The INCOSE Certification Program's knowledge requirement has been the same since the program's start: knowledge of systems engineering processes and terms as described in the INCOSE SE Handbook. The validation methods for this requirement have also held steady, with draft exam questions tested on large, diverse groups of candidates. The verification methods for this requirement, however, have changed over time.
The initial verification method for the knowledge requirement is the INCOSE knowledge exam, offered in computer test centers worldwide. In 2014, the Certification Program began widespread offerings of the knowledge exam through pencil-and-paper in classrooms and conference rooms at INCOSE events. In 2020, INCOSE began offering the knowledge exam online with a remote, video proctor. As of 2022, the two ways to take the INCOSE knowledge exam are online from a personal location with a remote, video proctor and in-person using pencil and paper at an INCOSE event with an INCOSE-approved proctor in the room.
In 2013, INCOSE began forming relationships with other providers to recognize their knowledge assessments as equivalent or better than the knowledge exam. The first equivalency was within the German SE Zert. This led the way to verification through assessments other than multiple-choice tests and to assessment in language other than English. The Academic Equivalency Program that began in 2018 formalized allowing both of these differences from the INCOSE knowledge exam. Academic Equivalency (AcEq) is for universities that assess systems engineering knowledge, using the INCOSE SE Handbook, and it does not restrict the methods of assessment or the language used. The INCOSE Certification Program is actively searching for universities whose assessments or students differ from the traditional INCOSE SEPs, to reach a broader audience and ensure the path to INCOSE Certification is equitable.
June 30, 2022 @ 10AM Eastern
INCOSE SySTEAM is excited to announce that its next general body meeting (GBM) has been officially scheduled for Thursday, June 30, 2022 @ 10AM Eastern.
GBMs are where we delve into the actual activity SySTEAM is all about: developing our systems thinking (ST/SE) integration framework, planning outreach, continuing the discussions about STEAM education and the systems competencies that we started at our workshops, and much more. If you’re interested in supporting the INCOSE SySTEAM mission of “improving education for all students, everywhere”, or otherwise in getting involved in our community, these meetings are where the magic happens. Anyone and everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, regardless of professional affiliation or INCOSE membership status.
Please join our online community hub (info provided on our main webpage: incose.org/systeam) for more information about our prior meetings and upcoming plans.
Since its initial creation of the CSEP certification level, the INCOSE Certification Program required individuals who knew the candidate to submit reference statements confirming the work the candidate had done. These statements had to be made within INCOSE's form and had to come from someone who understood systems engineering well enough to recognize it being performed.
In recent years, the Certification Program has made it clear that the reference provider (aka, the referent) does not need to be a systems engineer, a CSEP, nor an INCOSE member. This is helpful to those candidates who are the only systems engineer in their organization. The referents do need to understand systems engineering, but that understanding is something they can develop through teaching from the SEP candidate. The referent also doesn't have to be more experienced than the candidate. This is helpful to those who are at the top of their organization and do not have a manager who can write a reference. Peers, clients, and in some cases subordinates are acceptable referents.
In the past two years, the Certification Program has quietly made another change that is directly intended to help non-native speakers of English. Reference submissions used to be required to use text written independently of the candidate's application, with the guidance that it be in the own words of the referent. This was a problem both culturally - as many Americans are accustomed to writing letters of reference for themselves, and then having managers sign them - and for those referents who now found their writing scrutinized for being either too similar to the application text to be independent or too dissimilar to offer corroboration. This unique text is no longer required. Referents may now copy and paste text from the application form. They must add a statement of their own like, "I agree with the text pasted below."
The Certification Program is working toward a goal where references can be shown the application text and initial or otherwise mark to confirm their agreement, without having to write independent statements. That will not occur in 2022 but will be implemented as soon as technology supports it.
The INCOSE Board of Directors recently approved a modification to the application fees for ASEP certification. The fees now align with PPP pricing as used for individual memberships. PPP pricing takes into account the average income levels across countries and helps adjust prices so that those with lower incomes pay lower rates.
As systems engineers, we often start our analysis of options by asking, "What the problem we're trying to solve?" INCOSE Certification has a problem that it is not currently recognizing competent systems engineers from low-income parts of the world. We are looking to mitigate that by making the burden of certification fees more comparable to the burden felt for individuals in high-income countries. We believe in the concept of adjusting costs relative to income level, and PPP is the blunt instrument INCOSE has chosen to make those adjustments. For consistency, the Certification Program has chosen to use that same tool for its cost adjustments.
There are several other fee adjustments the Certification Program has already made to be more equitable. They are worth reflecting on. First, there are exam fees. The online exam fee is standard for all candidates, even if they require accommodations that raise the cost of delivery (e.g., a proctor staying on for additional time). Those fees are not passed along to the candidates but rather are accounted for in the standard fee paid by all. Similarly, in-person, paper exams are offered at a flat rate regardless of the costs of proctor travel. If we did not do this, then the communities with the most SEPs, already, would also have the most available proctors and cheapest exam fees, thereby exacerbating imbalance. Two final differences in in-person exam fees: student are not charged a fee for an in-person exam and fees are often waived for beta exams.
The second and third certification fees are application fees and renewal fees. ASEP application fees are now adjusted as described at the top of this post. A further, temporary reduction for ASEPs who apply from Academic Equivalencies in low-income countries will be announced in late 2022. There are currently no AcEq programs in PPP2 and PPP3 countries, so that additional discount is not yet relevant. Adjustments on CSEP and ESEP application fees will be considered in the coming year, along with adjustments on renewal fees.
INCOSE often offers the certification knowledge exam at its in-person events. This is a great chance to take the exam to qualify for ASEP or CSEP certification, often at a discount from the online exam.
At the INCOSE International Symposium in 2022, we will offer the knowledge exam twice plus we have two additional events planned: a luncheon for all SEPs and a workshop to help universities prepare Academic Equivalency (AcEq) applications. The luncheon will be open to all SEPs who are attending the conference, and it will be a chance to network with each other and to play some easy party games. The AcEq workshop is scheduled for two hours, starting with an overview of the application form and then going into open discussion between current and potential AcEq university representatives.
In addition to these special events, all SEPs who attend INCOSE events - either in-person or remotely - may claim PDUs toward their certification renewal.
The Certification Advisory Group (CAG) is a set of nine volunteers who advise the INCOSE Board of Directors about the direction of the Certification Program. Members serve three-year terms and are also responsible for managing certification denial appeals and advising on policy changes. Most CAG members are ESEPs, and they come from all three global sectors of INCOSE.
The current members of the CAG are shown at this page:
INCOSE is a volunteer-run organization with support from a few paid staff. There are three individuals you may interact with when applying for INCOSE Certification.
Carol Berardino answers emails you send to firstname.lastname@example.org, including your certification application, proof of education, renewals, and Academic Equivalency applications from universities. She also works with the volunteer reviewers who check every CSEP and ESEP application form as well as Academic Equivalency documentation.
Danielle DeRoche receives references and manages exam registrations and results, and she processes Academic Equivalency student lists from universities.
Courtney Wright rarely works with individual candidates, instead concentrating on the program's overall strategy and setting procedures. She gives presentations about the INCOSE Certification Program within INCOSE and to external audiences, and she sets up relationships with other organizations to help streamline the path to INCOSE Certification for employees, students, and members of other organizations.
The best way to help your fellow systems engineers get certified is to educate them about the value of INCOSE certification. They will show more appreciation when you explain the process, because SE’s love process, but what they really need is motivation.
Help them see the role of systems engineer like the parable of the bricklayers: you’re not just laying bricks, you’re building a cathedral! The systems engineer connects and translates and asks questions that lead to successful products.
Once they’re convinced that systems engineering is great, then tell them about the value of an external certification in systems engineering. Whether one has a degree in SE or has been doing it for years, a certification motivates them to gain perspective on the practice of SE and where they fit into it, and it gives them documentation they can use to help the world recognize them.
Finally, help them with the process. Organize a study group for the exam, offer to review their application, or host a paper exam.
The two key people in getting a group of people certified are the Influential Leader and the Worker Bee. We know, because the current Associate Director for Certification at INCOSE started off as a Worker Bee. As one of the first people at her company to get certified, her Influential Leader (who went on to become an INCOSE President) drafted her to help her colleagues get certified.
The Worker Bee is often one of the first SEPs within their organization. While they are applying for certification, they are a benchmark to see if other employees like them will likely qualify and they are gathering information on how to make the process efficient for those who follow them. Like a prototype or an early test site, the first few SEPs within a company will likely do some things inefficiently. They may study more than necessary, or give too little detail on their application form. After they get certified, the Worker Bee will be in a good position to share a presentation with colleagues, explaining the process to them and giving their personal advice. The Worker Bee may also share their completed application form and other materials they used to study. They are not allowed to talk about the content of the exam questions, but they are welcome to talk about the exam questions’ format and logistics.
The Influential Leader declares to an organization that INCOSE certification matters. This person provides organizational support in the form of funding of prep courses, certification fees, or labor for Worker Bees. The Influential Leader may also encourage recognition of SEPs in career development plans. They may sign a Memorandum of Agreement with INCOSE, which reduces the number of references required for CSEP applicants from the organization. They may form an internal committee (led by the Worker Bee) to review applications before they are submitted and encourage a shared drive to store certification applications, PDU logs, and exam study materials.
In getting your team certified, figure out if you are more of an Influential Leader or the Worker Bee, then find the person to fill the other role. It may be someone from outside of Systems Engineering. Reach out to INCOSE’s AscD-Certification with further questions or for best practices.
As a volunteer-run organization, INCOSE relies on the contributions of its members, particularly SEPs. Members serve as chapter leaders, handbook editors, paper authors, webinar presenters, and Certification Application Reviewers, along with many other roles.
Sometimes, when we are most organized, INCOSE leaders post volunteer opportunities at the link below:
This site is also where paid positions are listed, such as the INCOSE internships.
Some of the ways you can help the INCOSE Certification Program are formal roles:
* Certification Application Reviewer (CAR) - a current CSEP or ESEP who is trained to review CSEP and ESEP applications
* Certification Academic Equivalency Reviewer - a current CSEP or ESEP who is trained to review university applications for Academic Equivalency
* Certification Exam Developer - a current ASEP, CSEP, or ESEP who is trained to write, edit, or confirm traceability of knowledge exam questions
* Certification Advisory Group member - a current CAR who advises the Associate Director, Certification on the direction of the Certification Program, including resolving appeals
You can also help without a title.
You can give a presentation at a conference, webinar, chapter meeting, or to your colleagues to teach them about systems engineering, INCOSE, and the Certification Program.
You can buy and wear a SEP polo shirt.
You can use the SEP logo in your email signature or on your business card.
You can work with your local INCOSE chapter to host an in-person knowledge exam.
You can offer to be interviewed as part of our marketing of INCOSE Certification.
You can get involved in other parts of INCOSE, earning PDUs, and answer questions that arise about INCOSE Certification.
You can encourage your peers, managers, colleagues, clients, students, professors, and everyone else in your organization who thinks they know what systems engineering is to test themselves by looking at the INCOSE Certification application forms and SE Handbook, and even taking the exam online or in-person.
The two primary values from INCOSE Certification are those gained by going through the certification process and those gained by having (and advertising) the certification.
Going through the certification causes you to reflect on your systems engineering work experience and to expand your SE knowledge. These steps are useful even if you don't get certified, but it is hard to motivate yourself to read the INCOSE SE Handbook if you aren't being tested on it.
Telling people you are certified, or listing it on your resume, helps people understand what your skills are interests are. You're a person who has chosen to identify as a systems engineer and has external validation that they're capable at it.
INCOSE is working on the Fifth Edition of the Systems Engineering Handbook, forecast to be released in the third quarter of 2023. The Certification Program's knowledge exam is based on the SE Handbook, and an update to the handbook will necessitate an update to the exam. We do not wish to test on an old version of the handbook when a new version exists.
Following the process of the last handbook update, the current plan is to offer testing based on the new handbook shortly after its release. A more significant question to most applicants is: When will INCOSE stop testing based on the INCOSE SE Handbook Fourth Edition? You're going to love this answer: it depends.
It depends on whether we are able to develop a test bank of questions that can be used for both old and new handbooks. If so, we can start testing on the new handbook and keep testing on the old handbook for many months of overlap. If we need to pull from separate test banks for the two handbook editions, we'll want to minimize the overlapping time period. It creates extra complication in exam registration when we have to ensure that candidates are assigned the proper exam.
It depends on whether there is an existing translation of the handbook in a community's language. We will not require that community to start testing based on a handbook edition that is not yet translated. Thus, the shutdown date of the "old exam" in that community may be later than in other communities.
It depends on when our exam writers and beta testers can get access to a draft of the handbook. They need enough time to develop, test, and rewrite questions on the new handbook.
With all that in mind, our plan is to start beta testing on the new handbook in the first half of 2023; to open full testing on the new handbook no earlier than Q4 of 2023; and to close most testing on the old handbook no earlier than Q4 of 2023 or Q1 of 2024. We encourage all candidates who are preparing using the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook Fourth Edition to take the exam before 30 June 2022, and to allow time for further study and retakes.
New on 1 April 2022 ...
INCOSE's Certification Program is proud to announce an additional certification level, the BiSEP!
The INCOSE Certification Program first started with just the CSEP certification. A few years later, it added the ASEP and ESEP levels to recognize the earlier and later points in an SE career path. Over time, the perspective of systems engineering has transitioned from talking about T-shaped expertise, with SE on top of a traditional engineering discipline of depth, to Π-shaped, with SE as one of many pillars of expertise alongside a traditional discipline and also alongside domain expertise. The BiSEP is the natural evolution for the Π-shaped model.
BiSEP looks not at knowledge or expertise but rather at strength. It measures effectiveness, not just effort. Rather than participating in remote, individual testing or phone interview, the BiSEP review process will take place in groups, with a preference for in-person activities. It will rely more on demonstration than on references and use of SE terminology. It will not require any particular degree or educational background.
The first round of the BiSEP application process will be the Feat of Strength. Applicants may submit a video of themselves doing 10 or more pull-ups without releasing the bar. Or, they may perform an in-person curl demonstration using weights provided by the INCOSE Certification Program. We cannot accept videos or remotely proctored curls.
The second round of the BiSEP application process is only for those who have completed the Feat of Strength. This is the Unmute Challenge. In this activity, five people (at least 2 of whom are BiSEP candidates; the others may be actors) get on a Zoom call and all try to make a point at the same time. The challenge starts with all participants muted, and they must unmute themselves and then yell over the others to be heard. Extra credit will be given when a candidate loudly and vehemently agrees with the point someone else just made, but translates into their own vernacular. The Zoom calls are recorded and scored afterward, with results sent out via email.
The third round of the BiSEP is confidential. It involves a tractor tire. Further information will be shared to those who succeed at the Unmute Challenge. Anyone who divulges information about the third round will have their BiSEP removed.
The BiSEP logo will be posted at the Lands End store
soon. Recommended products for BiSEPs include resistance bands
, hand grip exercisers
, and nutrition shake bottles
The INCOSE Certification Program may send a denial letter (via email attachment) to a CSEP or ESEP candidate who does not pass the experience or leadership reviews, respectively. This letter comes from the INCOSE Certification Program Manager. Generally, this letter comes after the candidate has been given a chance to update their application materials to address specific shortfalls.
INCOSE does not send a denial letter for a candidate who has failed to pass the knowledge exam (for ASEP or CSEP) or who has not responded to a request for additional information.
Every candidate who takes the INCOSE knowledge exam is given 100 questions that are scored. Some candidates take an exam with 120 or 150 questions. Those extra questions are not scored but are being offered so that INCOSE can decide whether to use them in the future.
Every candidate is given questions about the INCOSE Knowledge Exam Learning Objectives
. In fact, every candidate is given the same number of questions about each learning objective (LO). INCOSE does not publish how many questions are asked for each LO, but it will be not vary across exam publications.
Every exam version has the same difficulty level. Not every exam question is equally difficult, so not every exam version has the same passing score. A more challenging collection of questions will allow passing at a lower score.
Every correct answer must be chosen for a question to be scored as correct. There is no partial credit. There is no penalty for guessing beyond not earning the credit if the guess is wrong.
Every exam is monitored, either by an in-room proctor or a remote one. If the proctor has a concern during the exam, they may allow a candidate to continue testing so as not to disrupt the other candidates. INCOSE and its proctors reserve the right to notify a candidate after the exam is completed that he or she will not receive a score on the exam due to suspected cheating.
The INCOSE knowledge exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions based on the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook. (You may get an extra 20 or 50 beta questions, depending on the version of the exam you are taking. They are not scored, but you will not be told which questions they are.) To be successful on the exam, you should:
1. Have proper ID and facility for the exam. You can't pass if you aren't allowed to take the exam! Review the requirements for your in-person or online exam.
2. Understand the format of the questions. Many of them will have more than one correct answer, and you must choose all the correct answers to get the questions right. You can read more about this exam format in this paper from 2015
3. Know the content of the INCOSE SE Handbook. All questions come from this handbook. Many candidates who fail the first attempt but pass a later attempt admit that they had not read the handbook thoroughly the first time. Most successful candidates report reading the handbook multiple times, taking notes or flash cards, and writing their own diagrams or sample exam questions.
4. Take it more than once. You are allowed to take the exam up to 3 times every 12 months. You will have to pay for each attempt. Consider taking it once for practice, then studying, then taking it again. This is probably the most time-efficient way to succeed on the exam.
When you schedule an online exam, you will receive a confirmation email from the exam provider. This email, which comes from email@example.com, links to detailed instructions about Preparing For and Taking Your Exam
. At that site, you are instructed as follows if you need to reschedule or cancel:
1. Login to ‘CMS TESTWise’ (https://delivery.itemexperts.com
2. Click either the "Reschedule exam" or "Cancel exam" button.
3. Follow instructions on screen.
You will be charged $5 if you cancel or reschedule within 24 hours of your exam appointment.
Taking the INCOSE knowledge exam is the first step most candidates take toward ASEP and CSEP certification. The exam can be taken on paper or on the computer. Paper exams are hosted by INCOSE chapters, at INCOSE events, or at universities, and they are proctored by INCOSE CSEPs and ESEPs. Learn more about hosting a paper exam for a group of candidates here
All individuals who apply for ASEP or CSEP are automatically registered to take the online exam. Those who have not yet applied can register to take the online exam here
. They will then be allowed to schedule a specific time and date for the exam, and they will be required to pay the exam fee.
On February 16, 2022, INCOSE's current intern presented a webinar about the Academic Equivalency Program. This is a great source of information and can be accessed by all INCOSE members and CAB associates at the Webinar library
. Webinars relevant to INCOSE certification are:
156 The Outcomes of Academic Equivalency to INCOSE Certification
146 Internet-Based Testing for Students and Professionals
141 Trends in Continuing Education for INCOSE SE Professionals
139 Fundamentals of INCOSE Certification
137 Paths to INCOSE Certification
103 Squaring the Circle: Aligning INCOSE SEP Experience Areas to the INCOSE SE Handbook and INCOSE Competency Framework
063 How Do You Recognize an Expert Systems Engineering Professional?
059 INCOSE Certification Program History and Plans for 2014
041 An Overview of INCOSE Professional Certification
020 An Update on INCOSE Professional Certification and the New Expert Systems Engineering Professional (ESEP) Designation
002 INCOSE Professional Certification Program
Note that these webinars are listed in newest-to-oldest order, and content in the older presentations may be outdated.
Would you like to be an unofficial spokesperson for INCOSE’s Certification Program? We would love to have you.
There are several presentations posted on this page. We recommend you choose and pare it down for your audience. You can also pull information from the INCOSE web pages and create your own presentation materials. And, please, send us a copy if you think they’d be useful for others.
If you do share information about the Certification Program, please remember that content of exam items and interview questions should NOT be shared. This restriction protects both INCOSE and you. It saves INCOSE from having to create a bigger set of questions such that we can rotate them out enough to keep people on their toes if they’ve already heard some of the questions. And it saves you from the anger of the applicant who studies for the questions you told them, then discovers that we actually do have a big enough question bank that it’s likely he or she will get different questions than you got.
You are welcome to share a copy of your application with a colleague so that he or she can see the formatting and level of detail expected. However, do not share if you feel your colleague will be tempted to copy the text directly. This would be an ethical violation and could result in problems for both of you.
Finally, if someone shares information about the Certification Program with you, consider the source. If you find a conflict between what someone tells you and the INCOSE website, ask the person how they know. INCOSE does not monitor or endorse training providers, so you’d be doing all parties a favor if you informed the person of the conflict. If confusion remains, contact the Admin Office for clarification.