I arrived at the exam center 30 minutes early. It was a beautiful Colorado fall day that felt more like late summer. The exam center was on a community college campus, so I was surrounded by young students and lots of energy. After confirming the location and logistics, I found a comfy seat in the lobby for some last minute review. At 12:40 pm MST, I made my way to the exam center and started the process of sitting for the exam.
At about 12:55, I had signed in, made chit chat with the exam proctor, confirmed bathroom procedures, put my stuff in my locker, and gone through the exam instructions and was looking at my first question. It was about business needs and I did not know the answer. Actually, the question didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Hmm..must just be a fluke. (But a little flake of self-doubt creeps up nonetheless.)
For the next hour or so, I continue through this pattern.
- About one out of every three questions is crystal clear and I answer confidently.
- About one out of every three questions is slightly confusing, but I can make a good guess. There’s two reasonable answers and I am choosing what I think is probably the best one.
- About one out of every three questions does not really make sense to me and I feel that I can eliminate one, sometimes two answers but am not really doing a great job of picking the best one.
After an hour or so of this pattern, I reflect on what’s happening and realize I could actually fail this exam. Answering 1 out of 3 with confidence does not provide very good odds. And it’s definitely not how I expected to feel after all of my preparation.
In cycles a flow of negative energy. The questions get harder. Now I am doubting myself for about 2 out of every 3 questions. Then the negative energy shifts to a bit of anger. I studied. I know the material. Why can’t I understand these questions? Is that a typo or is it deliberately misleading? That seems like the right answer, if only there was another comma or one letter was shifted. None of these answers seem right at all. Oy.
At 1 1/2 hours in, I decide that a break will do me good. I get up and go to the bathroom. I take two long drinks at the water fountain. I stretch. I shake my head. I take deep relaxing breaths.
I go back to the exam room with fresh energy and a positive perspective. I had left the screen with an unanswered question that had me stuck. I still don’t know the answer. OK. It’s not the negative energy stopping my creative flow, I just really don’t know the answer!
I write a bit on the scrap paper and remind myself that I have these 2 hours remaining. All I can do is the best I can. After all I’ve done to get to this point, there’s no reason to throw out the two hours. I continue to struggle through the next set of questions, picking the best answer I can.
Then the momentum shifts in the exam. The questions get easier. I’m answering 2 each minute with very little pause or self-doubt. I whip through most of the end of the exam. I get to the last question. Deep breathe. I go back to the 20 questions I flagged because I thought maybe with a fresh perspective I’d be able to pick a better answer. Not so. I change maybe 1 or 2 answers. At this point I’m almost 3 hours in.
The exam room is warm, too warm. The fan of computers running the exam has never stopped. I am hungry and thirsty. I take a deep breathe and consider if there’s anything else I can do to increase my chances of passing with the remaining 30 minutes. I decide no. I hit submit.
Before the results are given to me, they make me fill out a survey about the exam process! For the first time all day, my heart is racing and my eyes are crossing. I quickly type in the open feedback column “give results before survey!” and hit submit. I see some text on the screen. I refocus to read it. Something about being a CBAP…Oh, I passed! Deep sigh. Shut my eyes for a minute. It’s over.
It’s 3 days after the exam, and I’m still feeling a bit unsettled by this experience. I’ve never finished an exam so uncertain as to how I had done. I’ve always known if I’d nailed it or blown it. In fact, I typically knew before I went in which was likely to happen.
Still, I have a few take-aways:
- The confusing exam questions I complained about were not so different from my experience with the exam. The exam simulators may not be perfect, but they are doing something right.
- I wish I had spent more time with the underlying competencies as there were some questions about how these truly underlay the techniques. I thought these were good, non-confusing questions but I wasn’t quite as prepared as I could have been for them.
- Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you are going to get.
I still owe you a few posts and I hope to get them out over the next few weeks. One will compare the two exam simulators I used. Another will sum all this up into my own statement of the value of a CBAP. But for now we get to start something much more fun.
Next week I’m starting a follow-up series that will lead us through a conversation sharing our experiences related to each of the BABOK tasks. “Absorbing the BABOK” was by far the most intrinsically valuable part of the CBAP prep process for me. So much so that I want to do it again, with you. It’s also going to provide a great way for me to leave you with something valuable while I’m on maternity leave.