Becoming an ITIL Expert

The ITIL® Expert qualification, the penultimate award in the ITIL stack, is not easy, but it is achievable, and if you put in the study time, and pay attention, then it is fairly straightforward.

Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t any nasty trick questions. There are tough questions in the intermediate exams and higher, but tough in a way that gives you an unclear choice between picking the answer that is ‘most ITIL’ or ‘best answers the question/case study’.

Your first choice, after deciding to pursue the Expert qualification (either from start to finish or over a number of years as I did) is which route to take.

Expert Paths


There are 3 main routes to your Expert qualification:

1. Conversion from V2 Manager

As a single course/qualification, this was retired in 2011. However for those who missed the boat and hold the V2 manager’s cert, there is an expedited route to ITIL Expert:

  1. ITIL Foundation / Foundation Bridge, then
  2. ITIL Intermediate Lifecycle : Service Strategy OR Continual Service Improvement, then
  3. ITIL Managing Across Lifecycle (MALC)

2. The direct Lifecycle or Capability paths

This involves taking the following exams:

  1. ITIL Foundation
  2. All ITIL Intermediate Lifecycle or all Capability certificates
  3. Managing Across the Lifecycle

You’ll notice that you get a choice in step 2. The Lifecycle qualifications are aimed more at the consultant or manager, whereas the Capability qualifications are aimed more at the practitioner.

There are other differences as well. If you choose to study for these in the classroom, then the Lifecycle courses are all 3 days each so you’ll spend 15 days out of the office. The Capability courses are 5 days each so you’ll spend 20 days. This can be an added cost for contractors & consultants (on daily rates) or those who have limited training days available.

Cost of the courses is another consideration. A quick check of the list prices for each course on a popular UK training provider’s website shows Lifecycle courses costing £1245 and Capability courses costing £2300. This means that the Lifecycle route will cost you £6225, and Capability £9200. And you still need to pay for the foundation and MALC whichever route you choose. Even if you go down the Lifecycle route, you’re not getting much change from £10k – though this gets a lot cheaper when done via online learning (more on this later).

Note that if you’re paying for this yourself as an individual rather than a company, tell the salesperson when you call for a quote – they usually do discounts of 20 – 30% for individuals, and multi-course discounts are also available. Discounts tend to be greater in Q2 and Q3 of each year when training budgets have been spent (or held on to). Also make sure you ask about free re-sits in case you don’t do well on your first attempt.

3. Indirect path (mixture of Capability, Lifecycle & others)

The final route to Expert is a hybrid approach. You can combine Lifecycle and Capability qualifications as well as some of the shorter specialist courses to get the credits you need – but be careful. Where there is overlap in the various syllabuses, the examiner does discount the point scores for individual certificates as explained in the following links:

The routes to ITIL Expert are summarised in the diagram near the top of this page, and there’s also a very good diagram by Peter Lijnse at ServiceManagementArt available here which also shows how the topics are carved up differently between the 5 Lifecycle and 4 Capability courses.

What about online?

It’s possible to go from novice to Expert via online-only study. But should you? There are major cost benefits (up to 65% off the price of classroom) to studying online and online delivery & examination methods are maturing rapidly, though make sure you stick to reputable and accredited training organisations. Some recommendations are included later.


Studying ITIL Foundation online is both cost & time effective and can be a very viable option for many people. It’s also the easiest of the ITIL qualifications, though what it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in breadth. You’ll cover a lot of concepts in a short space of time, and the main value I found in the classroom was in having the instructor give a joined up overview of the whole end to end lifecycle.

You can order ITIL online training from many providers, or buy single books / complete certification kits from online retailers.

Booking & taking the foundation exam is also pretty straightforward – one of the main popular providers is Prometric/EXIN.

Google will show many online training providers, but if you want a recommendation then check out ITIL Training Zone for Online ITIL Foundation Courses.

Intermediates & MALC

Taking the intermediate exams online is a little bit more involved. Whereas for the foundation you could just read a book and rock up to a test centre, for intermediates you need to have studied via an accredited training provider (ATO) and for a minimum length of time.

There are some ATOs who are accredited to deliver online training however, such as ITIL Training Zone who deliver the full range of online ITIL courses.

Taking exams online from your own home or office is also possible. You can usually sit a webcam-proctored exam, and some exam boards even offer the chance to have an independant third party monitor you whilst you sit an online exam (with dedicated software which locks the mouse/keyboard to the exam app and fails you if you exit the application). It is also possible to go and sit (once you’ve paid) one of the classroom exams run by other training companies as long as you have you attendance certificate from the online ATO (though this policy may vary from company to company – check first).

Having taken Service Operations via the online route, I’d recommend it for anyone who finds self-paced learning preferable, or who doesn’t want to take the time off work, or who already understands the material well and just needs it formalising before taking the exam. It’s also a lot cheaper. Most of the core learning courses are around $500, rising to $800 or so for the full package including exam prep questions and the exam voucher.

Seriously consider getting the exam prep kits. They’ll clue you into the question formats and get you used to thinking the right way. Where the foundation was a fairly easy multiple choice with one right / three wrong answers, the Intermediate exam questions have 4 right answers, but some are more right than others.


10 ITIL Intermediate and MALC exam tips

1. Study. Not just the specific course, but scan back over the foundation material as well.

2. Take practice exams and read the answer rationales. You may not agree with the rationales, I didn’t for half of them, but they give useful guidance on what the examiners are looking for.

3. Ignore Bloom’s Taxonomy easy/medium/hard ratings. The difficulty varies from person to person. It may match your ability perfectly, it might not.

4. Don’t change your answer unless you made a blindingly obvious mistake, but even then be careful. Unless you have a good 10 minutes left on the clock to really get back into a question in detail, leave it.

5. The best answer is usually the one that gets 3 things right: it’s the most ‘ITIL’, it best matches the case study, it best answers the specific question.

6. Because ITIL focuses on value, answers which talk about ‘value’ or ‘business value’ can be words to look out for in correct answers – but don’t rely on this, especially if you can’t make the rest of the answer work.

7. If going down the Lifecycle route, take Service Strategy & CSI last before your MALC. Strategy & CSI have the most overlap with the MALC syllabus and will be fresh in your mind.

8. For Lifecycle exams, avoid the answer which rushes in and starts doing things. The best answer is usually one that takes a step back and considers the whole situation and thinks more strategically (exception if the word ‘tactical is used’).

9. Avoid answers which involve some kind of ‘wacky scheme’ (like starting your own IT Hardware business when the question was asking about problem management).

10. Don’t mistake ITIL world for your world or experiences. Just because you’d do it one way doesn’t mean ITIL will.


Good luck – let me know in the comments how you got on!