By Dr. Judith Grove and Anne Parissidi

There are many ways one may get ready for a test, and preparations for no two people need necessarily be alike. Since professional certifications, particularly those earned by successfully passing the Water Quality Association (WQA) educational program, are often tackled well after the taker has attended school or college, the following are a few suggestions to help you focus in on the task at hand.

After all, you don’t want to be surprised. You want your testing experience to be fluid and relaxing.

Stay positive
First, take a positive approach to taking your certification exam. Passing the exam will be a worthwhile achievement; however, don’t automatically assume you can pass any WQA exam without studying.

WQA exams cover a variety of situations, contaminants, and technologies—some of which you may not deal with everyday. Virtually everyone needs to study.

Allot time
Second, give yourself plenty of time to study.

For the basic major exams, including the Certified Water Specialist (CWS), Certified Installer (CI), and Certified Sales Representative (CSR), allow yourself at least several months to study. Work at least twice a week. Set aside planned specific study times each week, such as Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon. Tell the kids and the spouse that you’re planning to study at these times. This will allow you to go over the study materials without feeling rushed. If you wait until the last week before the exam, not only will you not have enough time to effectively absorb the material but also you’ll keep feeling as if you have to race through every book. The stress of rushing will interfere with your ability to remember what you study.

The right stuff
Third, make sure you have the proper study materials for the exact exam you are going to take.

WQA has a one-page order blank called “What to study for WQA Certification Exams,” that outlines exactly which materials are recommended for each exam. Studying these materials doesn’t guarantee that you’ll pass, but it will increase your chance of passing significantly. If you don’t have a copy of the order blank, call the WQA Publications Department to have one mailed or faxed to you.

Keep current
Fourth, don’t assume that the textbook you purchased five years ago is OK for studying now.

The textbooks are revised on a regular basis, and exams change from time to time. Make sure the books you have are the latest editions so that you get current information. If you’re not sure, call the WQA Publications Department and ask.

Get help
Fifth, use a seminar to assist you in your studying.

A WQA seminar can provide an introduction to the study materials or a review after studying the printed materials. However, don’t assume that attending a seminar will preclude studying or prepare you totally for the exam. A seminar cannot possibly present all the information that’s in the printed materials. And most people learn more effectively using several study methods and several study sessions.

Help each other
Sixth, form a study group.

If several people in your company are taking the same exam, study together. Assign chapters or lessons to be read for specific study sessions and then go over the study materials together to be sure all session members understand. Bring your own questions to the study group and ask to discuss them. Learning from your colleagues, especially if they’ve been in the business longer than you, is a good way to increase your knowledge. Also, the Water Treatment Fundamentals book and the Installer’s Home Study Course both have review questions in the back. These can be used for group discussion.

Primary guide
Seventh, use the WQA Glossary of Terms as a study resource.

If a term or word appears in the study materials a number of times, you should make sure you understand its meaning. However, you shouldn’t spend much time going through the Glossary trying to memorize definitions. It’s more important to understand how a technology works than to be able to quote its exact definition.

More than technical
Eighth, study all the study materials, not just the technical ones.

If a study document is included on the list to study, be sure you do have it and do study it. For example, there currently are questions on both the Certified Water Specialist exam and the Certified Sales Representative exams that are based upon the Legal Considerations book and the WQA Code of Ethics. (Persons whose primary business location is outside of the United States will not be graded on the legal questions—although, if they do business within the U.S., it’s sensible for them to study the book. They will, however, be graded on the ethics questions.)

Come early
Ninth, allow yourself plenty of time to take the exam.

The WQA requires that each exam session be at least three hours long. That should be sufficient time to take any exam. Come at the beginning of the exam session to allow plenty of time. Do not arrive one hour before the end of the session to begin taking the exam. You’ll be putting yourself in a pressure cooker situation that will simultaneously increase stress and decrease performance. In addition, it’s quite likely that the exam proctor will have to conclude the session exactly on time, either due to personal commitments elsewhere or due to the fact that the exam room is scheduled for some other use immediately after the exam session.

Come prepared
Tenth, come properly prepared to take the exam.

Register at least two weeks ahead of the exam so that the exam you want to take will be waiting for you. If WQA doesn’t know you are coming, there may not be enough of the right exam available. Bring photo identification so the exam proctor can immediately verify that you’re the one scheduled for the exam.

Any printed materials, computers, briefcases, etc., must be left at the front of the testing room. If this bothers you, just don’t bring them. Turn your cell phone off or don’t bring it. You cannot talk on the phone during the exam.

Be sure your name is on the answer sheet. Otherwise, WQA doesn’t know who took this exam.

Last minute advice
Take time to read all the directions very carefully before you start. If the mark you place on the answer sheet is incorrectly made the answer scanner will read the question as a wrong answer. Take your time and be especially sure the right “bubble” on your answer sheet corresponds with the question you are answering. That is, if you are answering Question 64, be sure you mark the answer in the line of “answer bubbles” numbered 64. If you are off by one number, all the rest of your answers could be marked wrong by the scanner.

We stress again that only one answer should be marked, as only one answer is correct. If more than one answer is marked on the sheet the questions is automatically counted as incorrect.

Use only the Number 2 pencil provided to you. The scanner will not read marks by pens or harder pencils.

Try to get a good night’s sleep before the exam. Fatigue can negatively affect your test score.
Several times during the testing session, take a couple of deep breaths and relax a little before going to the next question. Shake your writing hand to relax it. “Scrunch” your shoulders occasionally and then relax them.

Conclusion
Some people don’t pass the exam, especially the first time. The percentages vary with the type of exam. Remember that even if you don’t pass the first time, it’s possible to take the exam again later, although this will require payment of an additional exam fee. Finally, keep this in mind: No exam session is a life-or-death situation!

About the authors
Judith A. Grove, Ed.D., is education director for the Water Quality Association, of Lisle, Ill., a position she’s held since 1991. Her doctorate is in adult and continuing education, and she currently holds a certified association executive (CAE) designation.

Anne Parissidi is WQA Education/Certification Program coordinator. She holds a B.A. in speech and education and currently manages WQA certification programs and seminars. She’s been with the association since 1991. Both can be reached at (630) 505-0160 or (630) 505-9637 (fax).

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