Practical Tips to Pass MALC: ITIL Expert Certification

Kimberly Ishoy, one of our customers and periodic blog guests, recently passed her ITIL® Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC) exam, securing her seat amongst elite ITIL Experts. Tips for Passing MALC

We sat down with her for some advice to pass the exam.

Congrats on passing Management Across the Lifecycle ITIL® Exam! How did you prepare?

I participated in the blended learning MALC course.  So there was a self-study section of the course accompanied by virtual classrooms, which were led by an instructor and had other class participants.  Preparation included:

  • Pre-work for the classroom/on-line experience where you work through a case study to make recommendations on how to improve the case study’s ability to meet their business goals/strategies
  • The classroom/distance learning where you expand the case study and make additional recommendations
  • Study time for the exam

How long did it take you to prepare for MALC?

The pre-work for the virtual classroom learning took 16 hours – and our team was really efficient with our time.  There is a lot to understand and a lot to review to make sound business recommendations for the case study. 

I remember thinking, “Why are we spending so much time doing this?  I want to get ready for the exam!”  Please be patient with the pre-work and the distance learning.  You don’t realize it at the time, but it is helping you get ready for the exam. 

During the exam I remember thinking, “This option sounds right from the ITIL language used, but would I have made that recommendation to the classroom/distance learning case study?”  In a couple of instances it helped me eliminate a couple of the bad options on the exam. 

I also remember being frustrated that the case study for the pre-work/classroom was not the same as the case study I needed to know for the exam.  In the end I see the wisdom of the process.  Although I am surrounded by challenges at work that would make great ITIL case studies by themselves, it was valuable to go through two different case studies to apply my learning to see the differences in the way I had to approach the challenges that each faced.  Each case study brought out different ITIL processes that needed to be explored.  I took another 15 hours to prepare for the MALC exam.

What general advice would you give regarding preparation?

You will work case studies with an assigned team from your virtual class.  Have fun with it. Create a fun name for your virtual team of consultants and as you progress through the case study have fun.  We spent some time laughing that we should make our first presentation in the Case Study by recommending a software tool…and then Jeanette (our facilitator) would be forced to spend the class time correcting us which would allow us to learn the “right” answer without having to do the work.  (Okay, it sounded funny at the time.  We must have been exhausted.) 

We had fun thinking through the most outrageous recommendations we could make and how we could go about justifying them.  We also had fun by asking each other, how would your company/division/team traditionally address this issue?  We then would chuckle at pointing out all the mistakes we have made over the years.  As I look back on it, as we were laughing at ourselves we were actually acknowledging how much we had learned, what we would do differently today, etc.  It is easy to look at whatever your current employment situation is and use ITIL to complain that things should be different.  What we were realizing in our laughter was how we can take ITIL and adapt it to our various situations.  ITIL is a star to steer by, not a stick to beat people with.

To prepare for the exam I believe I read the case study at least 10 times:

  1. Read to be familiar with it
  2. Read it together in class, and discussed
  3. Met with members of my team for the class to review the case study and ask each other what we saw
  4. Read through the case study to identify strengths, why are they strengths, what will that strength enable them to do, what benefits will they have as a result of that strength
  5. Read through to identify potential weaknesses, why would that weakness matter, what rationale would we use to “sell” management on strengthening that weakness, what could be the result of doing nothing, etc
  6. Read through to look for other opportunities or potential opportunities, how could that opportunity help the company reach their business goals, what related processes would we need to consider to take advantage of that opportunity, how might the opportunity strengthen different stages in the lifecycle or expose other weaknesses in the lifecycle, etc
  7. Read through to look for threats/risks, what should happen to mitigate that risk or prevent it, where in the lifecycle should have that been discussed
  8. Read through to mind myself of everything found in the other readings and stopped each time to think through – and why is this important?  Why important to ITIL?  Why important to the business?
  9. Went through practice exam #1 and for each question, before reading the options, ask myself, “What is this question asking for?  What stage in the lifecycle?  Where in the case study would I find information that would be helpful in answering this question?”  Then I went back to the case study to point out (and read) the sections of the case study that would relate to the question and then proceed to read the options and make my selection.  I went through practice exam #2 and did the same thing – what is the question asking?  What stage in the lifecycle does this relate to?  Where will I find this info in the case study?

10. Read the case study once more just before taking the test

While going through the practice exams I would read the question and the options, then identify which option was a distractor.  I then tried to identify the other option that had only one or two things in it that were correct.  That left me with the best answer and the second-best answer.   I knew that if I was able to get those two options, I could perform well on the exam.

I did not read through all the information provided.  I knew that the exam was not a knowledge exam, but rather an exam that would require discernment, evaluation, application, and justification.  You can’t get that from reading reference material only.  I leveraged all the material by reading the sections that aligned to questions on the sample exams – especially those that I didn’t get the best answer on.  I wanted to understand why I missed it and recognize how to apply it in other questions. 

When answer multiple-choice questions, remember:

  • the best answer normally relates to business strategy rather than IT alone,
  • the desired answer often requires talking and interacting with others,
  • beware of absolutes such as “All” or “None,”
  • make sure the right answer relates back to the right stage in the lifecycle to which the question refers.

I also read through all of the rationale in the answer section of the two sample exams.  I wanted to make sure I understood why an answer was correct and why others were incorrect.  Several times I tried to identify (before looking up the answers) which options would be worth 5 points, 3 points, 1 point, 0 points in the correct order, and to make sure I could understand why.

After going through the exams I still wanted to study, but didn’t want to read all the manuals. So I did a search on-line to better learn what was different between the ITIL 2007 books and the ITIL 2011 books.  I figured that if there was enough difference to warrant printing new books, then the MALC exam may focus questions on the differences.  It was a calculated risk to spend my time mainly here, but it paid off.  I read the following sections of the manuals that highlighted most of the differences between the ITIL versions:

  • Strategy management
  • Business Relationship Management
  • Service Portfolio
  • Demand Management & Patterns of Business Activity
  • Financial Management & pre-program ROI
  • Design Coordination
  • Change Evaluation
  • Release Management, change management, minor change
  • Request fulfillment
  • Access management & revoking rights
  • CSI Register
  • CSI interfaces with other lifecycle stages

What was the biggest surprise about the exam?

The biggest surprise about the exam was 2 things:

  • The complexity of the questions
  • The case study format – The formatting was different than the case study I studied.  The words are the same but the formatting is a bit different, which can be off-setting at first.  Luckily I had read the case study enough times that I didn’t need to refer to it much. 

At the end of the exam I was surprised by the questions they didn’t ask.  I had found some subtleties in the case study that I thought the exam might try to trick me with.  Maybe that is a sign of over-preparing. 

Any recommendations for what "mindset" to approach the exam?

My advice to approaching the exam is to recognize how much you know, regardless of what the final score is.  After completing all the intermediate courses and exams, the number of times you have applied the learning in your work environment, and the two case studies, you know this material.  You recognize the best practices.  As you read each question, read through once to be familiar with the options.  Don’t try to evaluate the options too soon or you might twist yourself up.  It happened to me a couple of times. 

Read first to understand the options, then find the distractors, try to get to the best two options. You can find the distractors by identifying which options are out of sync with the info you have from the case study and/or out of sync with the lifecycle stage the question is asking for.   Remind yourself to ask what the question is asking for, and what lifecycle stage relates. 

Remember to have fun with this.  Ultimately, although the initial goal is to pass MALC, your best contribution is in applying all that you have learned and adapt according to the situation and business strategies of those companies and employers that would not be as successful without your insight and help.

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Photo:  Solja via Creative Commons

Topics: Training: IT Best Practices