I’m used to studying for tests. Growing up in Shanghai, China, kids like me were bombarded with all sorts of tests from an early age. I know how to prepare for them – open the books, go over the topics, do exercises, make sure I have thoroughly attained the required knowledge, rinse and repeat. Easy, right? Well, the CWA exam is not like those tests. It’s not a test you can memorize for. You can learn about the relevant concepts from books or blogs but that’s not enough. The reason this exam requires relevant experience in the field is that experience transforms the conceptual knowledge into an analytical mindset. It’s less about knowing all the metric definitions and more about knowing which metric is appropriate at answering which question. Better yet, your experience would have guided you to ask the right question and the right person to pose that question to. These are all things you do day in and day out on the job. You don’t really need to study it. It’s kind of impossible to study for anyways.
So if you have the relevant experiences, you are more than half way there already. But there are still things you can do to better your odds of passing the test. Here are a few tips shared by fellow CWAs:
Review the test areas of knowledge outline. This will help you identify your areas of strength and weakness. For example, I found out my experience was more focused on web analytics and optimization but I’m weaker on search/campaign management. Knowing that, I did a bit of reading online on these topics and chatted with our resident Search pro at a high level about what kind of things she did on a daily basis, how she did them and why. This allowed me to feel comfortable with these topics but by no means made me an expert in them.
Answer the sample questions. This will give you a sense of how ready you are. I printed the 2 documents out and covered the answer key with some post-it-notes before I started answering. I felt a lot more confident when I found out I got more than 80% correct on the multiple choice section and a little less on the business case section. If you got stuck on a lot of these questions, talk to your peers, figure out why that happened. This could be a good opportunity to clarify some concepts or re-tune some reasoning process.
The above 2 steps probably won’t take more than 5-10 hours. If you find too many topics unfamiliar this would be a sign that more extensive preparation might be needed or that you might benefit from further research via education, publications or collaboration.
Use good test taking skills. Most of us have been out of school for a while so although this is not rocket science, it’s helpful to review some of them here:
- Be aware of the time limit. The business case section may take longer than you expected so quickly scan through all of the sections first so you have a mental map of all the questions. Time box yourself so you will have enough time to come back and finalize those questions you are iffy about. You also need time to add explanations to the questions that you might want to dispute on in case your score ended up missing the passing mark by only a few questions.
- It may be helpful to read the questions before reading the business case so when you do read the business case you already know what kind of relevant information you are looking for. There will be more information presented than is needed to answer the question so laser in on what matters is critical. Ignore the red herrings.
- It’s okay to mark and skip over the questions you are stuck on. Make sure you note your top choices and that you have enough time to come back and finish these questions.
Also, keep in mind that the passing grade is 60% so you know you are not expected to be an expert on every single topic. And even if you don’t end up passing on the first try you have plenty of time to review your test result and prepare for a second go. For a practitioner of web analytics you already have what it takes to take on this test. You can do this! Good luck!