Getting Your Mind Ready for Certification Testing

By Steve Graham  CIH, CSP

Taking the ABIH Certification Test (as well as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BSCP) exam), to have the privilege to call one’s self a “Certified Industrial Hygienist”, is a stressful experience.  All of the stress is self induced because as human beings, we want to demonstrate to others that we belong in the “club”.


Everyone I have known studies the ABIH Rubrics and takes advice from industrial hygiene mentors, professional friends and peers on how and what to study.  This article is not about references or new sources of study materials.  I would be out of my mind to think I had any such wisdom to present about study materials you haven’t already heard.  Instead, I want to give you elements of a study philosophy as you go through the process of studying and taking the exam.  These elements come from someone who has taken both the CIH and CSP exams several times before finally attaining those credentials.  Below are several “elements” of thought.  They are not standalone but interrelate.

Element one – Your aim is to pass the test and not to correctly answer all the questions.

This element may seem simplistic but all our lives we are driven to be the best; the “A” students or exceptional caliber athletes. Remember this – the CIH Exam is not a test for the best, but for you to pass a minimum required number of questions correctly.  The ABIH does not provide you with your passing grade or even a percentile placement.  So first, be honest with yourself and don’t think you will know or remember every possible fact.  The exam is made up of many multiple choice or guess questions from the various rubrics.  The number of questions per exam is set and those questions you do see are taken from a large library of questions that have been developed and refined over the years by your peers.  There is a process the ABIH follows before you see any exam question.   Questions are reviewed for relevance, but new questions are continually developed as the practice and knowledge of industrial hygiene grows and expands.  Remember, the correct answer may be the so-called best choice offered and may not necessarily be written as a correct textbook answer.


Second, in studying information remember there is a trade-off in effort or “time” expended to what you learn, remember, or recall.  Remember this. There are questions or basics you know will be asked so know that information.  I call these questions “freebies” that the test gives you.  There are also questions you can expect to be completely clueless in selecting the possible best answer from the four given answers.  No matter how much you study there is no hope of knowing for sure if you can run a specific calculation or know every text book fact.  For me, the example was trying to prepare knowing how to calculate BTUs needed for heating a space.  I considered this a question I would give back to the exam. The goal is to correctly answer as many questions as it takes to pass the exam so use your study time wisely.  You can give limited questions to the exam. WHY? …because it is not a test for the best.

Third, be honest with yourself to know you have put enough effort into studying.  Only you know what it takes for you to be prepared.  If you find yourself sitting in the exam and cussing under your breath about how you should have studied more, then you weren’t honest with yourself. You might also believe you studied but let your nerves get the better of you.  Not passing the test is ok and that takes me to the next Element.

Element two – Failure is not an option unless you let it beat you!

Ok, you did not pass the Exam.  So what?  Look at the statistics for the CIH exam.  In 2015 the spring pass rate was 54.2% and the fall period test rate 49.1% [].  My intention is not to burst your bubble before you even take the exam but to again prepare your mind for the task at hand.  Whether you are studying for your first time or for a retest you need to recognize you have these basic characteristics and use them to your advantage.


Persistence.  This is my all time favorite human characteristic.  No one is born an expert, an Olympian, or a CIH.  A lot of effort including failed attempts goes into any endeavor and taking the CIH exam is no different. Prepare wisely.  For the exam make a sensible study plan, stick to it and allow for variability.  Get a study buddy and start or join a study group.  Rely on others and be relied upon to do your part.  Repeatedly study the same material including using different study methods such as flash cards, notes, reading text, taking a prep course, using study software programs, holding study sessions.  Whatever it takes to keep pounding facts into your memory and answering multiple answer questions is what you need to do.

The end of the world is not dependent on taking and even failing the CIH exam.  If or when you do retake an exam you now have a step-up on others.  You know what to expect including how to manage your time better and mentally prepare yourself.  Again, be honest with yourself.  The only insult should be paying the test fee again and spending time to again study.  Don’t quit!

Element three – That CIH credential belongs to you and no one else! 

When you attain the CIH designation it belongs to you.  You earned it and only you will be able to gage what attainment pride means.  It goes with you regardless of your future employment.  No one can take it away although you can lose it for various ethical missteps or lack of maintaining recertification points.

In summary, remember that certification testing only demonstrates that you have passed a standardized professional test containing general industrial hygiene knowledge.  It is not a show of character, what your in-depth knowledge of specific subjects might be, what specific knowledge of practice might be for the industry you work in, or if you even like industrial hygiene.  Now gear up for taking that professional exam.

Melissa Rupert is currently the Director of Industrial Hygiene for SevenGen and Chair of the Students and Early Career Professionals Committee.


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