The New ISTQB Advanced Syllabus: what does it deliver?

What does “Advanced” mean? And what does the new ISTQB Advanced Syllabus say about students who are successful?

In previous versions of the syllabus, and indeed in many certification syllabi, you will find a long list of detailed “technical” Learning Objectives. But these do not always provide statements of what the successful candidates are capable of doing in the workplace.

“Advanced” can mean different things to different people, and I have been involved in many discussions with ISTQB stakeholders in trying to define what is meant by this level in the scheme. So when we went about creating the 2012 version of the ISTQB Advanced Level syllabus, I thought it was important to start with some statements about what we were trying to say about a candidate who had reached this level.

In fact, this can be thought of as defining high level requirements for the syllabus and building top down rather “bottom up”, based around the existing Learning Objectives.

Business Outcomes

We called these requirements “Business Outcomes” i.e. What does this say about the person and their likely capability to contribute to the business in terms of the knowledge and skills that are being certified.

This was a major step forward in the production of the syllabus since it gave us the ability to focus on the scope of the syllabus from an outcome-based perspective. If we wanted to express something in terms of a Business Outcome, we had to be sure that we had enough coverage and at the right level in terms of what was being assessed in the syllabus. This had a big impact on the scope of the syllabus. Some people’s views about what “Advanced” meant to them could not be accommodated, simply because there was not enough scope to include everything that would be needed to justify a particular Business Outcome.

Justifiable and Verifiable Statements

This approach enabled us to build a strong, verifiable product. Each Business Outcome is traceable to a number of Learning Objectives that support the Outcome statement. The Syllabus contains supporting information for the Learning Objectives, which themselves are the measurable statements assessed by the exam.

Clearer Scoping

Another key feature of the use of Business Outcomes is to allow clearer scoping between the different levels in the ISTQB scheme. Viewed in this way, “Advanced” fits neatly between Foundation and Expert, avoiding duplication and providing clear outcome-based statements about those achieving each specific certificate. So, with the 2012 ISTQB Advanced Level Syllabus, when someone passes the exam we can confidently say that they meet the Business Outcomes listed for the certificate – or to coin a product marketing phrase, they can do “exactly what it says on the tin”!

You can see all the Business Outcomes for the three new Advanced Certificates in this downloadable ISTQB Advanced Level Overview. This document also provides a good outline of the new syllabus and its structure.


The writer, Mike Smith, is Chairman of LearnTesting as well as Chairman of ALWG at ISTQB.