I mentor lots of people preparing to pass their EH&S certification exam. Some folks are working toward a safety certification, including the Associate Safety Professional (ASP) and the Certified Safety Professional (CSP). Other folks are working toward passing the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exam or the Certified Hazardous Material Manager (CHMM) exam.
ASP, CSP, CIH, or CHMM....
Whichever exam we prepare for, it is hard work! The uncertainty of not knowing what is on the exam drives us nuts. We study and prepare for months then question our ability, get overwhelmed, and then never actually sit for the exam. Believe me, I speak from experience.
Fear. Plain and simple.
We’re afraid to fail.
We’re afraid we’re not good enough.
We’re afraid to be embarrassed when we tell our families and friends we didn’t pass our certification exam.
So, we work harder. We study more. We are determined to learn everything. Every single practice question and problem we encounter is another learning opportunity. We’re not going to let anything get by us.
We need to know it all.
How else are we going to pass the exam? Knowing only one or two things about rules and regulations isn’t enough. We need to know everything about rules and regulations along with chemistry, toxicology, engineering and ventilation. Then there’s fall protection, trenching, confined spaces and control of hazardous energy.
Will it ever end?
Remember, you’re an EH&S professional already. Sitting for your certification exam is the last step in the certification process. You meet the requirements and are approved by the certifying board (ABIH, BCSP, IHMM) to sit for the exam. You are a professional in your field and know a lot of really cool stuff.
You don’t need a perfect score to pass. You just need a passing score.
Over the past few years, the passing score on the exams range from a low of about 55% for the CSP to a possible 68% for the CIH.
These are tough exams!
No one expects you to know everything. That’s why the passing score is so low.
You only need to know enough to get by, but remember getting by still means you know quite a bit. Again, you are an expert in the environmental, health, and safety field, and you know a darn sight more than the average bear.
Relax a little.
When you come across a topic as you’re studying that’s way over your head...Stop. Take a break. Give it time to sink in and think on it.
Is it a topic important to your current job? If you work with sources of ionizing radiation, then you need to know a thing or two about shielding and radiation exposure. If you don’t work with these substances, then it is okay to learn a few basics and guess on more advanced questions for the exam.
The exams are mostly filled with fundamental questions on a variety of topics with a few advanced questions in each subject. The best study strategy is to become familiar with the fundamentals and focus your advanced efforts in your particular industry. Your professional experience will help you tremendously.
Remember, no one expects you to know everything. Just like your family physician who knows enough to diagnose a cold from a seizure, you need to have enough general knowledge to minimize risk, and recognize when it is time to call in the experts.
Don’t give up on studying for the exam because you’ve found a very tough question or two or three subjects you don’t have a clue about. Stop and recognize that no one knows everything. You just need be an expert in one or two topics and be familiar with fundamental concepts in the rest of the subjects.
As Kim Collins, a famous track & field athlete stated:
Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.
You can do it.