ECBA certification: An entry-level credential for business analysts
By: Josh Fruhlinger
The Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) is a credential for business analysts offered by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). IIBA is a nonprofit professional association founded in 2003 to promote the field of business analysis. According to the organization, the ECBA “covers the foundational knowledge on business analysis ... and showcases that you have the core knowledge and competencies for the in-demand field of business analysis.”
ECBA is, as its name implies, an entry-level certification, but that doesn’t mean you can just jump into it cold. You’ll need to complete a certain number of approved training hours before you can apply to take the exam. You’ll probably also want to supplement your training with additional resources in preparing for the exam. Here, we dive into the details of the ECBA, and discuss whether an ECBA certification is worthwhile for your career; but first, let’s look at where ECBA fits into the landscape of IIBA’s credentials, and learn about the body of knowledge ECBA-certified business analysts are expected to master.
ECBA vs. CCBA vs. CBAP
ECBA is the first step in IIBA’s core sequence of credentials for business analysts. It’s succeeded by the Certification for Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA) and the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP). Requirements get more extensive as you climb the ladder: CCBA and CBAP require more training, work experience, and expertise than ECBA. Watermark Learning, a company that offers trainings for all of IIBA’s certs, breaks down the various requirements, but the important thing to know is that, unlike the other certs, ECBA candidates don’t need to document professional experience in the field before they start their certification process. And while you don’t need an ECBA certification to pursue one of the higher-level certs, it definitely lays a foundation of knowledge that will be helpful if you choose to go that route.
ECBA and BABOK
Like the other IIBA certs, the ECBA draws from A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, also known as the BABOK Guide. The BABOK Guide is a publication from IIBA that aims to serve as a bible for the business analysis industry, collecting best practices from real-world practitioners. It was first published in 2005 and is continuously updated.
The BABOK Guide lays out the tasks and knowledge that a business analyst should understand. Its content is divided into six sections, referred to as knowledge areas:
- Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring
- Elicitation and Collaboration
- Requirements Life Cycle Management
- Strategy Analysis
- Requirements Analysis and Design Definition
- Solution Evaluation
The BABOK Guide serves as the foundational set of knowledge for the ECBA exam. Even if you have some experience as a business analyst under your belt, you’ll need to review the BABOK Guide before taking your exam to fully understand its perspectives and terminology.
ECBA certification training
The only prerequisite for taking the ECBA exam (other than creating an IIBA login and agreeing to the organization’s Code of Conduct and Terms of Service) is the completion of 25 hours of IIBA training — referred to as Professional Development (PD) hours — in the four years leading up to your application. IIBA outlines what kind of training courses qualify toward your PD Hour on its website:
They must be moderated or facilitated by an instructor who leads students through the material.
There must be measurable learning objectives directly applicable to improving the skills of a business analyst.
Students must be able to interact with the material by asking questions or otherwise making the learning meaningful.
Students must be allowed to practice the task or objective being presented and be assessed by the facilitator.
The subject matter must directly align with the BABOK Guide.
IIBA does not offer training courses itself, and in theory, you could make a case for a wide variety of courses that might fit this description. In practice, you will probably want to choose from IIBA’s list of endorsed education and training providers; you can see a list of nearby training courses and upcoming exam prep opportunities. These courses all generally hew closely to the exam syllabus and draw directly from the BABOK Guide.
Once you’ve completed your training, you can take the ECBA exam, which consists of 50 multiple-choice questions that you must answer in an hour.
Because ECBA is an introductory certification, it doesn’t cover the BABOK Guide knowledge areas as in-depth as higher-level IIBA certs do. The current breakdown of questions across the BABOK Guide knowledge areas are as follows:
- Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring: 5%
- Elicitation and Collaboration: 20%
- Requirements Life Cycle Management: 20%
- Requirements Analysis and Design Definition: 25%
The remaining 30% of the exam is on material drawn from across the BABOK lumped together in a category IIBA labels “Business Analysis Knowledge.” This breaks down as follows:
- Business analysis and the BA professional: 2.5%
- Business analysis key concepts: 5%
- Underlying competencies: 5%
- Techniques: 17.5%
While IIBA does not publicize the passing score for the CBAP exam, consensus from observers is that you’ll need to answer about 70% of questions correctly. If you fail the exam, you can retake it up to two more times in the year after your initial application.
ECBA exam fee, ECBA certification fee, and IIBA membership
As with many certifications, there are a number of fees associated with ECBA certification. Applying for certification costs $60, which is nonrefundable. Taking the exam is $235 the first time and $195 if you fail and want to retake it. You’ll need to pay for the required PD hours as well, although that can vary widely from course to course.
You may also wish to become an IIBA member, which costs $139 in much of North America and Europe, and less in many developing nations. IIBA members get a $125 discount on exam fees, as well as a number of other benefits.
ECBA exam locations
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the ECBA exam has shifted to a remote proctored model administered by PSI. This allows you to take the exam from your own home, although you’ll still be under a proctor’s watchful eye via your webcam. IIBA’s website has details on some of the strict rules for taking the test in this way: For instance, you are only allowed to be off-camera for a single 15-minute break, and can only have a clear water bottle and blank paper on your desk to begin the exam — and, once you’re finished, must tear up any notes you’ve taken, to prevent you from passing on too much information about the questions to others.
ECBA study guides, sample exam questions, and practice tests
As noted, the primary document you’ll want to use to study for the CBAP exam is the BABOK Guide, which is available from Amazon as well as from IIBA itself. ECBA study guides are a little thinner on the ground than those for other more prominent certifications, but the ECBA Certification Study Guide comes highly rated.
You’ll probably be exposed to some sample exam questions during the training you’ll take for your PD hours. But if you want to get a sneak peek as to what the questions will look like, you can check out the sample questions that IIBA makes available on its website. If you want to dive a little deeper, you can check out some practice tests from training companies such as AdaptiveUS, TechCanvass, or ProProfs.
ECBA certification salary
Possibly the biggest question anyone wants to know about a certification is: Will I make more money if I get this cert? Unfortunately, this is devilishly complex to answer, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is trying to sell you something (a certification, probably).
Nevertheless, IIBA offers some salary data that suggests a CBAP can boost your pay. According to the IIBA 2020 Business Salary Survey, certified business analysts overall made more than 11% more than their noncertified peers. A particularly interesting stat comes from their 2019 salary survey: ECBA holders in what IIBA labels “Region 3,” including China, India, and much of the developing world, made 52% more than noncertified respondents.
Is ECBA worth it?
For those who are just starting out in the industry as an analyst and may not have the advantages of a high-powered college degree or Big 4 consultancy gig, an ECBA can be a good way to show their ambitions and seriousness.
“The business analyst marketplace can be competitive,” says Diane Davidson, owner of Clever Fox Advisory. “When hiring a business analyst, my preference is someone from a consulting background versus an industry job. But my second criterion is to look at their certifications and project experiences. Since most certificates are not mandatory in the BA job field, this would show me that someone was dedicated to their career to pursue the certification.”