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Test Run

Improve your chances of passing an ASQ certification exam
• Passing a certification exam isn’t a given, and the challenge isn’t always in the test itself. • The difference between passing and failing often occurs before the exam, so it’s important to know the pitfalls before getting started. • Avoid these danger zones to help ensure a successful outcome.

In 50 Words Or Less

by Govind Ramu

exceptional test-taking skills. Figure 1 offers a look at the pass rates for ASQ’s 14 certifications. Certified pharmaceutical good manufacturing practices professional not presented in graph due to fewer data points.422 people who took certification exams. 14. 9. 9. To ensure certifications remain relevant and up to date. a bit of luck or some combination. The year before. Therefore. the pass rate for each certification in Figure 1 is based on data accumulated since the BoK was last revised. The 2009 success rate as of October was also in that neighborhood.570 passing out of 9. For a little more perspective.431 passed (65%).928 test-takers. with 6. Average 65% Pass rate /O E CQ A CS SG B CQ PA CC T CB A CS SB B CS QE A CQ IA CQ E CQ I CQ T CH CM Q Certification CR E January 2010 • QP 41 . Data from special administrations of exams are excluded from calculations. the percentage was similar: Of 14. covering five years of data or more. Whether by careful preparation. ASQ revises each body of knowledge (BoK) every five years.906 people took ASQ certification exams. or 66%. So how can you avoid being one of the certification exam takers who will not pass this year? Pass rate by ASQ certification 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% / FiGuRe 1 CHA = certified hazard analysis and critical control points auditor CQIA = certified quality improvement associate CMQ/OE = certified manager of quality/ organizational excellence CQA = certified quality auditor CSSGB = certified Six Sigma Green Belt CQPA = certified quality process analyst CCT = certified calibration technician CBA = certified biomedical auditor CSSBB = certified Six Sigma Black Belt CSQE = certified software quality engineer CQE = certified quality engineer CQI = certified quality inspector CQT = certified quality technician CRE = certified reliability engineer Notes: Certification pass rates since last body of knowledge change or certification inception.Careers In 2008.394 of these people—or 63%—passed.

If enough of us pay close attention to avoiding the following mistakes. exam-specific primers and CDs are also available from other reputable service providers. and make sure you have adequate reference materials. those sections that are labeled with the cognitive levels of apply. This overconfidence contributed to the high failure rates for ASQ certification exams. it’s not easy to find one book that covers every aspect of a BoK. Being unaware of exam practice aids: Exam preparation materials.html. Even if it did. Not understanding the cognitive level for each BoK section: Exam takers often ignore the cognitive level specified for each section of the BoK. one job description will not cover every section of a certification 42 QP • www. There are many materials in the market that cover each BoK. Sections that require higher cognitive levels will require more in-depth preparation. Do not underestimate the amount of planning and preparation required to pass the exam. when you see “apply. many of us have not taken an exam since picking up our diplomas. very few of us regularly work on every area in a BoK. But I caution against considering the handbooks or primers as your only certification references. exam strategy and exam taking. procedures. The chances are slim that the regular duties of any single job cover the entire BoK. Even for exam candidates with a vast knowledge of the subject matter Planning and preparation Being overconfident: Working in the quality profession for a long period of time can lead some professionals to assume their practical experience automatically gives them the knowledge they need to ace a certification exam. Just select any certification and click on the “references” link.qualityprogress. including a long list of references specified by ASQ on its certification pages. Lacking work experience in the BoK sections: Most certifications require experience that covers one or more BoK sections. Similarly. Not reading the BoK thoroughly: An important first step is to read the BoK carefully before planning your preparation for the exam. identify relationships and patterns of organization. The BoKs are very broad for many certifications because they are based on an extensive analysis of a wide sample of representative jobs. Besides. Paying close attention to the cognitive levels will help you determine the extent of your planning and preparation. Of course. If you need additional assistance. They will not cover every aspect of the BoK in the depth that is required. can help you master the art of test taking. such as primers and simulated exams.asq. analyze. you need to take responsibility for determining which references you need to complement your knowledge and experience. awareness of common mistakes is just one part of the battle. But keep in mind the handbooks and primers are intended to offer breadth more than depth. evaluate and create will be easier for you to address if you can apply your learning to particular situations. Other than certification-specific handbooks or exam primers. concepts and tools in the context of those examples. formulas. in our day-to-day responsibilities. BoK.” expect questions that will require you to break down information into constituent parts. Highlight every keyword and tool mentioned in the BoK.Having been on both sides of the process—developing and taking exams—I have identified common errors and separated them into three categories: planning and preparation. no matter how much work experience you have. there are a list of references and resources for further reading on the ASQ website at www. and derive the most significant and useful information from a given situation or set of data. As stated . We use some areas much less frequently than others. The exam questions are designed to allow test-takers to show their ability to apply book knowledge to a particular situation. For instance. It’s just as important to understand the reasons these mistakes happen and formulate a strategy for preventing For each certification. Being unaware of appropriate reference materials: The thing that appears most frequently on the ASQ certification discussion board is a request for help in selecting and evaluating reference materials. when you see “analyze. As an examinee. Specifically. You should be prepared to demonstrate an understanding of when and how you would use ideas. But it is not practical (nor easy on the wallet) to purchase so many books.” you can expect questions that contain specific examples. methods. perhaps more of us will end up on the right side of the pass/fail bar. ASQ’s certification handbooks are the best places to start. Extended reading in many BoK subsections may be required. Trying to answer the exam questions based on experience alone and within the time limit is a big challenge.

• 2005. • 2005. certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (replaced certified quality manager): updated to reflect the broader scope of the quality manager’s position. simulated exams provide real-time exam experience that will help you learn to stay focused and manage your time. certified quality manager: champions process improvement initiatives and supports strategic planning and deployment initiatives. • 1984. calibrates. regulations. certified HACCP auditor (replaced CQAHACCP). Six Sigma Green Belt: paraprofessional who works with process development and documentation. the program has grown to 15 certifications. analytical methods and quality management. • 1987. primers provide concise coverage of material under every BoK subsection. • 1970. In the four decades that followed. Unless you know your own strengths and areas that need improvement. Particularly useful features of simulated exams are rationales for wrong answers and scoring by sections (performance graphs). • 2009. lab and calibration procedures. certified quality inspector (formerly mechanical inspector): hardware documentation. Managing time poorly during preparation: When budgeting your time to accommodate your strengths and weaknesses. certified quality engineer: principles of product and service. which are listed below. find a more specialized text. • 1995. • 2006. certified quality auditor (CQA): standards and principles of auditing. maintains and repairs electrical. CQA—biomedical: understand principles of standards. • 2004. • 1968. NC and substantial work experience. certified quality improvement associate: designed to test basic knowledge of quality tools and their uses. Newcomb Quality engineer/specialist Westinghouse Electric Co. verification and validation. • 2002. • 1996. certified software quality engineer: development of software processes. • 1996. and creates and interprets multvari studies. certified quality technician: quality problems analysis. mechanical.Careers ASQ cerTIfIcATIOn: A BrIef HISTOry The first ASQ certification was developed and offered in 1968. evaluations and reports for quality system adequacy. directives and guidance for auditing a biomedical system. electromechanical. you will likely spend too much time on areas for which you don’t need to prepare quite as much. • 2000. data collection and reports. In addition. • 2003. certified calibration technician: tests. Poor time management during preparation can January 2010 • QP 43 . analytical and electronic measuring/recording equipment for conformance to established standards. certified quality process analyst: paraprofessional who analyzes and solves quality problems and is involved in quality improvement projects. pharmaceutical good manufacturing practices professional certification: developed to test applicant knowledge of principles as regulated and guided by national and international agencies. quality evaluation and control. • 2001. certified reliability engineer: principles of performance evaluation for product and system safety. reliability and maintainability. CQA—hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP): developed to test applicant’s knowledge of the HACCP standards. collects and summarizes data. process performance. Charlotte. along with the year of their introduction and the areas they address. certified biomedical auditor (replaced CQA-biomedical). as well as involvement in quality improvement projects. —William O. questions. inspection. inspection sampling plans and statistical process control applications. If you find specific areas in which you need additional study. Six Sigma Black Belt: designed to demonstrate competency in Six Sigma methods. • 2006. measurement. remember the total amount of preparation time you will need depends primarily upon your knowledge and experience. • 1972.

Eighteen recertification units (RU) in a three-year period keeps an individual on the path to index.html. Anyone who postpones an exam for a nonemergency reason is likely to continue to postpone again and again before finally giving up. Psychological reasons such as fear of recerTIfIcATIOn Many of the certifications achieved through the exam process require recertification. quality auditor. simulated exams from a CD or online are great ways to kickstart exam preparation. workshops and conferences • Education . quality engineer. Because ASQ allows you to apply for exams in advance. forgetting to apply and being forced to wait another six months for the next opportunity. How can a member earn credits? • Employment • Professional development - Attend seminars.8 RU • World Conference on Quality and Improvement attendance (once) 3. the date is final. but there are many more combinations. —W. calibration technician. some exam takers wait until the week before the exam date and then call ASQ to postpone.0 RU • Local section meetings (per year) 2.Company-sponsored in-house courses - University/college courses .0 RU • Company-sponsored training 4.ASQ courses • Society involvement - Exam proctor - Meeting/workshop attendance (includes local section attendance) - Committee member - ASQ officer • Instructor - Company internal instructing - College. After that. Six Sigma Black Belt. A good approach is to take a simulated exam to assess your strengths and weaknesses. These are the ones that do: quality manager/organizational . apply as soon as you make your decision. university instructing - ASQ exam refresher course instructing Here’s an example: • Full-time employment 10. contact ASQ customer care at 800-935-2231 or 414-272-8575.5 RU This is only one example. Then you can set up a preparation strategy based on the results. If you have any questions.qualityprogress.7 RU • Total 20. I have heard many applicants talk about taking an exam. reliability engineer.asq. This will keep your mind from wandering and ensure you stay committed to taking the exam. or visit www. which verifies that a certified individual has maintained the same knowledge level that was demonstrated when the certification exam was passed. 44 QP • www. Rescheduling the exam because of a nonemergency: As a result of improper planning and preparation.N.prevent you from becoming fully aware of the risk of incorrectly answering questions that are related to your weaknesses. ASQ typically extends an application deadline once. software quality engineer. Missing the application deadline: Deadlines are not trivial. hazard analysis and critical control points auditor and biomedical auditor. Again. Not all certifications require recertification.

It’s best to avoid that neighborhood altogether by scoring as high as you can. before the exam. but it’s just as important to manage the exam time wisely. but it’s just as important to manage the exam time wisely. but do not underestimate the importance of making reference materials more easily accessible. Ideally. example calculations and key definitions. Not practicing and timing adequately using simulated exams: It’s important to answer questions correctly. The questions require application of knowledge and experience. bookmark important pages that contain tables. sampling plan tables and definitions of key terms—is worthwhile. my experiences with the process lead me to believe they are usually less than 85%. It’s unlikely any book will contain direct answers to questions from the exam. you can do significant damage to your concentration by not getting a good night’s sleep. This will help you build a familiarity with the format of the material. It will also allow you to budget more exam time for weaker areas. January 2010 • QP 45 . using the balance for reviewing answers. The best approach is to set out to score much higher than the cutoff score. Not practicing writing with pencil (specific to certified manager of quality/organizational excellence [CMQ/OE] constructive response): Most of us have not used a paper and pencil to write a full page of text since the advent of the PC. Not getting adequate rest the night prior to the exam: If you have not invested enough preparation time in the three to four months prior to taking the exam. I took eight simulated exams as part of my test-taking strategy. Your exam proctor could strictly interpret the policy and disallow some of the materials you bring. Some examinees walk in with a pencil and eraser.Careers It’s important to answer questions correctly. Not a good idea. Exam strategy Having a mind-set to barely pass: ASQ’s approach is such that if you score slightly higher than the cutoff score. Compiling a list of relevant references—such as formulas. you’ll complete the exam in 75 to 80% of the allotted time. Careful planning and preparation can help overcome this fear. To ensure ample practice. Failing to organize open-book materials: Choosing reference books with appendixes covering all of the required statistical tables and a glossary for the BoK is advisable. Imagine trying this lost skill on the exam day when you need to answer two constructive response questions back to back in 45 minutes. there is still a possibility of failing the exam. I have encountered only three questions that came right out of a book. graphs. After taking six certification exams. Your fingers will tire too soon. CMQ/OE exam takers should practice writing eight to 10 constructive responses with a pencil during their preparation to regain legibility and speed. I completed one final review of all of the questions included in the chosen exam’s practice aids. so don’t rely on open books too much. The only books not allowed by ASQ during the exam are resources containing a question-and-answer format. statistical tables. Others bring a two-level cart filled with reference books. Not knowing your weaknesses and strengths prior to the exam date: The use of simulated exams and question banks can help you identify strengths and weaknesses during preparation. This means you may be prevented from using textbooks that have a question-and-answer section or format. as is cross-referencing the key terms on your list with page numbers from the corresponding books you will use during the exam. Finally. and searching for the information you need during the exam will take mere seconds. failure can also lead to rescheduling. One suggestion is to pick two or three reference books from the list provided for the specific exam and use those same books for preparation and the exam itself. Although exact cutoff scores are confidential. which translates to a total of 900 questions answered. it is highly unlikely a late-night cram session the night before will make any difference. Then. Even if you prepare well. Selecting the wrong open-book materials: There is no limit to how many books you can take to the exam.

Being distracted during the exam: I have faced exam situations in which building renovations were happening just outside the room. wristwatch Calculator (refer to ASQ policy). backup calculator if required Two or three major reference books (bookmarked) ASQ handbook or other certification primer (bookmarked) Exam aids Formula list Statistical tables. make sure you consult ASQ’s calculator policy (www. but you don’t want noise from streets and building renovations to be the reason you didn’t pass an exam. Using a calculator that is different from the one you used for practice: First. Lack of confidence can result in second-guessing during the exam. At the very least. In many situations. scratch paper Good eraser. Figure 2 is a good starting point when constructing your checklist. has constructive response questions. while the certified quality auditor exam involves case studies with some challenging ASQ certification exam checklist / FiGuRe 2 Exam location ASQ confirmation mail with venue location Picture ID Exam venue route map. Create a checklist of items to take with you on the day of the exam. access. as mentioned earlier. take a test drive the day before to familiarize yourself with the route and identify any potential issues that could require another route to your exam location. you should do your best to locate the actual exam room ahead of time. including reference books. important definitions Customized cross-reference list Dictionary Miscellaneous items (use blank space for additional needs) Coffee/juice/bottled water Coins for vending machine. a calculator and blank paper for working out your answers. you do not want to be on the way to the exam only to realize half of the items you planned to bring are still sitting on your kitchen .Not assessing travel distance or possible obstructions: Notification of acceptance of your exam application will specify the exam venue. Hearing the hum of traffic and horns honking could interrupt your focus on the exam. Some exam rooms are located deep inside a labyrinthine campus building that should have its own map and directions. parking Aspirin (or any non-drowsy medication) Earplugs (in case of traffic noise or other distractions) 46 QP • www. acronyms. Check your weather forecast the night before to determine if you need to plan extra time for your trip or bring an umbrella. causing lots of noise and other distractions. Forgetting crucial items: After carefully preparing your open-book materials and planning for contingencies.asq. but you should take a moment to customize it to meet any other needs you might have during the exam. driving directions. sharpener. Knowing you have completed many simulated exams. But you could encounter construction. we can simply drive to the venue. A dictionary may be useful for those whose first language is not English. Some exams are given in conference rooms and training rooms of organizations that require security access. This is another way to minimize last-minute sources of stress. These are rare situations. statistical tables. Some exam rooms are closer to a highway or expressway than you might be accustomed. Talk to the section exam proctor prior to the exam to learn exactly where the room is located on the campus. Not knowing the exam location: Just as you will want to practice your route to the exam site. can improve your confidence when you finally sit down to take the exam. The CMQ/OE exam. Many of us assume that if we have the address.qualityprogress. security. 2 pencils. parking location Exam room location: room number. Exam taking Lacking confidence: The day of the exam is when you should have all the confidence you possibly can. for example. sampling plans (where appropriate) Glossary. phone number Umbrella or other items based on weather report Essentials Several No. Some test takers also bring an English-language technical dictionary. it will not be possible to walk into the exam location and familiarize yourself with the room prior to exam day. I recommend bringing earplugs as a contingency. an accident or a throng of people trying to reach a concert or sporting event on a college campus. If you are unfamiliar with the exam location. you should arrive at the exam location well ahead of your scheduled start time and locate the room assigned for taking the exam.

if you’re thinking about taking your first exam. Share the lessons you’ve learned from taking ASQ certification exams or. This approach should total approximately 150 minutes. Just log on to www. Selection criteria for volunteers: • Good team and communication skills. • Learn new techniques from other quality professionals. questions you have about preparation or test taking. to enhance your career. —W. The best answer and one of the plausible answers are likely to be similar. • Item review (review the questions). • Can be new to quality or an experienced professional.N. When you have only about a minute to spend on each question. 50% of the questions within 60 seconds or less. two plausible answers and one best answer. This will save precious time searching for functions. Not following the 30-60-90 seconds rule: Many exam takers adhere closely to the 30-60-90 seconds rule. The following round is for questions that take 90 seconds.html). and which one is for population standard deviation? My other calculator was different. This underlining technique helps you focus carefully on those words and block out extraneous ones.qualityprogress. and selecting the best one will require knowledge and experience. there are opportunities to participate in the development of the exams and. Multiple-choice answers typically involve one distracter. Consider replacing your battery before the exam or bringing an identical calculator as a backup. QueSTIOnS And AnSWerS Experience is the best teacher. Benefits of volunteering: • Receive one recertification unit per day of workshop. move to the next question. Read all choices carefully and compare them to look for differences. On your first round through the exam. take the same calculator you used during your preparation. you work on understanding sample questions and start the practice of underlining the key words in the questions. • No involvement with teaching/authoring exam review material. in the process.Careers GeT InvOLved In addition to taking the actual ASQ certification exams. What do I do now?” Double-check your calculator’s display to ensure it is not fading or failing in any way. Workshops: • Item writing (write exam questions). January 2010 • QP 47 . • Exam review (take the actual exam and score it before official administration). • Network with peers. If you need more than 30 seconds to figure out an answer. 30% of the questions should be answered within 30 seconds or less. calculator. failing the exam. use the same approach to answer all 60-second questions. The idea is to attempt questions one by one and initially answer those you can deal with quickly. as a result. How to volunteer: • Contact ASQ at 800-935-2231 or 414-272-8575. • Contact the division liaison responsible for a specific exam. leaving about 90 minutes for careful review of the entire exam. Not reading the questions properly with the emphasis on key words: During preparation. Based on my experience. • Reinforce and expand subject knowledge. you do not want to consume any of that time by needing to stop and think. 15% of the questions within 90 seconds or less and the remaining 5% of questions in two to four minutes per question. “Is this second function or shift? How do I go to ‘stat’ mode from ‘deg?’ Which button is for sample standard deviation. The expense of a new calculator is a small price to pay for eliminating the potential for added anxiety and. answer all of the 30-second and leave a comment on this article’s page. Finally. Then. Once all the 30-second questions are answered. address the questions that take two minutes or longer to answer.

india. Regardless of the exam outcome or future plans to take additional certification exams. make sure the journey continues. And regardless of whether you decide to take another exam. Even before you are notified of your results. the danger is that you’ll be tempted to revise your answers too many times. Instead. A word of caution: While using this approach. an aSQ member since 1998 and an aSQ Fellow. Laboring for five or 10 minutes on your first attempt at any answer will not be worthwhile if it takes time away from addressing other questions. in milpitas. software quality engineer and reliability engineer. it helps with ASQ’s scoring process. On average. On the other hand. you can be proud you followed through on your commitment. quality engineer. Along with the exam questions and the answer sheet. If you’re unsure. Referring to open books for every question wastes exam time and is tiring. This ensures you’ll be as efficient as possible when time is short. Regardless of the outcome. if you are near the end of your allotted examination time and still have unanswered questions. Referring to open books for almost all questions: Relying too much on open books during the exam is the result of poor preparation or may signify a lack of . quality auditor. Only with background knowledge. it’s a good idea to make an identification mark near the questions you should review. As you fill in your initial answers. and is a licensed professional engineer. Achieving an ASQ certification should not be the end result. you will be filling in your answer sheet out of sequence. 2008). Do not neglect the importance of unwinding and celebrating the accomplishment of taking an ASQ certification exam. 48 QP • www. Make sure you do not lose alignment between the exam questions and your answer sheet. in your next pass through the entire exam. Make sure you take this opportunity to offer feedback. This way. make a mental note of the certification BoK sections you found to be particularly difficult during the exam. fill in any answer. Because there is no penalty for a wrong answer. As discussed earlier.Careers do not neglect the importance of unwinding and celebrating the accomplishment of taking an asQ certification exam. you can focus on the questions you have identified before reviewing the others. select any answer and move on when you are stumped by a question. Not having enough time for revisions: If you’re not well prepared. and reward yourself for your months of preparation. Ramu has a mechanical engineering degree from Bangalore university in india and a certificate in elements of statistical quality control and operations research from the indian Statistical institute in Chennai. as well as ongoing assessments and improvements to exam questions. QP Govind Ramu is a senior quality manager and Six Sigma master Black Belt at JdS uniphase Corp. you may not have time to review your answers. Similarly. After you turn in your answer sheet. relevant experience. you may have time to review more than once. there’s one more mistake to avoid. you may end up tight on time for review. reflect on the knowledge and experience you gained. leaving plenty of time to spare. you’ll answer 25% of them correctly. you’re taking your first certification exam or the exam is difficult. In the latter case. exam preparation and practice can you pass the exam. Ramu holds six aSQ certifications: quality manager. Six Sigma Black Belt.qualityprogress. strengthening these areas will help with professional development. if you are too quick. He is co-author of The Certified six sigma Green Belt Handbook (aSQ Quality Press. the exam proctor will provide you with a separate sheet you can use to report ambiguous questions or errors. there’s no magic reference book that contains answers to all ASQ exam questions. look at it as a milestone in a process of lifelong learning about quality. After the exam As part of your own continuous improvement regimen. stick with your first choice. Making too many changes to answers during revisions: If you take too much time to answer the exam questions. Not having enough time to answer every question: All exam questions carry equal weight in determining your exam score. Ca.