As an aspiring software and solutions architect, I decided to get certified in the field of software architecture. However, I quickly noticed that there are not many certifications out there. Compared to other IT skills, such as cloud or programming languages, the number of certifications in the field of software architecture is quite limited. In fact, the only certification I found that truly focuses on software architecture principles is the Certified Professional for Software Architecture (CPSA) provided by the International Software Architecture Qualification Board (iSAQB).

The iSAQB provides two certifications for IT professionals: The CPSA-F (Foundation Level) and the CPSA-A (Advanced Level). To get CPSA-F certified, it is sufficient to pass a multiple choice and multiple select certification exam. The advanced level certification requires one to not only pass the CPSA-F exam, but also attend additional training, submit a project, and defend your solution against an audience.

To start my certification journey, I decided to sit the CPSA-F (Foundation Level) exam. I won’t talk about the advanced-level certification. If you want to learn more about it, check out the iSAQB website.

Exam Preparation – The Common Way

Again, to get certified, you have to pass a multiple choice exam, which consists of a bit more than 40 questions and comes with three different question formats (more on that later).

But how does one usually prepare for this exam? It is generally recommended to attend one of the official training sessions that you can find on the iSAQB website. The trainers are accredited professionals that can best prepare you for the exam. The training typically lasts three to four days, upon which you typically take the CPSA-F exam.

The combined costs for training and exam fees will be around €2500 – €3000, though the training costs will make out the biggest cost factor, while exam fees are “just” around €300 (sometimes a bit less). If you are working for a medium- or large-sized company, there might be a chance that this training will be paid for you, although this is not a guarantee.

After the training and some review of the study materials, you should be ready to sit and pass the exam.

But what happens if you (or your company) cannot or do not want to afford a €2500 training, but you still want to get certified? Good news: You can prepare yourself for the exam. Let’s look into it.

Exam Preparation – Self-Study

It is absolutely possible to self-study for the CPSA-F level exam and pass it. I did it myself. Preparing myself for the exam was a rewarding experience. Additionally, it helped me to save a lot of money. Let’s see how I did it.

My main preparation consisted of the following two study resources (books):

  • “Software Architecture Foundation – 2nd edition” (in English)
  • “Basiswissen für Softwarearchitekten: Aus- und Weiterbildung nach iSAQB-Standard zum Certified Professional for Software Architecture – Foundation Level (5. Auflage)” (in German)

The first book is a concise study guide with explanations and descriptions of what you need to know and focus on. It’s written in clear and easy-to-understand language and even comes with some questions to test your knowledge of the various learning goals.

Yes, the 2nd resource is in German. But there is more literature available in English; feel free to check out the exam page for more references. Anyway, I also chose it because the book just came out when I started to prepare for the exam – simply good timing.

I read both books two times and even wrote a summary to manifest my learning. All of that while I was still working full-time. Which is why it took me a bit longer. I studied for 10 to 20 minutes every day, for two to three months. You can probably do it much faster than that, however, for me, it was important to not only prepare for the exam but also to extract as much knowledge as possible. Furthermore, why should I stress myself? This is the beauty of self-paced learning.

Anyway, besides these two books, I highly recommend checking out the official mock exam with practice questions, glossary, and exam curriculum. You can find all of that on the iSAQB website.

The next step lies ahead: Sitting the exam.

The Exam

As I was feeling prepared enough, I registered for the exam. I decided to take the exam offline – in a test center. I prefer test centers over online exams as I am always afraid of outages and loss of my Internet connection. But I guess this is more of a personal preference, so choose whatever best suits your situation.

Let’s quickly talk about the three different types of questions that await you in the exam:

  • A-question: These are multiple-choice questions. Out of a given set of answers, only one of them is correct.
  • P-question: These are multiple selection questions. You are given the number of correct options to select.
  • K-question: These questions ask you to categorize (all) answers (e.g. true/false, advantage/disadvantage, …). This type of question was new to me and might be the most difficult one to get (completely!) right.

You have the chance to get fractional points for partially answered P- and K-questions. This is not the case for A-questions. So let’s say you have a P-question and you are pretty sure about one answer option out of four, but not about the others. If you are right (and you left the other options neutral), you will still get 0.5 points.

I don’t remember the exact number of questions in my exam, but it was around 42 questions, covering pretty much all learning goals in the curriculum. I had the impression that the actual exam questions were more difficult than the exam questions provided in the official mock exam. Furthermore, I found the exam does not rely too much on just asking for facts (which is nice); being able to apply your knowledge is at least as important as understanding specific terms.

Some questions were just weird. Even after reading them multiple times, I wasn’t sure if I got what was asked for. In such cases, marking these questions for review and coming back to them later worked well for me. In any case, you don’t need 100% to pass the exam, 60%+ is enough.

The time you got for the exam is 75 minutes, I used every minute of it. When I answered the last question, I still had about 20 minutes left to review my answers, which I took advantage of. But don’t stress yourself too much on a single question. If you are not sure, listen to your inner self, choose the answers, and move on.

Exam Results

I passed the exam! At this point, I was just happy. I scored around 87%. I think this shows that self-study is a viable option if attending dedicated training is not possible in your situation.

As a result of my self-study and exam experience, I crafted some practice and exam questions that I wish I had when preparing for the exam. If you want to learn more and support me, please check out my course on Udemy.

I hope this post helped you learn more about the CPSA-F certification, how to prepare for it, and what the actual exam might look like.

Good luck on your certification journey!