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  • What credit do I get for my advanced degree?

    by Courtney Wright | Apr 09, 2021

    A graduate degree is a great way to expand your knowledge, and we appreciate that it’s an important part of professional development for systems engineers. Advanced degrees apply to the levels of INCOSE certification as follows: 

    ASEP – with neither experience nor a degree required for ASEP, advanced degrees do not give you a leg up except if they have helped increase your knowledge of systems engineering. There is no formal recognition or “credit” for advanced degrees when seeking ASEP, but taking graduate classes after earning ASEP can gain you Professional Development Units (PDUs) that help with your renewal. 

    CSEP – a qualifying degree impacts the work experience requirement for CSEP. The qualifying degree can be either an undergraduate or graduate degree. We require work experience for CSEP, but none of that work may be something for which you earned academic credit. Work experience need not be paid (e.g., it could include being a volunteer project lead for Engineers Without Borders), but your thesis or capstone project does not qualify. Work as a research assistant or teaching assistant typically do not qualify because of the duties assigned in those roles. Like ASEP, you can earn PDUs for graduate classes taken after you earn your certification. 

    ESEP – as for CSEP, a technical graduate degree can meet the “qualifying degree” requirement if your undergraduate degree does not. ESEP also requires leadership of technical projects and ongoing professional development, and in these categories we give explicit credit for graduate degrees. Details are on the individual application and instructions form. Graduate degrees alone are not enough to meet the leadership requirement but can be a piece of it. 

  • When and where can I take the exam?

    by Courtney Wright | Apr 02, 2021
    Anytime, anywhere.

    The INCOSE knowledge exam is now offered online. Candidates may take the exam from their homes using their personal computers, with remote, video proctors. INCOSE will also continue to offer paper exams in classrooms or meeting rooms, proctored by a local CSEP or ESEP. Exams at Prometric computer testing facilities are no longer offered.

    More information about internet-based testing can be found here: Computer Exams (
  • Am I qualified?

    by Courtney Wright | Mar 26, 2021

    The Program Office occasionally hears from candidates who want to know if they are qualified for certification. It’s a smart question to ask before you submit your application fee. The reason you submit a fee, however, is that it takes us work to determine for sure that you’re qualified. And you’d be justifiably upset if we said, “Looks good” initially, then rejected you after you paid the application fee and we did a full review of your application. Thus, we do not answer the question of “Am I qualified?” until you submit your fee, application, and other required materials. 

    How should you figure out if you’re qualified? First, review the requirements for each certification level. Do you have the necessary years of experience based on your degree?  Do you have the required depth and breadth of experience? And do your references cover all those requirements? Does your application make it clear that you meet these requirements? If you’ve worked on a proposal for business, you may have been involved with checking for compliance with the RFP terms. Think of this the same way and make it easy for our reviewers to confirm your qualifications. The more you try to help us, the more you will catch your own mistakes and help yourself. 

    It’s sometimes hard to edit your own work, so consider asking a friend to review your application. A current SEP or peer who is going through the process would be a great person to ask. If you don’t know anyone, ask your local chapter if there are any SEPs who can help. If you still come up dry, you can call the Program Office and we’ll try to find you someone. That “someone” won’t be an official representative but will be a SEP who has volunteered to help. We can’t make guarantees on their advice but can tell you that the best application packages are those that were reviewed by multiple other SEPs on their way to our office. 

  • 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.

  • 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.