For this week’s blog I had already decided to write about the increasing (and needed) relationship between Innovation and Continuous Improvement. However ASQ has asked the Influential Voices troop to share some advice on professional certifications. This is too tempting a theme for me, and as many of my fellow bloggers, I have a thing or two to say about certifications. To date I have helped, prepared, and motivated, more than 700 professionals to become ASQ certified. Place the emphasis in “motivated” but we will come to that after a quick story.
Back in June 2001, Marcela Murillo, quality manager at Panduit, Costa Rica, called me and asked me if I could help her prepare for the CQE exam. She knew that I was familiar with the test but not certified myself. I told her that I would gladly help her but that also it was a good opportunity to see if other professionals would like to take the test. Ten people from three companies started the preparation for the exam. We took the December 2001 CQE exam and nine of us passed. At a time when the success rate was 33%, having 90% FPY was not bad at all. By mid-January 2002 two more companies called me with an interest in repeating the experience. A second group took the June 2002 exam, then a third group, this time from Hospira (at that time still part of Abbott) and so on all the way to last week when we started CQE XXV with 18 participants in one group and another 18 in a second group.
From the very beginning we created a method of study that has proved very successful, not only for CQE but also for CRE, CQA, CSSBB, CSSGB, CMQ/OE, CQT, CQI, CQIA, CSQE just to mention a few.
So here, out of our local “method”, is my advice to tackle a professional certification.
1.1. Approach the preparation as if you were preparing for a marathon.
There are three, four and five hour exams. Some require a project (Black Belt), some require an essay written during the exam (CMQ/OE). I always ask participants, when was the last time you took a four or five hour exam? Answers vary from “long ago” to “never”.
Content, or more properly said, the “Body of Knowledge” for each certification covers topics from at least six, sometimes up to eight, college courses. Good preparation is not enough. You are going to need the best possible preparation.
So prepare psychologically in advance for an intense round of study.
1. 2. Use the best available resources for your preparation
There are a number of things here.
First, there is the excellent certification Primers from Quality Council of Indiana. Since day one this bulky, sturdy, Bible like binders have been our best partners in the certification journey. They cover every bit of each certification Body of Knowledge. Quick story: the first thing the new quality director of a medical devices company unpacked when relocated to Costa Rica was his treasured CQE primer, not only his main ally in his own certification but a trusted reference source for everything quality related.
Second a good, or I should say, a huge bank of questions. There are various sources for this, again Quality Council of Indiana exam CD’s with 1,000 questions to enjoy. There are also ASQ online tests and also a small free exam for each certification to see how far you are from the real thing. For CQE there are two really old exams (1978 and 1981, I think) that happen to be tougher than the current real exams. You can google some other sources of questions but you will probably find them repetitive after 1,500 or 1,600 fresh questions.
ASQ has come a long way with its own preparation handbooks, so it does not hurt to have both ASQ and QCI materials.
3. Take a formal class
ASQ calls certification preparation classes “refresher courses”. The implication is that you already know the subjects. Reality is you are familiar only with those topics you use constantly. Even if you took a previous college class in some of the themes, chances are they will be like new if you are not using them.
Make sure your class covers the whole Body of Knowledge in the same depth ASQ requires. Each topic in the Body of Knowledge comes with a degree of difficulty measured by Bloom’s Taxonomy. See for example Bloom’s Taxonomy for the Black Belt Body of Knowledge here. The great thing is you don’t have to come with your own interpretation of how deep you have to study each subject; the materials are already designed that way.
4. Study in group
Remember, you are preparing for a marathon and as in any tough preparation there will be days when you don’t want to wake up early, or stay up late, or study on weekends. When that happens have your buddies cheer you up.
5. Start studying early and have a study plan
I always recommend at least two months of intense study accompanied by a study plan of at least 120 hours plus no less than 1,000 practice questions. Remember you are assimilating some six, seven or maybe eight college level courses in one take.
6. Prepare in advance for the exam day
Exam registration takes place about two months before exam date. The people at ASQ Certification Office are busy all year long screening examinees qualifications. Check ASQ exam dates here.
Once you have been accepted plan every aspect of the exam time.
Take only those materials that will really help you during the exam (this is an open test). Place many tabs in your primer, have glossaries, indexes, formulas identified. Bring something to eat like power bars, candies, and something to drink. Bring also enough #2 pencils, a sharpener, and a basic scientific calculator (ASQ does not allow smart phones, tablets, lap tops, alpha numeric calculators that could give any advantage to examinees).
7. Time management
Finally, at the exam time management is essential. Arrive early, at least thirty minutes before eight (8:00 is the official starting time for all exams). At every hour you should have completed x number of questions, check your progress constantly. Answer your questions in the answer sheet from the beginning; do not wait until the end of the exam to mark the answer sheet.
Use the two-of-four strategy, eliminate two answers you think are wrong and then choose the better of the remaining two (not always that easy). Start with the easy questions and leave the difficult ones for later. A question could be as easy as “who created the Ishikawa Diagram” and the next could be a complete ANOVA, those seconds saved in the first will be invaluable in the second.
Answer all questions; there is no penalty for wrong answers.
And then, What?
Right after the exam you realize you won’t have to study anymore, you deserve the rest of the weekend off. You will have to wait for about two weeks for the result. Check ASQ’s web site for the outcome, if everything went as expected you will find a big “Certified” next to your name. Also you will receive an email in the form of a press release, it goes something like this:
“Milwaukee, Wis., (December 20xx)–The Certification Board of ASQ (American Society for Quality) is pleased to announce that xxxxxxx xxxxxxx has completed the requirements to be named an ASQ-Certified xxxxxxxxxxxx (ASQ xxxxxx). As such, xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx has reached a significant level of professional recognition, indicating a proficiency in and a comprehension of xxxxxxxx principles and practices. Individuals who earn this certification are allowed to use “ASQ xxxxx” on their business cards and professional correspondence.”
Share with your boss, your colleagues, your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, you deserve it.
About a month after the whole process has ended you will experience a discomfort comparable with a virus infection. The virus will tell you to pursue a second certification and the cycle starts again. You can take my word, I’ve been infected six times so far, and I expect to take my seventh exam soon. It is all worth the effort.
I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an
honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and
opinions expressed on my blog are my own.