Advice for Preparing for CPSM Exams
I just passed my final CPSM exam. Now that I am done I want to offer my advice to people who are preparing for the exams. Pardon the length of this post, but I wanted to include everything that I would have liked to have known before I got started with my studies.
In my opinion, you will need the diagnostic kit for all three exams, the professional series books, and the study guides. Some people may be able to get by without purchasing all three of these, but I felt that they were all completely necessary. I recommend the online versions of the diagnostic kits (not the print versions) since they are formatted the same as the real tests. Becoming familiar with the testing system will make you much more comfortable when you take your first test. When I began studying for the first exam there was a lot of material in which I was not proficient. For both the first and second exams I debated quite a bit about whether I should buy the online review courses or*self-study workbook for further study. I did not purchase them, and now I am glad that I didn't spend my money on them.*
An important thing to keep in mind is that the diagnostic tests are significantly easier than the real tests. Just because you pass a diagnostic test doesn't mean you're done studying. When I sat down to take the first real exam I panicked at first because I was certain that they had uploaded the wrong exam on my computer. For the first several questions none of the material was anything that I had ever seen before. My heart was racing and I was very stressed thinking there was no way I would pass the exam. When I clicked over to question six or seven finally there was something that I knew. I finished the rest of the exam not having any idea if I was going to pass or not. It was such a relief to click the end test button and find out that I had scored 450. At the time I thought that was a low score, but now I have found out that that is actually considered to be a pretty good score.
My first (and oddest) piece of advice related to test taking is don't drink much liquid before the test. It is a timed exam and you get one minute per question. Some of the questions are very long and may take you a couple of minutes to complete. If you need a bathroom break you will lose valuable time getting scanned in and out of the room and possibly having to wait for other people in line ahead of you. The clock does not stop. I used every minute on my first exam and had only a few minutes remaining for the other two. I had flagged several questions and used my remaining time to review them.
Second, I have problems keeping my eyes focused across a large 15 inch monitor when reading a paragraph several lines long. I asked ISM for permission to use my flexible whiteboard as a reading guide to help keep my eyes focused. I didn't do that for the first exam because I didn't know of the problem at that point, but it helped me so much in exams two and three. *It enabled me to focus and pay attention to every word without reading ahead (I’m a bit of a speed reader, so I have that tendency). As you will see in the diagnostic tests sometimes the questions are scenarios that you have to put yourself into and one word in the question can make a huge difference to which answer is correct for you to choose. If you wish to use a whiteboard for this purpose you will need to get permission from ISM and have them contact your testing facility. Confirm with your testing facility before your exam a few days before your exam that they received the communication from ISM. On the morning of test day remind the test facility employees of that permission so they will know what you are doing. It's a hassle to do this but was well worth it for me.
Another test taking strategy I recommend is skipping the super long questions and doing them last. Sometimes you can answer five or six shorter questions in the time it may take you to do a long one, so if you feel that there is any chance that you won't be able to answer all of the questions skip a few long ones and then complete them at the end if you have time.*
I know each person has their own techniques for studying, but the following is what worked well for me. I did not, as recommended, take the diagnostic test first. I looked at the first one, realized that I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the material and decided to do some reading first.
I read the professional books first because they were written in a detailed way that for the most part flowed well. The study guides contain critical but very succinct information. I found that reading the more detailed Pro books first were a much better learning tool for me. During my reading of the Pro books and study guides I highlighted anything that I was not familiar with, or thought there was a chance I might not remember.
Next, I took the diagnostic test just to get a feel for my weak areas. At that point I did not review my diagnostic test answers. I did not want to become overly familiar with the questions because I wanted to take the test again after further study a few weeks later. I used Post-it flags to tabulate my study guide and Mark each section 1A – 1, 1A – 2, etc. Then I wrote on the tabs the number of questions from the exam for each section versus the number I got correct on the diagnostic test. That helped me to see where my strengths and weaknesses were and help to focus my studying for rounds two and three.
My next step was to reread my highlights in both books. This time I double highlighted in a different color any material that I did not feel I had mastered. As I did this I also paper clipped together any sections that I felt confident in so that wouldn’t ever waste any more time flipping through those pages.
I retook the diagnostic test and this time throughly reviewed every question and answer - even the ones I got correct. Then I continued my process of rereading highlights and paper clipping the mastered sections until the day of the test.
This is how my diagnostic test scores corresponded to my actual test scores:
Diagnostic Actual %correct
Exam 1 440 450 66%
Exam 2 480 460 64%
Exam 3 480 460 67%
I wish the best of luck to everyone in their future studies and testing.