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A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ASQ Exam Success: Real-Life Best Practices

While it has been several years since I was in the arena, from 1998-2004 I stepped up and wrote 8 of the most difficult exams ASQ has to offer including the Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (back when it was simply Certified Quality Manager), Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, Certified Quality Engineer, Certified Software Quality Engineer, Certified Reliability Engineer, and the various derivations of the ASQ Certified Auditor program (includng HACCP and Biomedical).  From that experience, I also contributed back to ASQ several years ago by co-authoring a certification handbook and developing exam questions for the illustrious question bank.  I have lived the advice which I am now imparting.  In sharing this advice, I am presuming that the ASQ vetting process restricts exam participation only to those who have the necessary knowledge and experience to legitimately earn their certification.

For simplicity I will keep it to 5 key best practices:
- Material Preparation
- Memorization
- Elimination
- Essay Completion
- Time Management

1. Material Preparation
The ASQ rules must be followed: no questions, no internet connections, etc.  Some practices which have helped me succeed include:
- Make personal notes from all references, courses, and solutions to anticipated questions across the entire body of knowledge.  This reduces the dependency on textbooks and cumbersome references, and targets your awareness.
- Summarize key points, formulas, and examples of common statistical questions.  This is helpful not only as a study aid, but performing this step reinforces the key concepts.
- If you are using statistical tables, highlight the most frequently occurring numbers to correspond to questions (z table: 1.96 for +/- 0.5 two-tailed rejection area for null hypothesis H0).  If the numbers are highlighted, they can be readily applied to your formulas, saving time and creating certainty.
- If you do use a textbook or certification handbook/primer, photocopy the index pages and reference them outside of the book.  This will save from the repetitive inconvenience of having to constantly flip to the back, then the middle of the book in use.

2. Memorization
- While some educators frown upon this as a learning method, it is extremely effective when being tested for a large body of knowledge.  The power of instant recall provides certainty and confidence, and reduces mistakes from "second-guessing".
- Rapidly responding to a known question allows you to "bank" valuable time to be devoted to more complex or intricate questions.  Since the test is a mix of questions across all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, the intent of ASQ is to balance complex questions with simple and straightforward rote confirmations of basic fundamental knowledge.  Spending too much time on simple rote questions will be to your disadvantage.

3. Elimination
- This requires the examinee to have the bias, not to select the first right answer, but to eliminate the incorrect responses until only the best response remains.
- Exam questions can be phrased very carefully, and it is important that the examinee understands not only why their selection is correct, but why the other choices are invalid.  Forcing this bias may reveal trickery and intentional diversions in a seemingly straightforward question, making it evident why careful comprehension is essential to success.
- This trait is important when the examinee is required to select from several options and determine which of the options are correct.  The ability to eliminate invalid options is a higher demonstration of knowledge and reflects capabilities to apply the knowledge.
- Mathematical and statistical questions are challenging in that every incorrect step or choice will be reflected in an invalid choice on the exam.  With back-tracing, walk the solution through the steps to the initial problem, and by showing your math work, you can deduce whether the response is suitable.

4. Essay Questions
- In the most advanced exams, the participants will be required to demonstrate their knowledge by responding to scenarios in an essay form.  The scenarios are carefully written to address several key points requiring references from the body of knowledge.
- Marking is based largely on the adequacy of coverage of the main points within the scenario.  The message must be mined and inputs yielded to determine a suitable response.
- Create the entire outline first, leaving several lines between each point.  This will convey that the entire scenario has been considered within the time constraints.
- Start with a small summary along each outline point, and apply 2-4 sentences to each area.  As time permits, add more content to elaborate the position.
- Reinforce the key themes by connecting the key points of the essay back to the explicit words in the question, thereby closing the loop introduced in the initial scenario.

5. Time Management
- Since there is a finite window to respond to questions, time management is critical.  It is imperative to maximize the available time provided, so personal choices need to be made to arrive early and persist until the exam time has completed.
- Allocate a reasonable amount of time per question.  As a default, a 3-5 minute maximum should be applied.  If the question cannot be completed, it should be abandoned until all questions have been addressed.
- One approach is to complete the instant response questions first.  For example, if an exam had 60 questions that could be responded on sight, completion of this portion could take 15-20 minutes, and increase the confidence and certainty of the examinee, along with a higher average time per remaining question (from under 2 to over 3 average minutes per question).  This is a counter-attack to the ASQ exam strategy of "Shock and Awe" where the first 20 questions will have complex and time-consuming challenges.
- Track "Earn vs. Burn" during the exam to compare questions addressed with time remaining.  If you add an extra 20% of effort to check and confirm responses, the ratio should be
- 50% completion at 40% time elapsed,
- 100% completion at 80% time elapsed
- remaining time to check for mistakes or incomplete questions

I want everyone who attempts an ASQ exam to pass and become confident long-term professionals, eventually working their way towards recertification and progression towards Senior and Fellow Membership.

It might be helpful to consider that the 5 key best practices exist to mitigate risks that inhibit exam success:

- Material Preparation: mitigate risk of inadequate exam readiness

- Memorization: mitigate risk of confusion and uncertainty

- Elimination: mitigate risk of improper selection of "best response"

- Essay Completion: mitigate risk of unbalanced communication

- Time Management: mitigate risk of managing multiple challenges within a short time window

1 comment:

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