CIH Exam – Your Study Plan

An actionable plan to prepare for the CIH exam.

Does it feel like the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exam covers significantly more information than you’re experienced with? Does it seem like your first challenge is understanding what is expected of you, even before you even begin preparing for the exam? In a sense, that’s a good thing!  If you know where you want to go, often times the journey starts with defining where you are now, and charting a path to reach your destination.

So where should you start? The American Board of Industrial Hygiene sets the expectations for certified industrial hygienists and should be your first port of call. First, check that you’re eligible to apply for the examination.  If you’re missing any formal education, such as ethics or in industrial hygiene itself, you can use distance learning courses to knock off the education requirements and begin studying for the exam at the same time.  For example, course providers such as the University of British Columbia (UBC)UCDenver, and UMichigan offer short duration, intensive review courses or distance learning programs to let you learn at your own pace, when it fits into your schedule.  Often times, the courses will count towards ethics requirements.  There is obviously benefits and drawbacks to each, such as being able to study when you have time if you enrol in a distance program, or getting the work done quickly in a short, intense timeframe for in-class programs. Your ability to take time off of work, your commitments outside of work, and your budget will likely be the biggest factors dictating how you proceed. Also, tell others that you plan to write the CIH exam and that you’re making it a priority.  This will help cement your commitment, and others are likely to help you out in whatever ways they can.

When you’ve met the eligibility requirements, your next step should be to determine when you want to write the exam.  Set a date, a clear target, which will determine how much time you have.  Its best to be realistic with yourself and know how you best study, and how much time it takes for you to absorb new information.  Its often said, something must be heard / read / seen 7 to 8 times before we fully remember it, understand it and can apply it.  Think about that.  Not only are you likely to have to study a large volume of material, you’ll likely have to repeatedly review the material several times for it to sink in.  And that takes time.

Does that mean you have to study every possible focus area of the exam 7 to 8 times? Probably not.  You  are probably fairly confident in certain areas and weak in others due to your professional experience and educational background.  It’s beneficial to read through comprehensive industrial hygiene textbooks, such as the ‘Whitebook’, also known as The Occupational Environment: Its Evaluation, Control and Management, or Toxicology Principles for the Industrial Hygienist.  Whichever comprehensive texts you decide to read first, made a side-list as you go along of the areas which you find difficult or confusing and those which you find easy.  The difficult areas should be your focus moving forward.

Once you’ve spent time reviewing the basics of industrial hygiene, its best to check your strengths and weaknesses by going through practice problems or practice exams. This will give you an idea of where you should direct further study effort to best maximize your return on time invested. There are practice exams available on this site, and it is also helpful to rely on topic-specific workbooks, such as Burton’s Industrial Ventilation Workbook.  The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) also produces a book titled Industrial Hygiene Reference and Study Guide, which provides you with quick explanations of concepts, definitions of terms, and values for constants used in equations.  While this AIHA book isn’t an in-depth reference, it does provide quick answers when you need a refresher, or can act as a springboard if you find you are still having trouble understanding a concept. If you start by trying some practice problems, another excellent reference to have on hand is the Industrial-Occupational Hygiene Calculations: A Professional Reference, which goes through all of the ABIH equations to give a brief explanation and an example of how each is used. This is a great book to have on hand for professional day-to-day use as well.

Once you’ve had a chance to try your hand at a round of practice questions, target those areas which you find you’re most weak, and look for new study materials on those topics.  Often times, if material is presented from a new perspective or angle, it can be easier to understand.  Other times, certain authors may use different shorthand, acronyms, or symbols in equations which are not industry standard.  Therefore, the wider exposure you have to the topics, the less likely you are to be surprised during the exam.

Again, study and review material, then test yourself and get feedback on your performance.  This do-check cycle should be repeated as many times as you can prior to writing the exam.  Whenever studying, always try to simulate the exam scenario as best as possible, and do whatever you can to figure out an answer before getting help from a reference text or study guide. Similarly, the ABIH specifies the types of calculators allowed on the exam – pick one up early and get familiar with using it.  There won’t be many differences between calculators that can’t be easily figured out at the time of the exam, but the greater your familiarity with the calculator, as well as the exam material, the more relaxed and confident you’re likely to be during the test.

Hope this helps.  Please feel free to leave us feedback as to what work bested for you and what others may have offered to help you out.  Study groups? Mentor support? All ideas are welcome.

May 31, 2015

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