Exam Time – Strategies to Help You Pass
Richard Heller, President
This is the time of year when thousands of quality professionals are upgrading their credentials to the certified level by taking the ASQ qualifier exams. People often ask me how they can improve their odds of passing. The simple answer is “study hard”, but I think there is more to it than just that. You need a strategy.
I suggest a three-step approach:
1. Read ALL the questions and answer the “no-brainers”.
2. Look up the subjects for the questions that you’ve been unable to answer
3. Guess on the last 20%
Let’s go through the three steps, one at a time:
Step 1: Read ALL the questions and answer the ‘no-brainers’. This
seems like common sense, but too often people get stuck halfway through
the exam spending 10 or 15 minutes trying to look up some piece of
arcane information. These are the ‘exam puzzles.’ Every exam has a couple of them. They are time wasters. By the end of the exam, you will be working on question 74 with another 26 questions to answer. Many of those 26 are ‘no-brainers’ that you could have answered if you hadn’t wasted their time on these puzzles.
There are three points in this step:
a) When you use this strategy, read ALL the questions. Circle your answer in the question book. Then go back to transfer the answers from the question book to the answer sheet. At the bottom of each page in the question book, make sure you have transferred the correct question number to the correct answer on the answer sheet. It’s very easy to get out-of-sync when you do this. You don’t want to get to question 93 and find you are marking answer 97 on the answer sheet. Keep in mind, this problem has happened to others. It's happened to me. It could happen to you. Once you’re sure you’ve transferred the answer correctly, cross out that question so you don’t have to read that question again.
b) At the same time you are answering the ‘no-brainers’, circle key words in any question you think you will need to look up. This will prepare you for step 2
c) Finally, cross out any answers that are obviously wrong: If the question is to identify a particular approach to problem solving, the answer “Grass is green” is obviously not relevant! There are four possible answers to every question. By crossing out one silly answer in each question, you’ve increased your guessing odds from 25% to 33%.
Step 2: Look up the circled words. This is where your references come in handy. There is also a strategy involved at this stage. However, the strategy starts long before you ever come to the exam site. In order to find your key words, you must have a good index of the information in your reference books AND a glossary of key terms. When you do your studying, make sure that the index in the back of your reference books point to the area you are reading, using words you understand. At the same time, prepare a personal glossary of key terms.
Indexing is an art by itself, but it isn’t something most people know how to do. . .
a) Check your index while you are studying. If you come across a key idea, something that you will want to come back to during the exam, highlight it in the text, but also make sure your index references the page with the highlight. Let’s say you find an interesting comment about “robust design” for new products or processes. Further, let’s say you believe that this topic could be on your exam. Go to the index and make sure that the words ‘robust design’ point to that page. If the words aren’t in the index, add them. Write them in with pen or pencil, along with the page number. People who use English as a second language may want to record their index references in their native language. In any case, make sure you record the key words in your index so you can find them during your exam.
b) When it comes time to look up your circled words, review all of them first. If a couple of words appear in several questions, look up that information in your references. Spend 10-15 minutes reading the article. Then, go back to the questions and answer them. Surprisingly, they will become new ‘no-brainers’ after a little study.
Now, go back through your question book and transfer these answers to the answer sheet. At the bottom of each question sheet, sync up your answer sheet as you did in step 1 and cross out the completed question in the question book. You never have to re-read those questions either.
Step 3: Guess. At this point in the exam, you should have answers for at least 80% of the exam. If you could answer 60% of the questions as ‘no-brainers’, and the next 20% as ‘look-up’, you should be pretty close to passing the exam. The remaining 20% of the questions should add another 7% to the score, especially if you were able to eliminate an average of 1 silly answer per question. Finally, don’t forget to sync up your guesses as well. These questions will put you well over the top and into the passing column.
So that’s it!
Keep in mind, though, that strategies by themselves won’t guarantee a passing grade. The only way to make sure you can put at least 60% of the questions in the ‘no-brainer’ column is because you did the basic studying. The only way you can get 20% of the questions in the ‘look-up’ column is because you spent the time indexing your work and using a glossary. And, the only way you can make guessing productive is because you were able to cross out the obviously silly answers.
Good Luck and please sign our guestbook to let us know how you do.