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  • How much time does it take to get certified?

    by Courtney Wright | Mar 19, 2021

    It varies. 

    Whew! Shortest blog post ever. Not the most helpful blog post ever, though. 

    Let’s break them up into “you” time and “us” time. 

    You’re the applicant, and it’s going to take you time to prepare your materials for submission, gather your references (if you’re applying for CSEP or ESEP), and study for the exam (if you’re applying for ASEP or CSEP). This time really varies. 

    Applications – An ASEP application takes less than an hour. CSEP typically takes 10 to 30 hours, depending on how many years of experience you’re documenting, whether you have updated contact info for your references, whether you have your experience described in a way similar to what we ask (not like your resume or CV), and whether you have a good understanding of the instructions. ESEP will likely take 20 to 40 hours. An example application or knowledgeable friend willing to review your application are of great help in cutting down the time you spend figuring out the requirements. 

    References – You are not writing the references. Let me repeat that to be clear: Do not write your own references. They should be in the reference-providers’ own words. Consider, though, that your reference-providers may not put this task at the top of their priority list. They may forget. You may have to remind them what work you did with them several years ago. (Providing them with a copy of your application is a good thing, but remind them to add some words of their own.) Allow some time for you to remind your references. 

    Transcripts / Diplomas – We require a proof of your degree (aka diploma or qualification) to determine how much experience you need to document. If you don't now if we'll agree your degree qualifies for reduced experience, you should submit a transcript showing the math and science courses you took. None of this needs to be official copies. You’re welcome to snap a photo with your phone and email it in for proof of degree. 

    Exam Prep – ASEP and CSEP candidates will spend many hours reviewing the INCOSE SE Handbook in preparation for the knowledge exam. Some people pass the exam without studying, but most folks spend more than 40 hours preparing for the exam. Some spend more than 80 hours. The factors in this study time include how much SE you know already, how similar what you know already is to the INCOSE definitions, how efficient you are at studying, and what your target knowledge level is. 

    End-to-end, it typically takes an applicant (you) a month or two to gather information and prepare for the exam. Many do it slower; fewer do it faster.

    Now comes “our” part. For ASEPs, it’s easy. You send us an application and payment; we send you an exam code (allow a few weeks); you schedule, take, and pass the exam; we notify you you’re certified (allow a few weeks). 

    For CSEPs, that process above runs in parallel to our assessment of your application package. The Certification Program Office’s biggest hold-up is waiting for your references to come in. Once we get them all, we send your files to a review team. They are volunteers, CSEPs or ESEPs, most of whom hold full-time jobs just like you. We allow them 30 days to work as a team to assess whether your application package demonstrates your satisfaction of the SEP requirements. It takes us a week or two on either side of that to handle paperwork. We aim to get certification responses out within two months of receiving your complete set of materials. 

    Back to the main question, it is possible to get certified within 3 months. It’s hard but do-able. It is more likely to take 4 to 7 months. We allow 12 months to complete the process, but we advise against waiting until the end. You’ll lose momentum you’d have if you pushed through early on, and there’s too much opportunity for something to get in your way and push you past the deadline. 

  • What if I fail the exam?

    by Courtney Wright | Mar 12, 2021

    Each candidate is allowed to take the exam three times every 12 months. If you have attempts remaining, you may schedule to take the exam again. We sometimes have a waiting period before you can take the exam again. This occurs only while we are waiting to process information, like scoring a paper exam.  

    We recommend you read the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook several times before attempting the knowledge exam. This is more important than being a skilled test-taker, as we have written our questions to require knowledge from the handbook. 

    Certification application fees do not including testing fees. Most exams cost either 30 USD for paper exams or 80 USD for computer exams. 

    There are two ways to get certified without taking the knowledge exam. For ASEP and CSEP, you may bypass the exam through an academic equivalency. ESEP candidates do not have to take a knowledge exam at all.

  • Is the exam offered only in English?

    by Courtney Wright | Mar 08, 2021

    INCOSE’s activities are generally handled in English, and that is the standard language of all aspects of INCOSE’s Certification Program. The SE Handbook, application materials, knowledge exam, and interviews are all published or performed in English. We are aware that candidates for whom English is not their first language – or perhaps not a language they speak at all – this is a significant hurdle. We are working to identify, evaluate, and implement alternate paths to certification that will recognize knowledgeable SEPs without penalty for their English skills. 

    Testing Accommodations – Applicants for whom English is not their first language may request additional time (30 minutes, added to the standard 120 minutes) for the knowledge exam. These candidates may also bring in a paper translation dictionary to use during the exam. The special accommodation request is found on the Forms page

    Academic Equivalency - INCOSE's Academic Equivalencies are a recognition of university coursework (taught in any language) as an alternate path to meeting the knowledge requirement for ASEP or CSEP certification. A student who does well in an academic equivalency course or courses may be able to skip the knowledge exam when applying for ASEP or CSEP.

  • What’s the passing score?

    by Courtney Wright | Feb 17, 2021

    We work with professional psychometricians to develop our test formats, content, and scoring methods. At their advice, we don’t do the following: 

    • Publish the passing score.
    • Publish the average score. 
    • Tell individuals what their score was. 

    I’ll delve a little more into each of these numbers. 

    Passing Score – It’s less than 100%. We don’t require perfect knowledge (or test-taking performance). It’s comparable to the score required for other professional exams or university-level engineering courses. 

    Average Score – Average for whom? All test-takers, even those who are taking it for practice without having started studying? Only those who speak a particular language? (The exam is offered only in English but is taken by native speakers of many other languages.) What about those with military experience? Or those with graduate-level technical degrees? The average score is not useful for an individual to predict his or her own performance. 

    Individual Score – You’ll be told if you passed or failed.

    I know it’s dissatisfying for an engineer not to have numbers. I apologize. We have given this substantial consideration and have no plans to share these numbers. If you can present a compelling reason (e.g., legal requirement, betterment of society’s SE knowledge), please do so via an email to

  • May I take the exam before submitting the application?

    by Courtney Wright | Feb 17, 2021

    Yes. Starting in 2014, in preparation for the release of the Fourth Edition of the INCOSE Handbook, the Certification Program began offering the knowledge exam at conferences and in classrooms for the purpose of testing new exam questions. This marked the beginning of a test-first approach, although it was initially limited to these paper-based, classroom exams. 

    In 2021, INCOSE is offering internet-based testing. Candidates will still need to register with INCOSE before taking the exam. They will then be able to schedule the knowledge exam online.  They will be limited to three (3) attempts per 12 month period.  

  • Blog Introduction

    by Courtney Wright | Feb 17, 2021

    This blog is maintained by the INCOSE Certification Program Office and provides information to augment the main INCOSE website. This will provide more details about the certification process, insight into the reasoning behind certification policies, and an early look at planned changes. The blog will capture the sort of information the Certification Program Manager typically shares at conferences and face-to-face meetings, which tends to be more casual and detailed than the official materials. 


    If you have a topic you’d like to have addressed in the blog, email and they’ll forward it to the Program Manager. You can also get more information from the official website of the Certification Program:

  • Does it matter if my job title isn’t “Systems Engineer”?

    by Courtney Wright | Jan 26, 2021

    Have you ever done a job search for “systems engineer” and gotten a list of jobs that were completely unlike how you (and INCOSE) define systems engineering? 

    We don’t make certification decisions based on job title. We look at the work you did, not that your title was “Consultant” or “Supreme Chief Engineer.” Much systems engineering work is done without the job title of “systems engineer.” As you look at the instructions for filling out the CSEP application (found here: SEP forms page), Attachment A of Form 2 gives details about the type of work that qualifies as systems engineering. There are no restrictions on the domain/department (e.g., IT, human resources) or job title; our focus is on the work you did.