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Online versus Paper Exams: What’s the Difference and Which is Right for You?


A fundamental part of getting ASEP (Associate Systems Engineering Professional) or Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) certified is writing and passing the INCOSE Knowledge Exam. A common question CTI facilitators receive is what is the difference between the paper or computer-based exams? Let’s demystify the topic now.

The major difference between the two exams is the convenience and accessibility of each type of exam. Paper exams are preferred by some but they require a few more elements to be in place to be conducted logistically (i.e. an ESEP needs to be available to conduct the paper exam) thus usually paper exams happen far less frequently varying from region to region. There are many similarities between the two types of exams. Both the paper exams and computer-based exams are based entirely on the content of the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook 4.0. Both the paper and computer-based exams have the same format: multiple-choice questions where 1 mark is awarded for a correct answer and 0 is attributed to a partially correct or fully incorrect answer (i.e. all multiple-choice questions requiring multiple answers must be answered with all the correct answers given – and only the correct answers given – in order to receive the mark for the question). Two significant differences between the two types of exams are: the cost of the exam and the number of questions to be answered. Paper exams are usually in the region of about 30USD per person whereas computer exams can be up to 160USD per person. Paper exams present 100 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 100 minutes contrasted with the computer-based exams that present 120 questions to be answered in 120 minutes. A sample of the answer sheet for the paper exam may be viewed here.

Computer-based exams are offered by Prometrics (the computer testing providers) and there are facilities worldwide where people may participate – find a facility near you here

INCOSE paper exams are hosted by Expert Systems Engineering Professionals (ESEPs). Paper exams may be cancelled when minimum registration limits are not met, sometimes for unforeseen reasons. In this case INCOSE Endeavor’s to arrange another paper exam in the same location within two months of the cancellation although this cannot be guaranteed. Fulfilment of the commitment to a Prometric exam runs less risk of cancellation for this reason.

For candidates who are not native English Speakers

For candidates whose first language is not English, INCOSE permits an additional 30 minutes to be added to the time allowed to complete the examination. Candidates may also bring a translation dictionary to the exam. The dictionary may not have any notes or modifications as interpreted by the exam officials. Both paper and computer-based exam takers may enjoy these benefits but computer-based exam takers must submit  a Special Accommodation Request Form to the INCOSE Certification Program office prior to scheduling the exam whereas or paper-based exams, individuals must request Special Accommodation prior to the start of the exam. To view the list of paper-based exams scheduled to take place, visit the following link.

Please note: individuals are limited to taking 3 exams in a 12-month period (this applies for both paper and computer exams).


Published By

MScEng, Course Facilitator and Managing Director
Published 5 years ago





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