On March 17, 2009, I wrote the following post for Acronym:
CAE candidates seek advice
Last year, I set out to become a certified meeting professional. After reviewing the required texts and researching my study options, I settled on a study regime, stuck with it and passed the exam on my first attempt.
The fact that I passed the exam is not important. The real story follows.
On March 6, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account: Aaron became a certified meeting professional today! Within one minute, I had received the following comment: Good for you! Next is your CAE!
At the time, I was sort of surprised by the comment. I mean, really? I’m an “emerging professional.” I’m not yet ready for this, right? Wrong.
As I think about it more and more, I’m warming up to the idea. Why couldn’t I take the CAE exam? Although I consider myself an emerging professional, I do have six years of association experience under my belt. I mean, I at least qualify to sit for the exam.
What’s more, the association community feels like home. I’ve found a place where my experience, skills and talents can be put to good use. Specifically, I feel like my enthusiasm and innovation create value for members of my association each and every day.
And so I’m wondering if there are others out there, like me, who aren’t completely convinced that the CAE designation is within reach. On behalf of these individuals, I seek your advice.
If you’re a certified association executive, what advice do you have for those of us interested in sitting for the exam? Where should we start? What resources do you recommend? How much time do we really need to prepare? How would you study differently if you had to do it all over again?
Within eight days, this post garnered 15 comments. And, I’m happy to report, less than one year later I’ve earned my CAE designation. As a result of this experience, I have some advice of my own I’d like to share with fellow association professionals aspiring to earn their CAE this year:
- Start reading now. Whether you’re sitting for the exam in May or December, start reading now. In the weeks leading up to the exam, there will be much to do. Creating flashcards, reviewing notes and taking practice exams. You don’t want to be reading this material for the first time. Also, there’s no need to read each and every authoritative text. Pick up and begin reading now both “Professional Practices” and the “Law Handbook.” When you’ve joined a study group, you can skim these two texts again and spend the balance of your time focusing on whatever texts your study group has selected to read.
- Identify a mentor. Early in the process, I would recommend connecting with someone—preferably someone you know and admire—who’s recently earned their CAE designation, and request that he or she mentor you through the exam date. This person has been through the process and will know how best to support you. At minimum, he or she should check in with you during pre-determined intervals to offer advice and encouragement, as well as to ensure you’re sticking with your reading and study regime.
- Join a study group. Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. In my opinion, this was one of the most difficult exams I’ve ever taken (as compared to both undergraduate and graduate programs I’ve attended). Completing 200 multiple choice questions in four hours seems like a fairly reasonable task, but considering you’ll be asked many questions for which you have no expertise, the additional perspectives will prove to be invaluable during this learning experience. Also, study groups are great for brainstorming test-taking techniques and strategies, as well as for wrestling with answers to sample scenarios or practice exam questions.
- Determine your study routine and stick with it. Regard this as another college course for which you have a significant interest in passing. Set aside time each week to read, write and study. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Digest the material in parts, seek additional resources for topics or domains you find particularly difficult and, above all, don’t get behind. If you find yourself unable to keep up with the pace of your study group, it’s only a matter of time until you’re in a downward spiral from which you cannot recover. Additionally, be open and honest with your family, friends and colleagues about the significant investment in time that studying for the CAE will require.
- Don’t be intimidated. You can do it! My advice to those out there who’d like to sit for the exam this year, particularly those “emerging professionals” who might be on the fence about whether or not now is the right time, is to stop procrastinating. I was very grateful to be in a position in my career where my job wasn’t contingent on whether or not I passed this exam. If I didn’t pass, I was prepared to simply take it again. And, to be quite honest, as I left my test site, I wasn’t at all confident I had passed. In fact, within two weeks of taking the exam I had begun studying again. It’s not as though you pass the exam and your learning suddenly ends. Quite the contrary; your learning has just begun.
Thanks to Stefanie Reeves for encouraging me to write this post, and best of luck to everyone sitting for the CAE exam on May 7. You can do it! And if, by chance, you don’t pass this exam on your first try, by all means do not give up. Make a commitment to sit for the exam on Dec. 3. It will be well worth your time and determination.