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”.

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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.

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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% [http://www.abih.org/become-certified/prepare-exam/exam-pass-rate].  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.

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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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Taking Control of Your Career

By Justin Klavan

“I am not responsible for your career”.  That phrase came from my manager at my first job fresh out of Graduate School.  Looking back on those days I remember feeling overwhelmed and lost, lacking a clear direction and unsure what to do.  I wanted so badly to be given some type of guidance.  Try as I might though, it never came.  I spoke with my coworkers and learned as much as I could from them but I still had a hard time finding my path.

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Finally, I decided I needed to take one step at a time and hope the picture would become clearer as time went on.  In graduate school, we were taught that becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) should be something we strive for.  So, I made my first career decision; become a CIH. It had some elements of a good five year plan:

  • Learn and grow technically,
  • Gain the necessary real world experience,
  • Increase my value to the company.

So that’s what I did.  I focused on my goal of becoming a CIH and tried to make sure every aspect of my work contribute in some way to meeting that objective.  My hope was once I obtained my CIH, I would be able to figure out my next step and it would open a wider aperture of opportunities.

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I took the exam in the fall, around the time for end of the year assessments, and was fortunate enough to pass.  After four years of focusing on the exam I was looking forward to having a meaningful discussion of “what comes next” with my manager.   When we met I still had not thought much beyond becoming a CIH.   I was expecting my manager to give me the next step but again was disappointed.  I had no aspirations and he had no advice to give.  Again, he reminded me that “he was not respon
sible for my career”.  Once again I was no longer on a path and I felt lost professionally. I tell this story because I have seen it played out over and over again as an AIHA Mentor and as I moved through organizations.  Young EHS professionals tend to have trouble figuring out what direction to go and are unable to pull out the desired guidance from their leaders.

So what is the solution?  How do you find your path?  Unfortunately there is not a single solution for every situation, but there is a wealth of experience from other Professionals to help you make decisions.  For this article, I will simply give my perspective.

Try as I may to forget the phrase “I am not responsible for your career,” I cannot.  It haunts me and is a constant reminder of an undeniable truth.  In the end no one is responsible for your career but you.  But there is hope.  Just because you are responsible does not mean you are alone.  If you have a boss, you have a resource.

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As a leader with direct reports, I can most certainly say that leaders are responsible for their team’s professional successes and failures.  In other words, if you make a mistake, your leader is accountable for allowing it happen and responsible for righting the ship.  On the other hand, if you succeed, so does your leader.   What does this have to do with your career?  Your manager is invested in your career whether they realize it or not.  By helping you be successful, they help their team be successful.  I am by no means condoning taking a back seat to your career and letting your manager drive, but I am saying they are a wealth of information that can benefit you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Another resource I will shamelessly plug is a mentor from the AIHA Mentoring and Professional Development Committee (MPDC).  The committee and subsequent mentoring program is an amazing resource with dedicated EHS professionals available to give help.  I am lucky enough to have been associated with that group for the last 4 years and I can honestly say it helps.  Having and external resource to help work through problems and offer a different perspective can help you find your path. If you are unfamiliar with this Committee or the Mentoring program, then check out the “Mentoring Corner” of this newsletter has more information.

Having resources is one thing, but using them effectively is entirely different.  Remember that quote that haunts me?   I would submit my slightly altered version of it:

“I am not responsible for your career, but I am available to help you.”

The key word there is “available”.  Available does not mean it automatically comes to yo
u, it means it is there to use.  You must be proactive and use your resources as you would a tool!  You have to get their undivided attention and to do that requires effort on your part.  Find a time and set up a meeting when you are both available.  Be sure to find a place you both can go where distractions are minimal.  Think of specific questions prior to your meeting and have something with you to take notes.  When you speak with them about your thoughts, try and avoid lamenting or complaining. Ask probing questions such as “I want to lead a team in the future.  What types of skills do I need to develop?”  Ask them about their experiences and what decisions they made a difference in their careers.

One topic I believe to be a “must” is a discussion around identifying your weaknesses.  Knowing your weaknesses is powerful.  You cannot get better if you do not know what to improve.  Use that conversation to establish goals to help improve.  Having the ability to confront those weak points is an essential skill for any professional.

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In the end taking control of your career is all about being proactive and finding those leaders, peers, friends, and family that can help you. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not sitting back and letting things happen.  If you want to excel, if you want to grow, and if you want to one day look back and admire where you are, you have to take the steps yourself.   Use your resources wisely and take advantage of their knowledge.  I would not be where I am today if I did not finally realize that I am the one responsible for my career.

Justin Klavan is Senior Manager of EHS and Facilities at Textron Systems located in Hunt Valley Maryland.   He is currently a member of both the Mentoring and Professional Development Committee and the Student and Early Career Professional Committee.

Mentoring Corner: “There’s more than one way to get through the swamp.”

As many of you have come to know I post a weekly feature for the AIHA Mentoring and Professional Development Committee titled, “Wise Words Wednesday.” A thoughtful and inspiring reply was posted on May 20, 2015 to our LinkedIn Group and I wanted to share this piece with our entire community. This post is being republished with the consent of the author. The original post can be found here.

“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”
Seneca

“There are no unfavorable winds either if there is no port to set sail toward. This is actually a fairly deep statement by Seneca, and relates to having goals in one’s life. Seneca himself was an interesting fellow, who apparently advised Nero.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_the_Younger

Since this is a mentoring program discussion site, we can talk a bit about goals from an AIHA perspective. We each need a focus for our professional work, and as an industrial hygienist, our concern is with worker health. We also have personal goals, such as attaining the CIH designation. Sometimes, these goals are long-term goals. The CIH, for instance, took me from about 1992 to November 28, 2006 to achieve. Throughout this period, I had several jobs and titles. I was fired once because of ethical concerns I had which my company did not have, but maintained my vision of safety and health for workers. This led ultimately to another job in a different city, but which was an improvement. It led to new opportunities for both myself, and my wife. And throughout this period, I took the CIH exam three times, and finally achieved my goals. In the process, I also started an MSPH program through Tulane University, which expanded my vision of the industrial hygiene field by an order of magnitude.

So if I can give some advise for those who are pursuing work in the industrial hygiene field, it is this: set your goals, and don’t let any obstacles keep you from achieving them. The obstacles are actually opportunities to see things from a different perspective. You may need to regain your compass bearings due to the need to re-orient yourself due to these obstacles, but this is part of the process, part of life.

To illustrate this, here is an experience I had while in Survival School, headquartered at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, but in reality in the Cascade Mountains during a cross-country survival trek. This happened in 1967. We came to a spot where the compass course led us across a marshy pond, a thicket with lots of brush in our way. I was an enlisted man, and the officer in charge was a navigator in a jet aircraft. He wanted us all to go straight across this marsh on a bee-line. I said we should go around the bog, staying in the dry area that was less brushy and use a tree on the other side as a marker as to where we wanted to go. But the officer said,

“I’m an OFFICER and a NAVIGATOR! I know what I’m doing, and we’re going straight across this area!” He was pretty emphatic.

“Well,” I replied, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

So a couple of us (we were pararescue trainees) skirted this bog and went around the swamp in about ten minutes. The navigator and his followers came out the other side about twenty minutes later, wet to the bone and pretty tired. We helped them out of the water.

Sometimes the straightest route to a goal is not the best one. So keep this in mind when you come across an obstacle to your goals.

Most of all, enjoy life, and keep to your ethical standards.”

John Ratliff, CSP, CIH, MSPH

The Three Magical Letters: C.I.H.

By Kerry Schmid

A Certified Industrial Hygienist; that is what many students and young professionals strive to achieve. Spring Exam season is quickly approaching and you might be similar to me; I am sitting for my CIH Exam. The communications team has put together an issue with a CIH Exam focus. Last year at the AIHce, I was inspired by Paula Steven’s CIH Boot Camp – 30 days to a Better Score which was a part of the Perspectives on Preparation for the CIH Exam Roundtable. To all the test takers this spring, the past and the future enjoy the article on Paula’s boot camp and the information packed article on the Perspectives on Preparation for the CIH Exam!

Perspectives on Preparation for the CIH Exam

By Jennifer Sheffer and Carter Ficklen

“Perspectives on Preparation for the CIH Exam” roundtable was based on a vision for sharing CIH preparation information and support developed by a group of hygienists, including Mike Watson, Carter Ficklen, Steve Lacey, Shannon Gaffney, Mike Weeks, Andrew Burgie, and many others, along with the support of Lynn O’Donnell and Allan Fleeger, first came to fruition during the Chicago 2006 AIHce. Through the years, the roundtable provided attendees with speaker perspectives on their trials and tribulations of studying for the exam and finally passing the exam. Stories ranged from passing the exam on the first attempt to the journey of attempting the exam multiple times and finally passing. Also, the roundtable has continued to focus on study materials, ways to find time to study, study methods, etc. Lastly, Lynn O’Donnell’s presentation titled “Just the Facts” on the application requirements and exam process continues to be a popular item during the roundtable.

Lastly, staying in tune with the theme of perspectives and preparation for the CIH exam, the following are a few helpful ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for passing the CIH exam from Carter Ficklen, CIH:

If you cannot join the roundtable during an AIHce as you begin your journey or continue on your journey to achieving the CIH designation or you would like to pay it forward contact Roger Smith with the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) at (517) 853-5765.

Also, participating in the AIHA mentoring program is another great way to utilize resources to help you stay on track or to help others to pass the exam.

 *A big Thank You goes to Carter Ficklen for providing the information contained in this article.

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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).

Mentoring Corner: CIH Exam Study Tracker / Core Competencies for the Practice of Industrial/Occupational Hygiene

Starting a new mentoring relationship in the new year and need a topic to focus your meetings? This is a great topic with which to start a mentoring partnership.  If the mentee is not a CIH, but has aspirations to acquire this designation, the mentoring pair can review these two resources to develop a plan for studying for the CIH exam.  The CIH Exam Tracker Tool is available from the ABIH website.  Look for the tool described in the middle of the page (3rd item under “In Addition.” )  This utility can be used to develop a plan for studying, identifying gaps in the mentee’s IH experience, and to track time studying in each of the rubrics.  If the mentee needs a framework to develop a CIH exam study plan, a sample study plan is being provided.  The Core Competencies for the Practice of Industrial/Occupational Hygiene publication can also be used in preparing the study plan.

If the mentee is already a CIH or they have no immediate plans to sit for the exam, the Core Competencies for the Practice of Industrial/Occupational Hygiene publication can be used to develop a career portfolio using the Key Competencies Diagram on page 6 to identify gaps in professional experience and/or knowledge.  For example, a 3 year and/or a 5 year plan can be mapped out so that the mentee can focus on improving technical skills in those competencies by way of professional practice, formal training or through self-paced learning.  The mentoring pair may consider using the CIH Exam Study Tracker as a career competency tracking tool instead of using it to study for the exam.  Some modifications to the MS Excel file may be required if used for this purpose.  For example, as a starting point, using the Reference Section from the Tool (checklist), they could work together to identify gaps in a mentee’s educational background/professional practice and determine ways to rectify them through book references, workshops, PDC’s, etc.