Friday, January 23, 2015

Studying Paying Off

The ACE Exam is not easy. 

Some of the words and phrases I've heard PMP's use when describing the exam include:
  • "Rigorous, but fair"
  • "More broad-ranging than I thought it would be"
  • "Hard"
  • "Tougher than my state exam"
  • "A good overall assessment"
It is not at all uncommon for a person to take the ACE Exam and not pass it. In fact, more than half of the people who take it do not get through on their first attempt.  I think that a lot of the reason for this breaks down into one of two reasons:

1) A lack of preparation
2) A lack of understanding for the depth of the exam

This is not meant as an insult to anyone. I could easily see a person who has been in the industry for 25 years thinking that they can pass the exam with little to no preparation. And some have -- but not many. 

Pest management is a time-consuming business and it can be hard to imagine where you would be able to squeeze study time into an already jam-packed day. But, the ESA Certification Board recommends that an ACE applicant spends a minimum of 40 hours of self-study in preparation for the exam.  One good approach that some people use is to slot 15-20 minutes a day for study. Maybe when you first get up. Habits form quickly, and getting out your study materials while you're having your morning coffee can end up being a fairly simple way to prepare for the exam (not to mention learning how to better excel at your job!).

Exam Depth:
The ACE Content Outline is extremely broad. It can be hard to figure out exactly what to study based on the outline. I've asked a couple of our ACEs who did not pass the exam on their first attempt to share their study tips.

Robert Alarco, ACE works for Orkin, which has been a big supporter of personal credentialing for PMPs. While he took his first exam largely through studying by himself, he was part of a group study environment for his second attempt and was able to raise his score by 8 percentage points to a comfortably-passing grade. As he says, "Here at Orkin we had weekly conference calls as a group and we went over specific material i.e. termites 1 week, ants another etc.  And then we had 2 study sessions as a group off site before we ultimately took the exam.  That structure forced me to remain in an environment conducive to learning and definitely helped me brush up on my knowledge."

For Chris Clark, ACE, Service Manager for HomeTeam Pest Defense, he acknowledges that he came in unprepared for the first exam, thinking that his years of experience in the industry would carry the day. "Being a state certified GHP operator and 15 years in the industry.  I mistakenly went into the original ACE exam with the thought that this was going to be breeze.  I did take part in a study course with Dr. Baldwin at UF which was an eye opener that I was not studying solely for our FL pests, I was also looking at all North American pests.  So needless to say I gave the exam my best effort at that time and the results showed my preparation.  So with a bruised ego and a new determination I buckled down with a better idea of what to expect.  For my second attempt, a lot of my preparation was based off the content on the ESA website including the ACE Exam Content Outline.  Dr. Stephanie Hill created a worksheet (click here to access a free copy of Dr Hill's study sheet) for me to judge my knowledge of each potential pest.  So based on my perceived knowledge of each listed pest I utilized the Mallis/Internet/Dr. Hill/Featured Creature of UF to go over the areas I was not as familiar with. After the new date was set for my ACE exam attempt.  I set myself to have the week prior off to do make sure all information was read and reread.  This time after the proper preparation I was able to pass my ACE exam with a little breathing room. The first time, I went in almost expecting to pass based on my years of experience.  My preparation was horrible and so were my results.  The second time I just made sure to buckle down and study because it was important for me to achieve this accomplishment."

Here are my 5 favorite ways to prepare for the ACE exam:

  1. Form a study group. Studying with a peer set is a great way to prepare for the exam. You will be able to capitalize on each other's strengths and weaknesses and perhaps you can even share study books to save on costs. A study group will also help keep you on task.
  2. Dedicate 15 minutes a day to read study materials.  You are busy, I'm sure. We all are. But everyone has 15 minutes out of every day that they can spend. Make it a goal and it will become a habit. 
  3. Develop your own review materials. Just like in Chris Clark's story above, using a study worksheet that is personalized to you and your situation can help you prepare. Studies have shown that the act of writing information down helps increase memory retention. In other words simply by preparing the study worksheet you are training your brain to remember the information. 
  4. Find an ACE review course. A review course is like a souped-up study group. It will generally be led by a BCE or other qualified instructor and is designed to help you hone the knowledge you've accumulated over your years in the industry. But ...
  5. Don't count on the review course.  Remember that the ACE exam is testing on a body of knowledge. It is almost impossible to cram for it. You need to be diligent in preparing for it. Recall that a minimum of 40 hours of self-study is the recommendation, regardless of your length of time in the industry.