Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Exam Experience

It's been a long time since I've had to take an exam that meant anything. This morning, however, as I sat waiting to be processed to take my pesticide applicator's exam I felt a familiar, almost forgotten feeling. Test anxiety. Can I do this? Sweaty palms. What if I don't pass?

After all, I worry, I've been doing pest control and pesticide application for more years than I care to count. If I flub the exam, my research technician, who is taking the exam today too, will know. How embarrassing would that be? I'm supposed to know this stuff. I teach CEU classes for goodness sake.

So why after 27 years as an Extension specialist am I taking my applicator's exam? Well truth is that I did have a TDA non-commercial applicator's license for most of these years; but several years ago, amidst the busy-ness of life, I let my license expire. Then I discovered that it was kind of nice not having a license.  I go to plenty of CEU classes every year, so the education requirement wasn't the problem. It was just the minor but annoying process of keeping track of certificates, and sending in renewal forms (and money) every year. Also, my job doesn't really require that I maintain a license.  When doing research, all the compounds I've worked with recently are already registered, and so don't need a Research and Demonstration license, which TDA requires for researchers working with unregistered (numbered) compounds. When I do put out insecticides for trials, I have worked with other licensed applicators, so it didn't seem necessary to retest and re-establish my license (in Texas, folks can work under the supervision of non-commercial certified applicators).

So why go through the trouble of re-upping now? I guess it felt like the right thing to do. I don't like relying on other people for my licensing credentials. And it didn't seem right for me to be an instructor of pesticide applicators and not have a license myself. And the part of me wanted to remember what it was like to go through the study manuals and take the test like a raw recruit.

So this morning I sat in the sixth floor, PSI Services exam office of the Empire Central Building off of Stemmon's Freeway in Dallas. Even though the employees there were very nice, a kind of static anxiety hovered over the room and the testing center.  PSI has provided testing services for TDA since June 2014, and serves other industries as well.  The nervous young man next to me was sitting for his electrician journeyman's license. The test takers I saw were not a talkative bunch.  Sort of like sprinters at the Olympics, focused inward, centered... thinking "help me, God."

So for me the anticipation for me was much worse than the test. The test itself would be challenging without study or good familiarity with pesticides and the law.  It's definitely not a "no-brainer". But once the clock starts ticking and the questions start flashing I knew I could do this. I was signed up for three exams: General Standards, Landscape Maintenance, and Demonstration and Research.

The testing room was silent with a half dozen test takers sitting quietly, focused on their screens.  I found the quiet relaxing, but also noticed that the testing center provides ear plugs for those who want them.  I guess they are needed by some for our protection against "sighers" or "groaners" in the room.  Everything, by the way, is under video surveillance--so security is high.

If you haven't taken a "final" in awhile, and the thought of a test scares you, you're not alone.  I think the longer it's been since high school or college, the scarier the thought of sitting for an exam. This is normal, especially for us adults who have a lot of pride on the line. So here is my personal set of advice for pesticide exam test takers:
  • Relax.  If you've studied, you've retained a lot more stuff than you probably realize.  It's all in there; you just have to relax and let it flow.
  • Read the instruction screen explaining all the available buttons.  There is some interesting stuff there that can help you be a better test taker. 
  • Take the test one question at a time.  If you come to a question you're not sure about, the PSI test allows you to mark it.  Put the answer you think is right, then tag the question with the Mark button.  When you get to the end of the test, you can use the GO TO button to go back and view all the questions that you've marked.  It's a nice testing feature, and it's also amazing how those questions sometimes clarify themselves after you've had a few minutes to reflect and think about something else.
  • Read all the choices. Carefully.  Eliminate the obviously wrong ones (called "distractors" in test writing jargon), and focus on the remaining choices.  The tests, by the way, are all multiple choice with only 3-4 choices.
         BTW, another nice feature of the exam is that you can Comment on questions.  If you think a question is poorly worded or unclear, hit the comment button and explain why you think the question isn't fair or how it could be improved.  As you write, you may actually develop a clearer idea of what the best answer is.  I did this on several questions.  I didn't know if anyone would actually read my comments, but at least I felt a lot better getting it off my chest.
  • Don't be surprised to see math problems on the exams.  If math is not your strong suite, be sure to work and rework the problems in the AgriLife Pesticide Applicator License Exam Study Materials ahead of time.  Learn the formula "Gal/Min=((Gal/Acre) x Speed x nozzle width)/5940".  And learn how to convert milliliters and fluid ounces to gallons, and how to estimate square feet and convert to acres. Trust me, you'll need this.  The study materials I would say are essential.  In my testing center the staff did not allow writing tools (I guess so you can't write down questions), though they said we could have scratch paper if requested...???  
  • When you get to the end of the test hit GO TO all your marked questions.  Review them, choose your final answer, and Unmark them one by one.  If you have time, GO TO all test questions.  Quickly scan through all the question and reassure yourself you did a decent job. 
  • Don't leave any question unanswered. If you do, you will get the question wrong.  If you have to guess at least you've got a one-in-three chance or better of getting the answer right. At the top of the test screen it will tell you how many questions are unanswered.  Check it to make sure you didn't forget to answer a question.
  • Once you finish your test, you'll fill out a short feedback form and then receive your results on the screen.  No waiting for days or weeks to find out how you did.  Passing score is 70%, an achievable score for most people who study. The software also shows you how you performed on the various kinds of questions (calibration, legal, pests, etc.), but this will be the only time you see that data, so look at it closely and see where you went wrong and right (especially if you didn't pass, this will tell you what to study).  As I left the Center I was given a printout showing my final score for the three tests I took (passed them all!), but this sheet did not show the score breakdown.
I communicated with Allison Cuellar of TDA about the Commenting feature of the exams.  She said that staff at TDA do have access to the comments, but most of the comments they see are the ones sent via email directly to their offices. She seemed genuinely interested in feedback about the testing process.  So if you feel moved to provide positive or constructive feedback about your exam experience, contact Allison Cuellar (on the Structural Pest Control Service side) or Perry Cervantes (on the Ag side).

If you or someone in your company is preparing for the exam, being a little nervous is normal (as I was reminded this morning). But for most of us the anticipation is worse than the event. As for me, I had so much fun this morning, I'm thinking that maybe I need to go next for the Structural Pest Control non-commercial applicators license. I wonder if there's a loyal customer discount?

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