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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Studying for the Certification Exam

Studying for the Certification Exam

Studying for the certification exam can seem difficult or tedious for the many of us who are out of practice when it comes to taking and preparing for standardized tests. Adding to the challenge, most operators or operators in training must balance daily responsibilities and work with studying. In this week’s blog post, we hope to make your certification exam prep more productive by reviewing the best methods to study.

Before studying for the exam, operators should start by briefly researching the exam itself. Knowing the topics that will be covered and the resources that will be available during the test can help you make the best use of your study time. For starters, each certification agency can have a substantially different distribution of topics included on their need-to-know (NTK) criteria. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) published a 2018 summary of each state’s licensing requirements and NTK criteria (if developed), however operators should check with their primacy agency directly to really familiarize themselves with the test requirements, format, and design.

For most primacy agencies, certification exams are administered online at a certified testing center, however many agencies offer a few pencil and paper exams throughout the year. Operators that are taking an online exam can familiarize themselves with the feel of an online test using the Association of Boards of Certification’s (ABC) exam demo. For either exam format, the test taker should find out how many questions will be included in the exam, what the question format will be, and how many minutes they have to complete the exam. Certification agencies that use ABC testing services require candidates to bring photo ID, a non-programmable calculator, two sharpened #2 pencils, and an eraser. The exam will likely provide a Formula/Conversion table that you should practice with during your studies. Please check with your primacy agency to determine what score is required to pass. Most agencies require a 70% or higher.

The AWWA suggests that operators should begin studying immediately after submitting their testing application. Applications are generally due two to three months before the test date itself offering ample time to study. During this period, test takers should strive to learn and understand, not memorize, all the material identified on the NTK criteria. Setting a goal to study at the same times and location each day will help improve focus when you sit down to work. As you study, keep your notes and study material in the same binder or notebook to improve organization. How long you study each day will depend on your current knowledge and experience. Even if you think you know some material pretty well, set aside time to review just in case.

Deciding how to study and the resources you want to use will depend on how you learn best. Some operators retain information by reading and writing. For the exam, this might look like learning from a textbook or manual and then summarizing the information in flashcards or a study guide. Research has shown that writing down information improves retention. Generally by the time a student has finished their flashcards, they already know the material pretty well. Reviewing those written summaries will only reinforce that knowledge. Check out our previous blog post on free test prep resources to find downloadable study manuals. If you want to use a textbook instead, we recommend purchasing them used whenever possible!

Many other operators prefer a visual or auditory form of learning that comes from watching training videos online or enrolling in a certification exam prep course. If already studying from a textbook, we encourage visual learners to make their own diagrams and charts. Operators can find upcoming certification classes by visiting our national training calendar and selecting “Certification/Exam Prep” in the Category filter. Training courses are also good for kinesthetic learners that retain information by 'doing'. To really prepare for the exam, chances are high that you will need to apply a combination of these study methods. When none of these tips seem to work and you just can’t seem to remember an important fact or process, try developing your own mnemonic.

The last important tip we must offer is to repeat, repeat, repeat! In order to remember anything long-term, you should review the same material several times without cramming. For example, during the duration of your exam prep try reading from your study manual and summarizing the information in a notebook. Return to those summaries periodically, perhaps creating diagrams when possible or even rewriting the material for a second time. When you feel like you know your stuff, take a practice test to assess your knowledge.

Practice tests will help students determine where they need to improve while letting them get used to the types of questions that will be asked on the exam. Some primacy agencies have developed their own practice tests, however we recommended several additional practice exams in the October 29, 2019 edition of the WaterOperator.org Newsletter. The edition also includes some of our own practice questions and helpful test taking tips for the day of the exam.

Remember that doing well on the exam requires developing a study plan and sticking to it. With any luck, and a lot of practice, these tips will have you acing your certification exam!