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ISTQB (CTFL) v4.0 [NEW!] vs v3.1 [Retiring] What to choose?

Hello everyone, in this article we will give advice on which version of the exam you should prepare for, the ISTQB Foundation level v4.0 or v3.1. We will not compare the complexity, content, scope, or changes in two versions, we will do this in the following article. In this article, we will only give practical advice based on practical factors.

On May 9, 2023, the ISTQB introduced The new version of the Certified Tester Foundation Level exam, v4.0. Since then, both versions are active and valid for taking the exam it brings a lot of confusion to those people who have been preparing for the exam for some time, and to those people who have just decided to prepare for the Foundation Level certification.

Candidates have such questions as:

  • "I'm almost halfway through the preparation for v3.1, do I need to stop and start preparing for the new version?"

  • "I haven't started preparing for the exam yet, is it better to prepare for the v3.1 version or the v4.0?"

  • "I haven't taken the ISTQB exam yet, which is easier, v3.1 or v4.0?"

  • "I have already passed v3.1, can I pass v4.0 without preparation? And how much do the versions differ from each other?"

We have prepared for you the answer in the ISTQB style, the Decision table.

For those who are new to the ISTQB exam, we will explain two scenarios:

Scenario 2:

Condition 1: You are not registered for the v3.1 exam

Condition 2: You are not registered for the v4.0 exam

Condition 3: You haven't started the preparation for the v3.1

Condition 4: Doesn't matter if you are an idealist

Action: We recommend you prepare for the ISTQB (CTFL) v4.0 [NEW!]

Scenario 6:

Condition 1: You are not registered for the v3.1 exam

Condition 2: You are not registered for the v4.0 exam

Condition 3: You have started the preparation for the v3.1

Condition 5: And you are not an idealist

Action: We recommend you prepare for the ISTQB (CTFL) v3.1 [Retiring]

And for those who don't like ISTQB exercises and riddles yet, we will give straightforward advice:

ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) v4.0 [NEW!]

If you are a NEW candidate who has not yet started the exam preparation for the exam, we recommend that you do not complicate your life and do not confuse yourself and start preparing to prepare for the ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) v4.0 [NEW!], of the exam. Just be careful when registering for the exam. You should pay attention and choose the correct version of the exam, v4.0 in this case.

ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) v3.1 [NEW!]

If you have already started preparing for v3.1 of the exam, or if you have already registered for the v3.1 exam, don't panic, you can continue preparing for the v3.1 exam and pass it. The Foundation Level certificates don't have an expiration date and are valid lifetime. Formally it doesn't matter whether you have a 2018 v3.1 certificate or a 2023 v4.0 certificate, in any case, you are a lifetime certified tester. The 2018 version 3.1 will be available until May 2024. You have plenty of time to finish preparation and pass the exam. Just be careful when registering for the exam. You should pay attention and choose the correct version of the exam, v3.1 in this case.


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We believe that practical advice is much more important than what we will discuss in below. But since many people want a detailed comparison of both versions, there you go: The difficulty is the same. The scope is 60-70% unchanged. Therefore, our advice remains unchanged. We advise new candidates to pass the new version, v4.0. Candidates who have already passed version v3.1 and now want to pass version v4.0, we advise you to read the new topics added to version v4.0. Now let's look at the differences in detail.

Long story short from the point of view of the structure of the exam, pass score,number of questions on the exam, number of correct answer options both versions, ISTQB CTFL v4.0 and ISTQB CTFL v3.1 are the same. Nothing changed.

  • No. of Questions: 40

  • Passing Score: 26

  • Total Points: 40

  • Exam Length (mins): 60(+25% Non-Native Language)

  • Most questions have only one correct answer.

Let's move on.

The number of questions per chapter is one of the key factors in the difficulty of the ISTQB exam. The fourth and fifth chapters are much more difficult than the first and second chapters. Therefore, the more questions for these chapters, the more difficult the exam. But in both versions, v4.0 and v3.1 are almost identical except for one exception. In v3.1, chapters two and three will have five questions each, and in the v4.0 version, the second chapter has four questions and the third chapter has five. However, this doesn't affect the overall difficulty of the exam because the rest of the questions are the same. Therefore, according to this criterion, the difficulty of the examination of the fourth version is the same as that of the third, it is the same. Anyone who is interested can get acquainted with the detailed number of questions per chapter on this screenshot.

Let's check another complexity factor.

As you know there are three cognitive levels of knowledge in the ISTQB CTFL:

  • Level 1: Remember (K1) – The candidate will remember, recognize, and recall a term or concept. Action verbs: identify, recall, remember, recognize.

  • Level 2: Understand (K2) – The candidate can select the reasons or explanations for statements related to the topic, and can summarize, compare, classify, and give examples for the testing concept. Action verbs: classify, compare, contrast, differentiate, distinguish, exemplify, explain, give examples, interpret, summarize.

  • Level 3: Apply (K3) – The candidate can carry out a procedure when confronted with a familiar task, or select the correct procedure and apply it to a given context. Action verbs: apply, implement, prepare, use.

Each of the forty questions on the exam corresponds to a certain level of difficulty. Although the difficulty of several questions in version v4.0 of the exam changed according to the chapters, the total number of questions per difficulty level remained unchanged.

Both v4.0 and v3.1 have:

  • 8 questions of K1 level

  • 24 questions of K2 level

  • 8 questions of K3 level

Since the changes in questions per K level of difficulty are insignificant and the total number of questions per K level in both versions is the same, we state that both exams v4.0 and v3.1 are of the same level of difficulty. The detailed number of questions per K-Level can be found in the table below:

Let's check another complexity factor.

And again, to cut a long story short, the amount and complexity of content is the same. So some sections are removed, some sections are added, and some sections are rewritten, but still 60-70% of the theory remains the same. In numbers, it looks like this:

  • v4.0: 6 Chapters; 22 topics; 61 sections

  • v3.1: 6 Chapters; 23 topics; 63 sections

In the new v4.0 version, many sections that are in the Agile ISTQB exam have been added. Here are the ones worth mentioning:

+ Whole Team Approach

+ Testing as a Driver for Software Development

+ DevOps and Testing

+ Shift-Left Approach

+ Retrospectives and Process Improvement

+ Benefits of Early and Frequent Stakeholder Feedback

+ Collaborative User Story Writing

+ Acceptance Criteria

+ Acceptance Test-driven Development (ATDD)

+ Test Pyramid

+ Testing Quadrants

Also, in the new version of the exam v4.0, several sections on which there were previously quite difficult questions were removed. Here are the ones worth mentioning:

- Applying ng Review Techniques

- Use Case Testing

- Test Strategy and Test Approach

As for the rest of the content, some sections are merged, some have changed a little, and most have not changed at all. Only one section, in our opinion, has been changed in such a way that it is possible to make a mistake in answering the question, so everyone who passed v3.1 and wants to pass v4.0 is advised to Branch Coverage in chapter four:

+-Decision Testing and Decision Coverage >> Branch Testing and Branch Coverage

You can read the full list of changes in the Certified Tester Foundation Level Syllabus v4.0, but we added full content for those who are too lazy to search in the syllabus:

Сhapter 1 (Fundamentals of Testing):

  • The section on testing skills expanded and improved

  • The section on the whole team approach (K1) added

  • The section on the independence of testing moved to Chapter 1 from Chapter 5

Chapter 2 (Testing Throughout the SDLCs):

  • Sections 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 rewritten and improved, and the corresponding LOs are modified

  • More focus on practices like: test-first approach (K1), shift-left (K2), retrospectives (K2)

  • New section on testing in the context of DevOps (K2)

  • Integration testing level split into two separate test levels: component integration testing and system integration testing

Сhapter 3 (Static Testing):

  • Section on review techniques, together with the K3 LO (apply a review technique) removed

Сhapter 4 (Test Analysis and Design):

  • Use case testing removed (but still present in the Advanced Test Analyst syllabus)

  • More focus on collaboration-based approach to testing: new K3 LO about using ATDD to derive test cases and two new K2 LOs about user stories and acceptance criteria

  • Decision testing and coverage replaced with branch testing and coverage (first, branch coverage is more commonly used in practice; second, different standards define the decision differently, as opposed to “branch”; third, this solves a subtle, but serious flaw from the old FL2018 which claims that „100% decision coverage implies 100% statement coverage” – this sentence is not true in case of programs with no decisions)

  • Section on the value of white-box testing improved

Сhapter 5 (Managing the Test Activities):

  • Section on test strategies/approaches removed

  • New K3 LO on estimation techniques for estimating the test effort

  • More focus on the well-known Agile-related concepts and tools in test management: iteration and release planning (K1), test pyramid (K1), and testing quadrants (K2)

  • Section on risk management better structured by describing four main activities: risk identification, risk assessment, risk mitigation and risk monitoring

Сhapter 6 (Test Tools):

  • Content on some test automation issues reduced as being too advanced for the foundation level – section on tools selection, performing pilot projects and introducing tools into organization removed

And last but not least...

There are three main official theoretical study materials that you can use when preparing for the ISTQB CTFL exam:

  • Syllabus Both syllabuses v4.0 and v3.1 are freely available, and you can download them for free from the official website. However, we would like to point out the following, in the "Appendix C – Release Notes" of the v4.0 you can find the following phrase: "Size reduction of the overall syllabus. Syllabus is not a textbook, but a document that serves to outline the basic elements of an introductory course on software testing, including what topics should be covered and on what level. Therefore, in particular: In most cases examples are excluded from the text. It is a task of a training provider to provide the examples, as well as the exercises, during the training. The “Syllabus writing checklist” was followed, which suggests the maximum text size for LOs at each K-level (K1 = max. 10 lines, K2 = max. 15 lines, K3 = max. 25 lines)". Long story short, the shortened and trimmed theory of the syllabus in v3.1 was further shortened and trimmed in version v4.0. Because of this, we recommend to read both syllabuses For this reason, we recommend that candidates read both versions of the syllabus. In the new version, you can find something that is not in the old one, and vice versa. As we noted in the paragraph above, 60-70% of the theory has not changed, so it is valid to read both versions of the syllabus.

  • Book At the moment, the only advantage of v3.1 over v4.0 is that, in addition to a short and not completely understandable syllabus, there is a large, complex book with examples explaining the theory: "Foundations of Software Testing ISTQB Certification, 4th edition". The downside of the book is that it is expensive and costs about $50. Again, since 60-70% of the theory in the old and new versions of the exam overlaps, the book is also useful for those who are preparing for ISTQB CTFL v4.0. We hope that a new book, the 5th edition, will be published very soon.

  • Sample exam questions On the official website of ISTQB, you can find Sample exam questions. The 2011 version had 3 sample exam tickets. But on the Internet, you could find hundreds of tests similar to those that were on the real exam. the 2018 v3.1 version also has three sample exam tickets. 40 questions each, 120 in total. The questions in version 2018 v3.1 have become much, much more difficult, and on the Internet it is impossible to find analogs of similar questions that will be on the real exam. And in the new version v4.0, there is only one sample examination ticket with 40 questions and 26 additional questions, 66 questions in total. But as we have mentioned before more than once, 60-70% of the theory has almost not changed, so you can use samples both in v3.1 and v4.0 and therefore will have about 160-180 valid questions for both versions.

The complexity of both ISTQB CTFL v4.0 and ISTQB CTFL v3.1 is the same. Something improved, something worsened, something was added, something was taken away. Some like the new version less, others like it more. As we noted at the beginning of the article, in our opinion, the practical answer to the question "Which version of the ISTQB CTFL exam should I choose, v4.0 or 3.1?" is more important. Therefore, check the Decision table one more time and we hope to see you in the next lecture.



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