ISTQB exam: How to pass it the first time?

One of the best ways to present yourself in the field of software testing and IT in general is to have a certificate that proves your competence as an IT tester. The certificate not only adds value to our tester resume, but also shows that we are proficient in the best practices and technologies used in the field. It gives us an advantage in the job market over people who don’t have this certification.

Certification provides tremendous benefits in the information technology industry. There is a huge number of certifications for each IT area, for example Cisco certified network associate (CCNA) – a certification for people who are more interested in networking, Certified data professional (CDP) – a certification for data professionals, Certified associate in project management (CAPM) – a certification for people who are interested in project management. The certificate that is important for most testers is the ISTQB certificate.

You can read about the characteristics of ISTQB in the article ISTQB: Certification and Courses

ISTQB Foundation Level (ISTQB CTFL)

The International Software Testing Qualifications Board offers different levels of software quality assurance certification. The ISTQB Certified Tester is one of the offered standardized qualifications and is available for basic, advanced and expert level accreditation.

The ISTQB Foundation level is the first level of accreditation you can achieve by passing the exam. It covers the basics needed to become a certified software tester, including an understanding of both the theoretical and practical knowledge.

The exam is a multiple-choice test consisting of chapters divided according to difficulty (K1, K2, K3). There are 40 questions for 40 points in total. The ISTQB pass percentage is 65%, which means that a minimum of 26 questions must be answered correctly to qualify. The time for the exam is 60 minutes, but if you take the exam in another language than in your native language, you will have 25% more time than those who take the exam in their native language.

The Foundation Level certificate is valid for life, so there is no need to retake the exam at any time in the future.

There are 6 chapters in the test:

  1. Fundamentals of testing,
  2. Testing during the software development lifecycle,
  3. Static testing,
  4. Testing techniques,
  5. Test management,
  6. Tool testing support.

Understand the topics and ideas covered in the curriculum by reading and studying them thoroughly. The ISTQB Foundation Level exam contains a number of test terms that you need to be familiar with. Go through the glossary of terms in the curriculum and understand the meaning of each term. Also make sure you use the correct terminology when answering the questions.

There is a varying number of questions from each chapter. See picture below.
There is a varying number of questions from each chapter. See picture below.

I saw this picture the last few days before the exam, which helped me make the most of the time I had left. I concentrated on the chapters with the most questions and ended up doing the most work in those two chapters, while the chapters with fewer questions didn’t end up so well. Of course, learning every chapter is the best and safest option, but using this guide will allow you to focus on specific chapters more than others.

How long to study for the ISTQB Foundation exam

Speaking of time frames, the intensive preparation for the certification took me personally a little over 2 weeks before the final test. I devoted about 5 to 6 hours a day to my studies, and that’s counting weekends. Before that I had only minimal knowledge of theory and minimal practical experience. I also did one UDEMY course, but I didn’t remember much of it.

ISTQB Exam – Preparation Materials

1. ISTQB Foundation syllabus

Syllabus is the foundation of everything you need to know for the ISTQB Foundation Level exam. It consists of general objectives, a glossary of terms, learning objectives for each area, key concepts, references to resources (literature, standards, etc.). The syllabus is available on the ISTQB official site.

However, the syllabus is not an exhaustive source of knowledge about software testing. Rather, it provides a comprehensive understanding of testing concepts and techniques for all kinds of projects, including agile. The syllabus discusses different types of software development life cycles and methods without going into too much detail.

2. ISTQB Glossary

This resource is very helpful for unclear or unfamiliar terms. There are 570 alphabetically sorted terms with definitions, synonyms, references and versions. There is a Glossary app that you can download to your device, or you can use the web version of the ISTQB dictionary. You can use the basic search options or use the advanced search to set filter criteria and change display options.

A tip for passing the exam would be to focus only on those concepts that are highlighted before each chapter in the syllabus.
A tip for passing the exam would be to focus only on those concepts that are highlighted before each chapter in the syllabus.

3. Book Foundations of Software Testing: ISTQB Certification by Rex Black and others

The practical part of the exam is not explained in the Syllabus. That’s why I also read Foundations of Software Testing, co-authored by Rex Black, Dorothy Graham and Erik P. W. M. Veenendaal, which focuses more on topics such as test design techniques. But the book is not limited to that. All topics are presented in great detail. If some chapters of the Syllabus are difficult to understand, Rex Black and the authors explain them really well in their book. The book is in English.

4. Udemy course

In addition to the Syllabus and Rex Black’s book, I also took an ISTQB course on Udemy, which was roughly 5 hours of audio lectures. As I mentioned before, this was the first part of the preparation I did before diving into intensive study. I recommend you do the same, as it creates a good foundation for understanding the topics when you start studying them in more depth.

5. Company course or any other ISTQB accredited course

I regret that I didn’t attend an accredited course as well. It would have been much easier for me to study in a group because there were things that came up that I just didn’t understand. Since no one around me was doing the exam at the time, I had no one to discuss these things with. It would be a big plus if I had a whole group of QA testers to discuss various certification-related topics with, especially practical tasks. It is much harder to understand explanations from a book than when they are explained in simple terms by a real expert in the field or someone who understands them.

6. ISTQB tests – sample exams

There are 4 sample tests with answers that are similar to the real exam. I recommend everyone to go through all of them at least 2-3 days before certification. These sample exam questions can be found here.

Tips on how to prepare for the ISTQB exam

  • Try to remember the information, not just read it passively a few times. It’s a much more effective way to understand what you’ve learned than re-reading. The best way is to repeat what you’ve learned in small chunks.
  • First learn and then try, not the other way around. It is really important to first read the theory in ISTQB accredited resources such as the Syllabus on the ISTQB website and try to memorize the information before taking the tests. The best option would be to test yourself after each chapter. And only use reliable sources. If you use some online open sources with quizzes, it is not proof of knowledge. Some of them have outdated information and this way you learn things that are no longer accurate. Even worse, if these tests contain wrong answers and if you learn from these wrong tests, you may fail the exam. If you still want to test yourself using online tests, make sure the information they provide is reliable.
  • Take the tests right after each section you have learned. Read the syllabus (for chapters that are harder to understand, read the previously mentioned Software Testing Fundamentals section by section). After each section, take the test at the end of the chapter to check how well you know the topic. Go back to the questions you didn’t get right and test yourself again until you understand the topic.
  • Complete the full version of the test with the timer. After completing all the chapters, test yourself with the full version of the test with 40 sample questions on the official ISTQB website. There are 4 sample questions with correct answers and explanations. This will not only help you to test your knowledge, but also to familiarise yourself with the test itself. The test sheet will have similar questions and the same format. It is important to get familiar with it so that you don’t have problems with any formalities during the exam. Therefore, I would recommend taking all full versions of the test (40 questions) given the limited time frame. Practice the exam at home so that you can then do it strictly in 75 minutes (for foreign speakers) or 60 minutes (for native speakers).
  • On the last day before certification, read section 7.2 Software Testing Basics Taking the Exam and make sure you go to bed early, because there’s nothing worse than being tired during a test, even if your mind is somewhere else.
  • Don’t rely on summaries! Several ISTQB aspirants are misled by the notion that they can pass the exam just by reading a few summaries that are available online without any preparation. This is not true. Solving the questions available online can help you understand the question patterns or boost your confidence a little, but you should NEVER rely on it alone. You can’t pass the exams just by solving a few random questions. Needless to say, there are several sources on the internet with incorrect answers that may even confuse you.

Tips on how to get your ISTQB certificate and pass the exam first time.

More tips on how to pass the ISTQB exam:

  1. If you are taking the exam online, be sure to test the system before the exam. One day before the exam, log in and familiarize yourself with the system – get used to the interface, pay attention to the navigation, fonts, scrolling, clock. It will cost you less stress on the exam and you will be able to concentrate on answering the questions.
  2. Don’t waste too much time choosing the right answer. Don’t focus too much on the questions – remember that each question is worth 1 point, regardless of whether its difficulty level is K1 or K3. If you are unsure of the answer, skip the question for now and come back to the same questions later.
  3. Read the assignment carefully. A common mistake during the exam is inattention and trying to answer the question quickly. Therefore, it is very important to pay attention to what is required in a particular task and to read the task description carefully. Be careful not to confuse statements like IS and IS NOT, TRUE and FALSE, etc. Here, a trivial inattention will cost you 1 point.
  4. Use the side paper to rethink your answers. If you are unsure of the answer, try elimination methods. Write down the options you are sure of on paper and decide on the rest logically. You can also write down the number of the problem you missed to answer it later. That way you won’t waste time scrolling through the system when you come back to it. Finally, a scrap of paper is useful as an extra security measure if for some reason there are problems with the internet and all your answers in the system disappear. You can simply copy them from the paper.


In conclusion, the ISTQB Foundation Level exam is a challenging but achievable exam.

When to apply for an exam or certification depends on your individual goals and current situation. If the goal is to get a job quickly, the sooner the test is taken, the better. However, if the aim is to gain knowledge and experience first, it may be more advantageous to take the test after you have acquired the necessary expertise.

Passing a test and obtaining a certificate can be useful as it confirms an individual’s knowledge and skills in a particular field and can give them an advantage in the job market.

If you speak German and are an IT tester but don’t have an ISTQB certificate yet, you can get one free of charge as part of our employee benefits. Find out more in the article ISTQB as a benefit. Browse our latest job offers.

About the author

Michaela Kojnoková

Agile Test Engineer

Po štúdiu informatiky na ŽU a TUKE som sa najviac ponorila do oblasti automatizácie testovania. Okrem toho sa venujem tvorbe webov, databázam, dátovej analytike, umelej inteligencii a strojovému učeniu. Mám rada cestovanie, šport a najviac si užívam čas strávený v prírode s mojimi blízkymi. LinkedIn

Let us know about you