Paula’s CIH Boot Camp – 30 Days to a Better Score

“The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Medical Department or the U.S.”

By: Paula Steven

My name is Paula Steven and I am going to be briefly telling you how I studied for my CIH exam. I was told by peers that it was unconventional and by mentors that it was a bit extreme. I am not promising this method will work for everyone, but it worked for me. I have never been one to find standardized tests easy. As a matter of fact, I haven’t ever found any kind of test easy. I have always had to work very hard and struggle for any good grade I ever made. I was not one of those students that can just study and be attentive to pass. I failed the spring exam by a ridiculous fraction of a point. I could have taken the approach that all I really needed to do was learn one more thing and retest, but I not only wanted to pass the exam; I wanted to knock it out of the park! I wanted to totally dominate this exam. This was the beginning of my CIH boot camp journey. The name, “Paula’s CIH Boot Camp”, came about when I overheard my study partner telling someone in the office that studying with me was like being with a drill sergeant. We laugh about it now, but my husband actually pulled me aside once and said “Paula, you should let her go home for the day… you are being mean!”

Want to know how the boot camp worked? This is how I did it. I started by finding someone to take over my chores (I have draft horses) while I studied non-stop for 30 days. I took a popular 3.5 day CIH Prep Course and identified my weakest areas. I chose to have my 30 day boot camp in November. I took 30 days of leave starting NOV 1 and scheduled my exam for NOV 30. November is a month where there were several paid holidays and I could minimize annual leave use, so it was a logical choice. I enrolled, was paired with a mentor through the AIHA Mentoring Committee, and my mentor and I discussed the progress I had made on short term and long term goals. Keeping in touch with my mentor was very important because it provided a level of accountability that I needed; and he recommended reading material or helped explain technical concepts that I was unfamiliar with. The next step was to find someone I could torture (I mean study with). My coworker was also studying for the exam so she was the obvious choice.

I then went to the local big-box hardware store with a pick-up truck and purchased a few plain white smooth shower wall boards. They run about $11 each. I trimmed these shower wall panels with a black duct tape frame and mounted them in a few key places throughout my house to use as white erase boards. OK, I really mounted them on every viable vertical surface and in every room that I could make one fit. I also used paper, note cards, poster paper, and anything at all that I could find and pin or tape to my walls.

I made a data based study plan. I calculated an estimated number of questions from each rubric that I could expect on the exam by using the information in the candidate handbook and other literature available at the ABIH website that delineates percentages of IH Core Competency skills for professional and para-professional. The candidate hand book provides an estimated percentage of exam questions as they relate to the IH rubrics. Using these percentages along with the percentage scores from the IH job analysis data, it is easy to make a data based plan for how many questions one would expected for each topic.

I then gained possession of some study material. Some I borrowed and some I purchased. On one of my shower walls, I made a list of things that I had available to study and a schedule for when I would study each. I focused on key literature like the ACGIH TLV book. I took the TLV book with me everywhere. I took it to restaurants, work, the barn, the restroom, the doctor’s office… I mean absolutely everywhere. Any time I could find a few moments to study it I did. The other text I focused on was the “Big White Book”. I read this book cover-to-cover 4 times the previous summer at night after work. Each time I selected items as if I was the person developing the CIH exam questions, and I highlighted material I chose to be on the exam. Each time I read the book, I highlighted in a different color. Then, any text with all four colors on the page I tabbed out in the book with a post-it note. My study partner and I took turns asking each other questions about the tabbed pages of the book when we needed a break from the boot camp work plan.

Now that we had a road map and potential exam questions, we numbered one of the shower walls 1-350. We then filled in the numbered areas with material that we felt like we might see on the exam. As we studied the material on the list, we erased the items that we were confident that we knew.

We used other shower walls throughout my house to work problematic material. Once we successfully conquered an example, we photographed it so that we could erase the boards and go on to something else.v2i2- 1I was so proud of some of the work that I refused to erase the boards. That meant I had to go back to the home improvement store and buy more shower wall. I photographed the most important bits of our work very well so that if it ever was accidently erased I could recreate it from the photos. Each day of the boot camp we took practice tests. We used software, vendor supplied material, textbook questions, and made our own exams from items on the wall and in our reference books. Once we were consistently making 90% or better, we moved to the next rubric. One of my mentors suggested that I “reward” myself if I studied. So I implemented new Boot Camp rules and required study time to begin at 0600 each day with no off target activities until we achieved what I considered an acceptable score on that rubric. Yes, that meant no Christmas shopping, no dental visits, and no phone calls or visitors. Sometimes it meant no eating or breaks. I recall once saying to my study partner “you can’t get up off of that couch until we score at least an 80% today, and if you have to stay all night on the couch doing this over and over we will”.

I not only kept true to our study plan, but I also kept a journal of what we studied and our scores each day. We focused on studying only the material that we did not know and stopped ourselves once work became reviewing material that we did know. I know, I know, it is fun and feels good to take a practice exam and get a good score, but once we were technically competent, we moved on to another area.

The results of all of this hard work and dedication- we both passed. I am not sure about my friend’s score, but I did not “barely” pass. I passed like a super hero would have (but without the unitard).


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