FAQs on the CSEP course

We are used to running classes at a range of sizes. A normal expectation might be somewhere in the range of 6 – 20.

In CTI’s experience, every single hour of the 5 days is utilized, with occasionally finishing up a very short time before the stipulated conclusion time on the last day of the course. There is extensive material coverage, and we frequently spend time reinforcing the learning with questions and interactive activities.

We typically get very positive feedback, from which indicates that the 5 days were well spent. In fact, it is not uncommon to receive feedback saying that the course should last two weeks!

No. We change the style of the course quite frequently, based on adult learning principles. People learn in different ways, and we often receive feedback from delegates saying that they enjoyed the variety of approaches used. There are times when we present the principles, but where possible we prefer a more interactive approach.

We ask delegates to suggest examples relevant to their work in order to make the theory more relevant.

It would be advantageous to skim-read the handbook prior to attending the course. A broad familiarity with the handbook beforehand will help with the learning curve.

The electronic version of the handbook is available for free from INCOSE when you become an INCOSE member.

By default, a hard copy of the handbook is given to each delegate on the first day of the course. Arrangements can be made to deliver it in advance if required.

No, unless you have been provided with the textbook in advance! If you can think of some examples of where systems engineering was done well, and where it was done less well, that will help with some of the dialog.

This is unlikely; in our experience, most people put in some revision time before taking the exam. It is difficult to say how much, but 30 hours may be a fair guide. However, one particular delegate passed the exam on the Tuesday following the course. A gap of 3 months might be typical. We would urge you to think about sitting the exam within a few weeks of the course completion.

Yes; we are available to assist with any queries as you prepare for the exam.

Yes, particularly if an on-site course was conducted for your organization. We encourage people to keep a living list of improvement ideas as we progress through the course. This means that you can have a mini-improvements plan to take away at the end.

At the same time, the presenters have to be careful not to let discussions dwell on in-house issues, because there is a lot of core course material to get through.

Not extensively. There are some methods mentioned in the handbook referring to supporting tools. There is also material in Chapter 9 on cross-cutting methods (which includes MBSE), but the coverage of each method is at quite a high level.

The majority of the time is spent on the principles and processes of systems engineering.

This includes:

  • About INCOSE;
  • How to revise for the exam;
  • How to take and pass the exam;
  • How to submit the experience element of a CSEP application;
  • How to engage in Continuing Professional Development, and the expectations for that;
  • Additional elaborations on selected topics that our presenters can provide as time permits.

This includes:

  • The course manual;
  • The handbook;
  • Workshop worksheets;
  • A set of handouts;
  • A set of flash cards for memorizing terms and abbreviations;
  • A minimum of 3 sets of practice questions;
  • A mini-improvements plan if you were able to develop it during the course.

The standard time is 2 hours, but if English is not your first language, or you have special needs, you may ask INCOSE for an additional 30 minutes. You would need to complete the INCOSE certification Special Accommodations form. The “Special Accommodations Form” can be found here.

The majority of exams are computer-based. These take place at “Prometric” facilities, which are quite well distributed around the world. Sometimes, INCOSE organizes sessions where people from a local geography can take a written exam.

No, you will have to leave all personal possessions in a locker before entering the exam room. You will, however, be given a sheet of paper and pencil(s), should you wish to do a “brain dump” during the familiarization time that is allowed before starting the test.

No. There are helpful navigation tools that allow you to choose your own path. However, it may be helpful on the first pass to go through the questions in sequence.

You can mark it for later review, move on to other questions, and re-visit it later if you have time.

At any time during the exam you can re-visit questions and change your answer. Your selections are not finalized until you press “Submit” at the end of the test.

You may leave the room at any time, and return later, but the countdown timer will still be running.

The answer to this is intangible, and it depends on understanding INCOSE’s process of creating questions. The questions are carefully designed to discriminate between those who can demonstrate the knowledge, and those who can’t. The questions are methodically reviewed by an experienced panel. There are no trick questions!

No. In fact, INCOSE’s stated intent is that experienced systems engineers should be able to pass, even if they haven’t seen the handbook. Nevertheless, the questions are all written around the language of the book, and with reference to the process diagrams in the book. So being familiar with the book will help you to answer questions quickly and with confidence. Most questions include an element of understanding of the principles, in which case memorization only will not be enough.

Practical experience will be especially helpful when the question hinges on the understanding of first principles, and where you are indecisive choosing between two very similar answers.

During your revision period, your practical experience will help you because linking theory to practice is an important aspect of adult learning.

  1. “Suspend your disbelief” – all correct answers trace to text in the handbook.
  2. Use Appendix G of the handbook to submit feedback to the authors; the handbook evolves and depends on feedback for its continual improvement.

CTI’s suggested shortlist:

  • The overall structure of the process set;
  • The name and purpose statement for each process;
  • The activities for each process;
  • The most significant inputs and outputs for each process;
  • The predominant connections between processes via inputs and outputs;
  • Bullet points and lists within the text of each process description.

You are allowed up to three attempts through Prometric for a period of 12 months starting from date of payment for your SEP application. Each attempt will require you to pay another fee to Prometric.

If you take the computer-based test, and are not successful, you will get a fairly high-level summary of which sections of the book need more attention on a future attempt. CTI understands that this is not the case for a written exam.

No. So if you have some tricky questions left over at the end, put down your “best guess”.

No. Anything less than the required number of correct answers scores zero.

The certification examination questions are currently multiple-choice questions. All correct answers must be selected from the possible answers given to receive credit for answering a question. A typical question may have five possible answers listed of which three are correct. Partial credit is not given for a question.

Yes. The question structure enforces a standard way of making this clear. If there are multiple answers it will say (choose x). Part of the review process should be used to ensure this has been achieved.

No. Those taking the exam are required to sign a form that commits them never to disclose details of the questions presented.

INCOSE deliberately does not comment on the pass mark.

CTI understands that, apart from Germany, which has special agreements with INCOSE, all exams are at present given in English. If English is not your first language, you may request an additional 30 minutes of test time. (see question 1.)

It is safe to say that the majority of questions will concern Chapters 4 to 7, but you should also expect some questions around the outer chapters.

FAQs on the CSEP Application Form

Guidance can be found on the INCOSE Website. If that doesn’t give you a clear answer, you could email INCOSE directly.

There isn’t a correct answer, but you should find that there is a natural way of defining breakpoints that makes it easiest to tell your story (history). Perhaps you moved companies, changed departments, started on a new project, got a promotion, changed roles, or took a career break.

You must have at least three references, and each career period claimed must have at least one reference. It is quite common to have overlaps between references, and references that cover more than one period. Each reference must meet the criteria listed in Section 6 of the application form.

Not necessarily, and they do not need to call themselves systems engineers or be INCOSE members. Nevertheless, they need to convince the review panel that they appreciate the concepts of systems engineering, and have been involved in work that can be described in systems engineering terms.

The guidance on the application form is to “include the depth of full detail typically provided on a job resume about SE tasks/functions you performed and the products produced”. Be specific about your own contribution to the value generated. It is not helpful to say that you “worked on the system architecture”, or that you “were part of a system architecture team”. If you are specific about the projects you worked on, the tasks you performed, and the work products you generated (without divulging sensitive information), this will help to convince the review panel.

There is no limit as to how much you may write but structure your writing well and be succinct, so that the review panel can quickly understand the evidence presented.

It is fully accepted that people work on several “SE Functional Areas” in parallel, and that is highly unlikely that people have booked their time against this breakdown. You need to use your own judgement as to how you apportion your time against the functional areas. You need to be comfortable in your own mind that this is a fair representation of how you focused your effort during that career period. This split also needs to be largely supported by statements from your references. There is a guide containing instructional information for completing the application. This can be found here.

You must apportion the time as you feel is justified; you cannot double account for the time. The total number of months claimed for a given period must not exceed the elapsed calendar months for that period. It is not uncommon for people to claim less, for various reasons.

Yes: if the number of months in the bottom right side of the experience table is exactly 60, this is considered sufficient. Most applications exceed 60, which is helpful should some of the evidence presented be discounted or questionable.

CTI suggests that you spend some time talking to your references about what is expected. They should corroborate your submission with specific reference to your contribution in terms of activities and work products. They should also confirm the number of months spent on Work Areas, at least for the three primary areas. They are not restricted with how much they may write, but ask them to structure it well and be succinct, so that the review panel can quickly understand the evidence presented. Please refer to forms 4A and 4B here.

You will get feedback from the review panel, indicating where there is a shortfall in the evidence provided, which could be in your submission or in the information provided by your references. You may be invited to address these areas and resubmit within a given timescale.

FAQs on the handbook

The 4th edition of the handbook is deliberately aligned to the structure of the ISO/IEC/IEEE 15288:2015 standard. The process names and process purpose statements are directly copied from the standard. INCOSE provided a model for implementing the principles of the standard, supplemented by chapters on subjects such as life cycle stages, tailoring, cross-cutting methods, and specialty engineering.

The parent ISO standard includes “Systems and software engineering” in its title, whereas the handbook only mentions systems in its own title.

CTI considers that all of the principles of systems engineering can be applied to a project that happens to involve software in its solution, and equally to a project that only involves software.

Not in detail. It treats element design as a black-box process. Each technology (or capability, more broadly speaking) has evolved its own body of knowledge (e.g. for electronics or hydraulics). The handbook does not need to reproduce this; it provides the glue that enables systems to be created from a range of element types.

No. Other organizations have produced systems engineering guidance material (for example NASA and ESA, or, in a web-based implementation, SEBoK). Each authoring team may have chosen different vocabulary and different process boundaries, but they all have broadly the same objective.

One of INCOSE’s aims is to create a global community of systems engineers. Agreeing on process boundaries and vocabulary would help in achieving that, but it will undoubtedly be a slow journey.

The handbook accepts that there are different ways of understanding the term “systems engineering”. It delineates three main ways: perspective, process, and profession.

In terms of process, it covers much more than “just doing” the engineering. CTI suggests that the headings for Chapters 4 to 7 allow us to infer a much broader scope:

  • Defining and solving the problem (“doing the work”);
  • Managing the work;
  • Managing acquisition and supply relationships;
  • Achieving systematic improvement at organizational level.

There is no single “best order”. It is very common for processes to be invoked in parallel. It is important to define an execution path that is optimal for your particular project, which will be a trade-off between various success factors.

The book has to be printed in chapter order, but that does not mean the processes have to be executed in chapter order.

The chapter order may be helpful in terms of understanding the logical relationships between processes.

CTI has found that, overall, the links between process areas make sense, with perhaps a few anomalies.

In general, the inputs and outputs are represented without any particular state. (System architecture description, for example, could be up-issued a number of times on a project, but this is not explicitly represented in the IPO model).

A small number of inputs and outputs have explicit states defined, for example Final RVTM, Initial RVTM, and Updated RVTM. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but it is worth appreciating this when revising for the exam. This could perhaps be addressed on the next update of the handbook.

Almost certainly. Version 3.2.2 was released in 2011, and Version 4 in 2015. Appendix G in the 4th Edition can be used to submit comments to the authors. Estimated publishing of the handbook will be 3-5 years (2021-2023). The primary driver is alignment with ISO15288:202x, which will not be initiated for 2-3 years (estimated). Also to date there have not been major comments thus far to move to an earlier release.