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Developing Your Study Strategy for the C.P.M. Examination


Dr. Michael A. McGinnis, C.P.M.
Dr. Michael A. McGinnis, C.P.M., Professor of Marketing and Logistics University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama 36688-0002, 334/460-7907 (FAX) 334/460-7909

81st Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1996 - Chicago, IL

Abstract. This paper provides instruction on developing your study strategy when preparing for the Certified Purchasing Manager (C.P.M.) Examination. Topics include alternate study strategies, study skills, test taking skills, and NAPM study aids. Insights provided in this paper are also applicable for those seeking the Accredited Purchasing Practitioner (A.P.P.) designation.

Introduction. Since I began teaching C.P.M. Examination Review Courses in 1992, I have had conversations with several dozen individuals regarding their preparation for the C.P.M. Examination. Strategies vary from "take the exam cold" to highly systematic programs of study, review, and study. This paper presents a systematic approach.

The paper is organized into four sections. First is a review of alternate strategies for C.P.M. Examination preparation. Next is a discussion of a systematic approach that uses the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam and the C.P.M. Study Guide to help you focus your study efforts.1 The third section focuses on developing your study and test taking skills. This section includes discussions of time management, a critical component of effective study, and techniques for managing examination stress. The fourth section discusses study aids that you may find useful.

Study Strategy Choices. There appears to be four approaches to C.P.M. Examination preparation. They are procrastinate, take the examination cold, cram, and systematic. The first approach is taken by those who have decided to take the C.P.M. Examination but have postponed implementing the decision. My experience is that most of the procrastinators are as capable as anyone else. Once the procrastinator proceeds to implement the decision, his/her probability of passing is as good as anyone else's.

Those who take C.P.M. Examination modules cold usually follow one of two approaches. First, some have taken the diagnostic examination and scored well. These individuals feel that their knowledge base and test taking skills are adequate. Second, some take the exam without preparation and failed modules are studied before retesting. This second approach is used to (hopefully) reduce the total amount of study time. A surprising minority of those taking the exam cold pass the modules attempted.

The third approach, cramming, may be intentional or unintentional. The individual may delay studying by design or because of events beyond his/her control. Study is compressed into a few days. While cramming works for some, my impression is that it is not as successful as systematic preparation.

A systematic approach may or may not include attendance at a C.P.M. Examination Review Course. However, this approach always includes a disciplined program of study, self-evaluation, and restudy over a period of months. While I feel that a systematic program maximizes the individual's chance of passing those modules attempted, taking the exam cold and cramming can work. Ultimately, the study strategy is up to the individual. The following section provides guidance for those who are contemplating a systematic approach for C.P.M. Examination preparation.

Steps of a Systematic Approach. A systematic approach to preparing for the C.P.M. Examination can be thought of as five steps. They are:

  1. Take the C.P.M. Diagnostic Examination
  2. Evaluate Your Knowledge Base
  3. Focus Your Study Efforts
  4. Retake the C.P.M. Diagnostic Examination
  5. Repeat Steps 2 Through 4.

Step 1: Take the C.P.M. Diagnostic Examination. When taking the test try to find a place that will be free of noise and other distractions. Schedule approximately 105 minutes for each module. This is the amount of time you will have per module during the C.P.M. Examination. If at all possible during the period you are studying, schedule two or three all day testing sessions consisting of four 105 minute periods. This will get you used to taking all four modules on the same day.

Before taking the diagnostic examination, make several photocopies of the scoring tables that appear on pages 85-88 of the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam . This avoids the need to write in the book and enables you to repeat the test as many times as needed. A sample scoring table for Module 1 is shown as Exhibit 1. A review of Exhibit 1 reveals that Module 1 has five parts, twenty-five tasks, and eighty questions. Please also note that each question is keyed into a specific task. For example, questions one and two test your understanding of task one of Module 1.

Step 2: Score The Test. Exhibit 1 is a pattern of right and wrong for a hypothetical test taker.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Knowledge Base. As shown in Exhibit 1, the hypothetical test taker had a raw score of 48 on Module 1. This converts into a scaled score of 53, below that needed to pass. See Conversion Table C on page 89 of the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam.

Next, evaluate your overall performance on each module. For purposes of this paper 70% or more correct responses per task are interpreted as satisfactory2. Inspection of the responses in Exhibit 1 indicate that eight tasks (103, 104, 105, 109, 111, 112, 120, and 124) have satisfactory raw scores of 70% or more, seven tasks (102, 106, 110, 115, 118, 121, and 125) have raw scores below 50%, and ten tasks (101, 107, 108 113, 114, 116, 117, 119, 122, and 123) have raw scores of 50% to 69%. The interpretation is that the seven tasks with raw scores below 50% need heavy study, the ten tasks with raw scores of 50% to 69% need additional study, and the eight tasks with satisfactory scores need only review.

Exhibit 1

("R" indicates a "Right" answer, "W" indicates a "Wrong" answer)

1 W (101) 19 R (109) 43 W (114) 59 W (118)
2 R (101) 20 W (109) 44 R (114) 69 R (118)
3 W (102) 21 R (109) 45 R (114) 61 W (118)
4 W (102) 22 R (109) 46 W (115) 62 W (118)
5 R (103) 23 R (109) 47 W (115) 63 W (119)
6 R (103) 24 W (110) 48 W (115) 64 R (119)
7 R (104) 25 W (110) Total 2 65 R (120)
8 R (105) 26 W (110) 66 R (120)
9 R (105) 27 R (110) PART D 67 R (120)
10 R (105) 28 R (111) 49 R (116) 68 R (121)
11 W (106) 29 R (111) 50 W (116) 69 W (121)
12 W (106) 30 R (111) 51 R (116) 70 W (121)
13 R (106) 31 R (111) 52 W (116) 71 R (122)
14 W (107) 32 R (112) 53 R (116) 72 W (122)
15 R (107) 33 R (112) 54 R (117) 73 R (122)
16 W (108) 34 R (112) 55 R (117) 74 R (123)
17 R (108) 35 W (112) 56 W (117) 75 R (123)
18 R (108) 36 R (112) 57 R (117) 76 W (123)
Total 11 37 R (112) 58 W (117) 77 R (124)
38 W (113) Total 6 78 R (124)
39 R (113) 79 W (125)
40 R (113) 80 W (125)
41 R (113) Total 12
42 W (113)
Total 17
Total Correct Part A 11 /18 = 61.1 %
Total Correct Part B 17 /24 = 70.8 %
Total Correct Part C 2 / 6 = 33.3 %
Total Correct Part D 6 /10 = 60.0 %
Total Correct Part E 12 /22 = 54.5 %
Total Correct Module 1 48 /80 = 60.0 %
Scaled Score Module 1 53

A Scaled Score of 55 or Higher is Needed to Pass

Step 3: Focus Your Study Efforts. Your study efforts should emphasize the tasks that need the most improvement. As a rule of thumb, the tasks with raw scores below 50% should receive about three times the study effort of tasks with raw scores of 70% or higher. Tasks with scores of 50% to 69% should receive about twice the study effort. While less time is spent reviewing tasks whose raw scores were of 70% or higher, this review is essential for maintaining your current knowledge.

There are several approaches to studying and reviewing the tasks. First, you may use the C.P.M. Study Guide. Second, you may use Section D, "Explanations for Answers," pages 93-124 of the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam. Third, you may study the sources listed for further reading at the end of each task in the C.P.M. Study Guide. Finally, you may use a combination of these approaches. My experience is that the C.P.M. Study Guide and the "Explanations for Answers" work very well. Some students also study the materials listed later in this paper.

Several students in C.P.M. Examination review courses have expressed confusion between what the C.P.M. Examination study materials say and the on-the-job practices. My advice is "When studying for the C.P.M. Examination follow suit with what the study materials say."

5. Repeat Steps 1 Through 4. After you have completed your study and review, repeat the diagnostic examination. A gap of three weeks or more should reduce the chances that you will have become conditioned to the diagnostic's questions. If you have studied effectively you should see your overall scores improve. Continue to evaluate your knowledge base and focus your study efforts as described in steps 3 and 4.

Study and Test Taking Skills.3 This section focuses on the basics of study and test taking skills and then provides guidance on time management and test anxiety relating to the C.P.M. Examination.

Study Skills. The objectives of study are to develop an overview of the material to be learned, capture that material in your short-term memory, and then move it to your long-term memory. These basics are referred to as S-Q-R-R-R. The following summarize these five points:

S: SURVEY or scan the material to get an overview or "map" of the material to be studied. For example, an overview of the C.P.M. Examination tells you that it is organized into four modules and that each module is further divided into parts and tasks.

Q: QUESTION what are the main concepts? In the case of the C.P.M. Examination, your study of the tasks within each module provide a great deal of insight into the importance of the various concepts.

R:READ and re-read is not the most efficient method of study for most students. Developing outlines, highlighting key concepts, underlining important points, and making notes in page margins all help you to focus on the main concepts and begin to move these concepts into long term memory.

R:RECITE and/or write down the information, depending on your learning style. This helps you to better move information into long-term memory and then retrieve that information from long-term memory.

R:REVIEW the material. This phase of your study helps you practice and develop your skills at retrieving information from long-term memory.

Test Taking Skills. Test taking skills focus on the basics of taking multiple-choice examinations. IF YOU ARE WELL STUDIED you will have the knowledge base to pass all modules of the C.P.M. Examination that you have studied. Remember, you do not need to get all questions right. You only have to achieve a scaled score of fifty-five or better to pass a module. Examination of the diagnostic examination suggests that a raw score of seventy percent or better will guarantee a passing scaled score.

The majority of questions in the C.P.M. Examination will be "cake" questions that you will be able to answer IF YOU ARE WELL STUDIED. A typical four item multiple choice question will have one correct answer, one distractor (to catch those not well studied or who misread the question), and two incorrect answers. IF YOU ARE WELL STUDIED you will usually find that your first inclination is your best inclination. Be careful about letting your self doubts talk you out of the correct answer.

Time Management. This section provides guidance on when to study, where to study, and how to handle the rest of the world. Be aware of you best time of day to study. Consider using waiting time and other nonproductive times to study. Find a regular study area where you will waste less time. Organize your study materials where you can find them with a minimum of lost time. Find a study area where you will be alert and reasonably free from distractions. Some prefer a quiet location while others prefer background noise.

The following are some helpful hints that help you manage your time more effectively: a. Pay attention to how you are using your time, b. Make an agreement with your living mates about study time, c. Get off the phone, d. Learn to say "no" to other people when you study, e. Hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, f. Avoid noise distractions, g. Notice how others misuse your time.

The following stress reducing techniques can help you manage the stress that comes with taking the C.P.M. Examination.

  1. Beware of "classroom sabotage." The hurried question and answer sessions before an examination can undermine your self-confidence. Tune them out.
  2. Answer the easy questions then come back to the harder ones. This improves your performance and builds your self-confidence You may also gain insights or recall information as you answer the questions that you know.
  3. Remember to practice any one of several relaxation techniques to reduce tension during the test. Three techniques that can be used my nearly anyone at anytime without calling attention to themselves are discussed in the following paragraph.

Deep Breathing Exercises consist of taking a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then releasing it. Repeat the technique as many times as necessary. Tense-Relax Exercises are practiced by tightening selected muscles and then relaxing them. For example, make tight fists and then relax them, tighten your leg muscles and then relax them, tighten your arm muscles and then relax them. This technique can be repeated several times with a single muscle group or a combination of muscle groups. Mental Imagery is a technique where you close your eyes and imagine a situation beyond the current stressful event, such as a memory block during the C.P.M. Examination. Using this technique, you may be able to mentally move yourself beyond the current event. As you relax, blocked information may emerge from long-term memory.

Study Aids. In addition to the C.P.M. Study Guide and the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam, there is a wide range of useful study materials available from NAPM. They are C.P.M. Bibliographic Reference Key, 3rd edition, 1992; Information Kit - Module 4; C.P.M. Exam Specification and Instructor's Guide; NAPM International Conference Proceedings; Purchasing Management: A Fundamental Reference for Professionals; and Glossary of Key Purchasing Terms. Most articles in NAPM Insights are now C.P.M. Examination module coded. Finally, many find one or more of the following purchasing text books to be useful study aids:

  1. Dobler, Donald W., David N. Burt, and Lamar Lee, Jr. Purchasing and Materials Management: Text and Cases, 5th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990. ISBN 0-07-037047-8
  2. Heinritz, Stuart, Paul V. Farrell, Larry C. Guinipero, and Michael G. Kolchin, et al. Purchasing: Principles and Applications, 8th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991. ISBN 0-13-742081-1.
  3. Leenders, Michiel R. and Harold E. Fearon. Purchasing and Materials Management, 10th edition. Homewood, IL: Irwin,1993. ISBN 0-256-10334-8.

The array of study aids used by individuals studying for the C.P.M. Examination varies greatly. While the C.P.M. Study Guide and the C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam provide an excellent framework for study and review, a knowledge base beyond those materials is critical to successfully taking the C.P.M. Examination.

Conclusion. Four years of teaching C.P.M. review courses has convinced me that most purchasing professionals can pass the C.P.M. Examination regardless of their level of education, age, race, amount of time since studying and taking tests, amount of experience in purchasing, or level in the organization.

The key to passing the C.P.M. Examination is the development of an adequate knowledge base and test taking skills. The former comes from an organized program of study, such as the one presented in this paper. The later comes from the self-confidence in knowing that you are well studied and have taken the time to develop your test taking skills.

The individual must be careful not to confuse the learning of techniques for study and test taking with the learning of subject matter needed to pass the C.P.M. Examination. For most individuals, mastery of the subject matter will require a substantial commitment of time and effort.

(1) C.P.M. Diagnostic Practice Exam, 3rd edition. Tempe, Arizona: National Association of Purchasing Management, 1992; and C.P.M. Study Guide, 6th edition, Updated 1994. Tempe, Arizona: National Association of Purchasing Management, 1994. The 6th edition (1992) can also be used.

(2) Michael A. McGinnis and J. David Bostic, "Getting the Most from the C.P.M. Examination Diagnostic Practice Exam," NAPM 79th Annual International Conference Proceedings, Atlanta, May 1-4, 1994, 134-138.

(3) This section based on Michael A. McGinnis and Alvah E. Clark, Jr. "Developing Your C.P.M. Examination Study and Test Taking Skills," NAPM 80th Annual International Conference Proceedings, Anaheim, May 21-24, 1995, 76-80.

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