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Certification Blog

  • Will INCOSE accommodate my medical needs?

    by Courtney Wright | Jul 30, 2021
    Yes. Please tell us what you need (certification@incose.org), and we will help. 

    For the application paperwork, let us know if you use a screen reader and need help viewing the forms.

    For the exam, we can add give you extra time or breaks, and allow medical equipment, if you ask us in advance. 

    During the ESEP interview, it may be helpful to have extra time or to have the questions communicated visually as well as verbally.

    To request these or any other accommodations, use the Special Accommodations Form posted at the Certification Forms page: https://www.incose.org/systems-engineering-certification/certification-forms  and submit to certification@incose.org before you apply or at the same time you submit your certification application.
  • May I claim PDUs for participating in the INCOSE International Symposium?

    by Courtney Wright | Jul 23, 2021
    Yes! You may claim PDUs for time you spend watching presentations (live or recorded) or participating in cafés. Learn more about renewal here: https://www.incose.org/systems-engineering-certification/the-certification-process/how-do-i-renew 
  • How many years of references do I need for ESEP?

    by Courtney Wright | Jul 14, 2021
    All ESEP candidates, regardless of their education or years of experience, are required to have references verify at least ten years of systems engineering experience. They do not have to verify all 20 or more years of required SE experience. This is different from CSEP applicants. There is no requirement that the references be from the most recent ten years of experience.

    Another requirement for references that differs between CSEPs and ESEPs is that ESEP references do not have to confirm a particular depth and breadth of experience. 

    Zero, one or two of the ESEP references may be interviewed over the phone as part of the ESEP assessment process. It is useful but not required to have at least two references who can speak to recent systems engineering leadership.
  • How do I know which exam I'm taking?

    by Courtney Wright | Jul 09, 2021
    Candidates for ASEP and CSEP certification take the same exam. You do not need to declare which certification you plan to get when you take the exam. It's the same questions and the same passing score required no matter which certification level you will pursue.

    Candidates testing online or on paper take the same exam ... sort of. All candidates take at least 100 exam questions, and only those 100 questions are scored. Some candidates also take another 20 or 50 questions that are not scored. Those are beta questions that INCOSE is testing on the candidate, to decide if we should use them in the future. They do not affect your score. If you take any beta questions, you may also be asked demographic questions, like how many years of experience you have. These also do not affect your score or the required passing score.
  • Who reviews my certification application?

    by Courtney Wright | Jul 02, 2021
    The volunteers who review CSEP and ESEP application packages are Certification Application Reviewers (CARs). They are CSEPs and ESEPs who have completed training about the certification application requirements. This and other volunteer roles for SEPs are listed here: https://www.incose.org/systems-engineering-certification/i-am-a-sep You can express your interest in one of our more formal roles, like CAR, through the INCOSE Volunteer Opportunity Board: https://www.incose.org/about-incose/volunteer-opportunities/vo-request
  • How can my university get an Academic Equivalency?

    by Courtney Wright | Jun 25, 2021
    The INCOSE Certification Program recognizes multiple verification methods for an applicant's knowledge of the Systems Engineering Handbook. One method is the knowledge exam. Another method is to recognize assessments done as part of a university program. Academic Equivalencies (AcEqs) are this second path.

    A university considering having its students' schoolwork credited toward the INCOSE knowledge exam should first review the information INCOSE has posted online. There are both administrative and technical requirements that can be met in parallel.

    Administratively, a university must be a member of the INCOSE Academic Council or international equivalent. They must also sign an agreement with INCOSE about the execution of the AcEq. 

    The technical requirements for AcEq approval are captured as a compliance checklist. INCOSE provides a template listing learning objectives (LOs) and asks a university to complete the list by describing which courses and which assessment methods are used against each LO. The most challenging part of this task for most universities is that they are used to describing what they teach, not what they assess. It is acceptable to INCOSE that a university assesses against topics they do not teach, but it is not acceptable to lecture on a required topic but to leave that topic unassessed. 

    Several other requirements and details are listed at this page
  • Where are the SEPs?

    by Courtney Wright | Jun 12, 2021
    As of the second quarter of 2021, the INCOSE Certification Program has over 3800 SEPs, with approximately 2/3 from North America, primarily the United States. Outside the US, the leading countries with SEPs are the UK, Germany, Australia, Turkey, France, Italy, and Sweden. All of these countries have 100 or more SEPs. 

    Employers with the most SEPs are Northrop Grumman Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, SAIC, Airbus, and Thales. They are followed by other large defense and aerospace companies.

    The Certification Program posts a presentation of SEP statistics on the INCOSE website, here: https://www.incose.org/systems-engineering-certification/SEP-Learn-and-share 
  • Who can proctor an INCOSE exam?

    by Courtney Wright | Jun 11, 2021
    The INCOSE Certification Program requires verification of SE knowledge as part of the ASEP and CSEP certification levels. This verification is typically performed by passing the knowledge exam. Knowledge may also be verified through Academic Equivalency

    The most popular way to take the knowledge exam before the pandemic was in a classroom. As the pandemic risks reduce, INCOSE is opening back up to this format. INCOSE chapters may request to host an in-person exam. They need to provide a facility and a proctor. Proctors must be CSEPs or ESEPs who are endorsed by their Chapter President, or members of the international Board of Directors. They must have no conflicts of interest with having access to the exam content. The Certification Program Manager approves all proctors.

    Individuals around the world may take the INCOSE knowledge exam online, using their personal computers and web cameras. 
  • Online Exam

    by Courtney Wright | May 21, 2021

    INCOSE is now offering the knowledge exam online, using your personal computer and a remote proctor. Our intern has created a video explaining what it’s like to take the exam online. Watch that here: https://youtu.be/ASif6xH7UxA

    The online testing follows the same rules as in-person testing, explained here: Computer Exams (incose.org) One new feature we’re rolling out with online testing is that you can now take the exam before you apply for certification. Once you indicate your interest in the exam, we’ll send you a registration link to choose a time and pay for the exam.

    In all exam offerings, you may get special accommodations if English is not your native language or if you have a learning or medical reason to need extra time. It is important that you tell us if you qualify for special accommodations when you first sign up for the exam.

    Special Accommodations (incose.org)

  • What documentation do I need to renew my certification?

    by Courtney Wright | May 14, 2021
    INCOSE's Certification Program requires that ASEPs and CSEPs continue their professional development after their certification. They list their professional development activities in their renewal paperwork. Proof of these activities should not be submitted to INCOSE unless requested for an audit. 

    If you are requested to submit verification materials, you may send a copy of registration information, certificates, or a letter from another participant confirming your attendance. 

    For INCOSE webinars, we will have a record of your attendance if you participated live. If you watched a recording, we will not have proof of that. If you watch a recording on YouTube while you are logged into a user account, you can confirm that through your Watch List. 

    Documentation and Audits (incose.org)
  • What happens if I'm denied certification?

    by Courtney Wright | May 07, 2021
    The primary reason for being denied INCOSE Certification is that a review team has been unable to confirm that you meet the experience requirements based on your application, references, or interview (ESEPs). If you wish to reapply, you are advised to review the shortfalls noted in your denial letter and address those before submitting a new application. You will have to pay a new application fee. 

    If you apply for ESEP and are denied, you will be given the opportunity to apply for CSEP without having to pay an additional fee. You will still need to meet the requirements for CSEP, including passing the knowledge exam. 

    If you apply for CSEP and are denied, you may become an ASEP after you pass the knowledge exam. 

    If you believe that the process of reviewing your certification application was not followed correctly, you may submit an appeal. This is not an opportunity to submit additional information or to disagree with the assessment. 
  • ESEP Leadership

    by Courtney Wright | Apr 30, 2021

    The distinguishing characteristic of an ESEP is that he or she is a leader in systems engineering, having contributed to the field through a combination of graduate academics, product development, and technical society involvement. It is not expected that all CSEPs will move up to become ESEPs simply through the passage of time. Nor can someone earn the title of ESEP purely through higher education. 

    An ESEP is given credit for completed degree programs, with a maximum of 1 year for a Master’s degree and 2 years for a PhD. With a minimum of 5 years of leadership required, even a PhD must also be working as a systems engineer in a leadership role on a project or through significant leadership in a technical society (not necessarily INCOSE). 

    The ideal ESEP candidate has leadership experience from a mix of all categories and is recognized beyond his or her own organization for contributing to the field. 

    (1) Chief Engineer vs ESEP - YouTube

  • How do I stay certified?

    by Courtney Wright | Apr 23, 2021
    An INCOSE Systems Engineering Professional Certification is valid for a period of three years for CSEP and five years for ASEP. It is renewable for three or five year periods, respectively. Renewal is not required for ESEP, but ESEPs do need to maintain their INCOSE membership.

    INCOSE Systems Engineering Professionals (SEPs) should track their professional development activities throughout their certification period.  They should keep a log of these activities and additional supporting information in case they are audited. 

    The requirement for continuing professional development is intended to reinforce the need for lifelong learning in order to stay current with changing technology, equipment, procedures, processes, and established standards. Systems Engineering Professionals are encouraged to select meaningful courses/activities which will be of benefit in the pursuit of their chosen areas. The definition of Course/Activity is: "Any qualifying course or activity with a clear purpose and objective which will maintain, improve, or expand skills and knowledge relevant to the CSEP’s or ASEP's area of expertise." In addition to courses, technical society participation, publications, and some job activities can count for professional development. 

    More information is posted at How Do I Renew (incose.org)
  • All SE, all the time

    by Courtney Wright | Apr 16, 2021

    Few of us are lucky enough to do all systems engineering, all the time. We frequently divide our time with clerical tasks (e.g., typing someone else’s requirements into DOORS), management tasks (writing personnel reports), and business development. There are aspects of these that may fit under SE, but they frequently are simply not relevant. We rely on your judgment to draw the line. As a guideline, we do not expect someone who manages a team of 25 people to be doing SE full-time. Similarly, it is rare (but not unheard-of) for someone to be doing full-time, professional-level SE at the beginning of their career with no degree and no prior work experience. In both these cases, we would expect you to pro-rate your experience. 

    Let’s say you had a period of 2 years where you spent half your time in a non-SE role and half of your time doing SE work on a special project. In this case, you would claim 12 months (24 months * 50% = 12 months) of time in SE. You’ll then break that down further to allocate your SE time across the work areas described in the application instructions. E.g., 8 months in Requirements Engineering and 4 months in Process Definition. You should describe your math in the Duties and Responsibilities section of your application alongside the description of the work you were doing. It commonly takes 7, 10, or more years of work to achieve 5 years of SE. You will need to have references to cover the entire minimum period of experience. 

    Does the reverse work, that you can count extra if you worked more than a 40-hour work-week? No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t. The most you can claim for any one month worked (regardless of the number of hours) is one month of SE. 

  • 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 (incose.org)
  • 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.

  • 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.