Effective test approaches, efficient tool support, testing certification

CAT as a testing certification Gold Standard

Learning Objectives for Foundation & Agile Testing Certifications

The iSQI® Certified Agile Tester qualification can be seen as a 'Gold Standard' for the current software testing qualifications offered by ISTQB® at Foundation and Advanced levels and by iSQI.

This article focuses initially on agile qualifications, but the points made about the learning objectives, examination methods and practical aspects of the courses also apply more generally to Foundation and Advanced levels of qualification.

Learning Objectives

All ISTQB Foundation and Advanced level qualifications, and the two ISQI Agile qualifications covered by this article, have clearly defined learning objectives. Our article in February 2015 explains the six knowledge levels covered from K1 to K6: http://aquacomputing.com/insight/knowledge-skills-and-certification.

The diagram above compares the learning objectives for the following qualifications:


The ‘ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level’ is the ‘entry level’ qualification and is required in order to progress to their Advanced Level exams, and also the ISTQB CTFL-AT (the first of the ISTQB ‘Foundation Extension’ qualifications). About 90% of the learning objectives relate to being able to recall and understand key aspects of software testing (K1 and K2). The remainder are predominately related to being able to apply software testing techniques (K3), e.g. how many test cases would be required to achieve 100% coverage for the technique being examined.


The ‘ISTQB Foundation Level – Agile Tester’ qualification is technically still a Foundation Level qualification as opposed to Advanced Level. It perhaps could be considered as ‘Intermediate’ level to use the classification of the old ISEB Foundation, Intermediate and Practitioner levels. There is significantly more emphasis on being able to apply theory with the percentage of K3 learning objectives being about 30%.


The ‘iSQI Certified Agile Essentials’ has a very similar profile of K1, K2 and K3 learning objectives as the ISTQB CTFL-AT. iSQI positions this qualification for delegates who are “new to an agile team, dealing often with agile companies or just generally interested in the benefits of working in an agile environment” rather than being for practitioners.


The ‘iSQI Certified Agile Tester’ is positioned by iSQI for delegates looking to acquire the “...skills and competencies required to run agile projects efficiently… (by) focusing heavily on practical exercises and a hands-on approach”. It is more advanced than the ISTQB Advanced Level qualifications in terms of its learning objectives. 35% of these relate to Analysing, Evaluating and Creating/Synthesising the subject matter (K4-K6). Uniquely in comparison to ISTQB Foundation and Advanced level qualifications it includes K5 and K6 learning objectives. It is the first of these testing qualifications since the original ISTQB Practitioner qualification to be examinable at these knowledge levels.

iSQI CAT Examination Method

Essay-based exam

The ISTQB Advanced Level qualifications have shown that exacting multiple choice exams can be set to examine K3 and K4 levels. However, the iSQI CAT qualification has an essay-based rather than a multiple choice exam, and this enables stretching questions at K5 and K6 level questions to be set. It is also a better way of asking K4 questions where candidates are required to analyse a scenario and then provide an answer which is appropriate to the context of the scenario. It’s better because delegates are able to justify their answer in a way that can’t be done when selecting a multiple choice answer.

Whilst this is one of the reasons for comparing it favourably with the original ISEB Practitioner qualification, an even more significant reason for describing it as a practitioner’s qualification are the additional two assessment methods described below. These are unique to the iSQI CAT qualification when contrasted with the ISEB Practitioner qualification and ISTQB Foundation and Advanced levels.

Practical exam

Delegates use laptops to test a browser-based application under exam conditions. This is a great way to assess K6 level “(putting) information together in a unique or novel way to solve a problem”. The challenge within two hours is for delegates to tailor Scrum to the exam’s context. They will need to show the exam marker through session sheets that agile good practices are being applied effectively to plan, find and report on seeded defects in the application, and to learn lessons from their use of Scrum and XP practices over the two hours.

Soft skills assessment

In addition to the two exams the course tutor undertakes a soft skills assessment of delegates throughout the four days of the course. This assessment looks for delegates to demonstrate a range of soft skills relating to communication and collaboration which are essential in order for agile teams to deliver successfully.

iSQI CAT Practical Exercises

Whilst the four mornings of the course cover agile knowledge, the afternoons then apply this knowledge though a level of practical exercises that either exceeds or does not exist in the other qualifications described above.


Delegates work in teams of three to five members in order to build Lego models as specified in related user stories. This consolidates the agile theory covered in the morning. They need to work effectively as a team in order to estimate, prioritise, build and have accepted their chosen set of user stories for each iteration of the exercise.

Days 2-4

The same teams are used for the remaining afternoons of the course, and this time delegates use laptops to find seeded defects in a browser-based application. Teams design their own task boards and adapt Scrum and XP practices in order to work effectively together. For all four days the delegates are working under extreme time pressure, learning lessons, and needing to work effectively together.


Partly due to its focus on K4-K6 learning objectives and an essay-based exam the iSQI Certified Agile Tester is a practitioner’s qualification in a way that isn’t possible with the ISTQB Foundation and Advanced level qualifications.

Its focus on soft skills and practical exercises, including formal assessment of the former and a practical exam for the latter, makes it even more of a practitioner’s qualification than the original ISEB Practitioner.

Whilst all of these qualifications are of value, the iSQI Certified Agile Tester is ‘first amongst equals’ due to the knowledge levels covered, the methods of examination used, and its unique focus on the practical application of agile methods.

26th April 2015