8 Reasons You Might Not Pass Your EHS Certification Exam

8 Reasons You Might Not Pass Your EHS Certification Exam

You prepared for months, reviewed practice exam questions by the thousands, and you hope you’re prepared enough to take your ASP, CSP, CIH, or CHMM exam.

However, there may be some things you haven’t considered that will keep you from passing your certification exam.

I’ve talked to many clients over the years and there are some common themes in regards to reasons why candidates don’t pass their exam. #8 is the least likely reason, and #1 is the most likely.

Counting backwards, here they are: 

Reason #8: Test Center Errors

Test center errors are a rare occurrence, but it can happen. One conversation sticks out in my mind about a CIH candidate who was forbidden to bring his Board-approved calculator into the exam room. The test center proctor wouldn’t listen to his thorough explanation of the rules. His biggest fear came true.

He ended up taking the exam without the use of his calculator, and if memory serves me correctly, I don’t think there was one available on the computer. After some time, the proctor finally checked the rules and realized her error. She brought his calculator to him with 20 minutes remaining on the exam.

Amazingly, he failed the exam by only a few problems. After his dreadful experience at the exam center, he contacted the ABIH and shared his situation with them.The ABIH allowed him to take the exam during the next testing window at no cost.

How to Avoid

Contact the exam center before your test day and verify with them they understand all the rules specific to your exam.


Reason #7: Lack Of Sleep

Remember the days of staying up all night cramming for a college exam? You may think you can do the same for your certification exam. I’m here to tell you. Don’t do it!

You know everything you are going to know. Last minute studying is not worth it. Entering the exam center full of adrenaline and caffeine and a serious sleep deficit will compromise your ability to think clearly and effectively.

How to Avoid

Close the books, try to relax and get a good night’s sleep before the exam. However, the night before the exam may not be the night to do it. I often recommend getting a good night’s sleep two nights before the exam as well. As we all know, exam day jitters may make it difficult to sleep with the knowledge you’re taking a major test the next day.


Reason #6: Exam Anxiety

It’s hard to not have some anxiety about your exam. Unfortunately, many people suffer from severe test anxiety. I’m sure you know a few people who are competent and knowledgeable with the subject matter, but put them into an exam situation, and they freeze up like an icicle. Thinking is difficult, and solutions take too long to form in the brain.

How to Avoid

Talk to a trusted family member or friend before the exam. Share your feelings, emotions, and biggest fears. If a confidante is not available, spend a few minutes writing your feelings down. Talking or writing will reduce your anxiety levels and improve your test performance.


Reason #5: Lack of Preparation

You’ve been a safety manager for 10 years and think “Hey, how hard can this be?” I know everything about safety!” You sign up, take the test, and didn’t even look at the exam blueprint. Lack of preparation is rarely a winning strategy.

How to Avoid

Thoroughly review the material on the Board’s website. Make a list of the domains and rubrics to be covered on the exam. Start a study plan to review each of the topics. You don’t have to take a review course, but if you do, it should provide a fully developed path toward preparing yourself. 


Reason #4: Time Management While Studying

You just can’t stand the idea of making a mistake or not knowing an answer. You study and study and study some more because you want to get every single question correct.

We’ve heard from test takers who’ve spent hours and hours studying a particular topic such as noise or radiation, only to find out there were no questions about the topic on their exam. Understandably, they were very frustrated because they felt they spent too much time studying the wrong material.

How to Avoid

Develop a study plan early on. Plan to review reference materials and practice problems about 2 to 3 times each day for 10 to 20 minute periods. This will keep you fresh, and you are more likely to retain the information.

Spend just a little bit of time reviewing topics that you’re very familiar with. I also recommend spending just a small amount of time reviewing topics that you find very difficult. Spend most of your effort on the topics you don’t know very well, but a moderate effort will improve your performance.


Reason #3: Math Errors

It’s very easy to make a mathematical error when doing relatively simple algebra problems. Unfortunately, the common math errors might be one of your choices on the exam.

How to Avoid

Skip all math problems during your first pass through. When going through the exam the second time, do the easiest problems first, and save the hardest ones for last. If you end guessing because you run out of time, it is better to guess on the harder problems.


Reason #2: Time Management During The Exam

One of the more common problems with passing the certification exams is time management. You only have a set amount of time, and you think you should try each and every problem as it comes in the test. Skipping questions and going back later is not your thing.

The problem with this approach is that not all questions are of equal difficulty, and some of the hardest problems are at the beginning of the exam. Hard problems take more time to solve leaving less time available for the rest of the questions. Your anxiety levels will skyrocket when you spend 15 minutes on problem number three.

How to Avoid

If you can’t easily answer a question within 40 seconds, skip it. Skip all the math questions during the first pass as well. The second time through, work the easiest problems first and save the hardest problems for last. If you begin to run out of time and need to guess, it’s better to guess on the hard ones and move on. 


Reason #1: Not Taking The Exam

Well, this is obvious, isn’t it? Yes, if you don’t take the exam, you won’t pass. On the flip side, if you don’t take the exam, you can’t fail it either. You are so concerned about failing you just keep studying, and studying, and studying some more. No matter how long you studied you never quite feel like you are ready.

How to Avoid

Set your exam date and stick to it! Follow your study plan to the best of your ability, and take the test even if you’re still uncomfortable with some subjects. There is a real possibility that you will pass, and even if you don’t, the experience will be valuable in helping you improve your study plan.


Remember, our greatest achievements often rise from failure.

Don’t let these common errors keep you from passing your exam. You can do it. Create your plan for studying, work your plan, and then follow through with taking the exam.

It won’t easy, but the satisfaction from completing a difficult task is well worth the price.

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