thanh Huynh


    Thanks Alex for your feedback. I don’t doubt that a lot of information in this post. I should have revisited my posts and update them but unfortunately I couldn’t find time to do that.
    Also, considering that this is guest post, asking guest post owner to revisit and update their post is not so easy :(. Nothing much I can do here. Sorry

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