The ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt examination is a rigorous and difficult exam. It requires disciplined study, experience, and a sound preparation and test-taking strategy. Many people study for months and still fail. I didn’t want to be one of them. Here’s how I did it.
Note 1:This ended up being a much longer article than I expected! Thanks for all of the great feedback!! My goal is to make this the most comprehensive guide on how to pass the exam. Along the way I’ve included many topics that may be broader than what you are looking for.
Note 2:If you are interested in passing the Villanova Six Sigma Black Belt exam, or something similar to that format, I have specific notes on how I passed that exam the first time. See this article detailing my approach to passing the Villanova Six Sigma Black Belt exam here.
I encourage you to read the whole thing, as applying all of the lessons covered below will lead to a much more successful and fulfilling career experience than simply passing the test.
Here’s an outline of what’s covered. As always, I’d love your feedback in the comments section at the end of this post.
- Define What you Want out of the Experience
- Consider Obtaining a Green Belt Certification First
- Get a Good Foundation in the ASQ Six Sigma Body of Knowledge
- Increase your General Six Sigma Knowledge
- Get Practical, Hands-on Six Sigma Knowledge
- Set a Deadline & Commit
- Baseline Your Knowledge
- Analyze Your Weaknesses and Decide How to Turn them Into Strengths
- Improve Your Weaknesses
- Test Taking Logistics
- Conclusion: Make the Material Your Own
1) Define What you Want out of the Experience.
The ASQ exam is difficult. You’ll want to quit. Preparation is rigorous and you may find your attention spinning off to a dozen other things. Or you’ll procrastinate and put off studying until the week before the exam.
The way to combat this is to define what you want to accomplish out of the experience.
This will take a lot of hard work. The work gets easier if you have a clear idea why you want to get your certification. When the studying gets difficult – and it will – be sure you are able to clearly focus on that ‘why.’
Hamid Anjum sums it up nicely;
“Signing up for the six sigma black belt exam is a major step in your professional career. The decision to take the exam needs to be thought over, planned, discussed, and reviewed thoroughly since most of the applicants are on full time jobs and have been out of their student lives for quite some time. Getting back to the books while on the job requires planning and a strong motivation. Moreover, if the exam is a requirement of your company, the stakes are higher since your career progress will be impacted by your performance. Intimidating? Indeed !! and these vital factors are in one form or the other your strongest motivators.”
Another factor worth considering is if the ASQ certification is right for you. This certification is widely held as the most rigorous and demanding. Remember, not only do you need to pass a difficult exam, you need to have completed real life project work!
Only you know if following this path is right for you. Obviously I found the effort to be worth the prize. Nichole Radziwill summed up the benefits nicely on her blog:
The ASQ option is probably the quickest and cheapest if you’re good at self study, and dedicated to the task of Six Sigma problem solving. However, with the ASQ certification you also get a lot of clout. I don’t think any other organization has more than 10,000 Black Belts supporting the program, working on updates to the new exams, and keeping the curriculum current. I just personally think it’s a much more viable Black Belt designation than the other programs.
2) Consider Obtaining a Green Belt Certification First
Obtaining the ASQ (or similar) Green Belt certification could be considered ‘Table Stakes’ for even considering becoming a black belt. I personally took a Green Belt certification through my local community college years ago. That course provided me with an excellent foundation for my career and future black belt certifications.
Since ASQ does not require that you become greenbelt certified I don’t think it matters too much where you go. There are several companies that provide the training and certification like Villanova, ASQ, MoreSteam, and others. Like I said, my community college was a great avenue to have classroom instruction, access to a professional to ask questions to, and build my foundational knowledge.
Again, this is not mandatory. But it is helpful and you will have to master those concepts anyway.
3) Get a Good Foundation in the ASQ Six Sigma Body of Knowledge
ASQ tells you exactly what will be on the exam. Review the ASQ Black belt body of knowledge. Be sure that you understand each concept well.
You’ll notice that most of the topics are listed as conversational pieces. If you cannot imagine having a good, productive conversation about these topics with another smart person, I suggest you work to fix that gap. A good way to do this is to step through each link I have on the body of knowledge and imagine yourself teaching that topic.
Formal Education Options
While it is possible to pass this test without having formal education, I wouldn’t recommend it. I took the Villanova course (because my company paid for it) and enjoyed much of it. That course preps you for their exam (see my notes on how I passed that). Villanova only gets you to about half way to the more rigorous ASQ.
I’ve heard colleagues say good things about MoreSteam’s classes but have not taken them myself.
YouTube, Coursera, and Khan Academy can all be good options for spot-learning material.
Learn By Teaching
One of the best ways to gain mastery of a topic that you have learned the material academically is to actually volunteer to teach that topic. There are a number of ways to do this, but here are a few:
- Write or expand an article here on SixSigmaStudyGuide.com – There are hundreds of items in the Body of Knowledge. I’d love to get your perspective on any of the topics. Just use the contact form to get in touch with me.
- Make a power point presentation and upload it to one of the sharing sites like LinkedIn and get feedback.
- Join up with a professional organization – like ASQ – and look for volunteer opportunities.
- Set up a lunch-and-learn session at your place of employment. Get a room and find a few coworkers who could
- If you are looking to improve your public speaking skills, there’s not a better forum than Toastmasters. Toastmasters uses a requirements-based advancement system so you could fulfill speaking requirements by giving short presentations.
I am a big fan of learning by teaching others. That’s why I started this site. This approach has given me countless benefits but don’t take my word for it alone; Wikipedia has a great hub page with links to supporting data. If you’d like to learn more check out this page – especially the LDL section.
4) Increase your General Six Sigma Knowledge
Feedback from those who have taken the test often include anger at ASQ for including topics not specified in the Body of Knowledge. However, they do specifically state that you need to have more than what is listed there:
The subtext is not intended to limit the subject matter or be all-inclusive of what might be covered in an exam. It is meant to clarify the type of content to be included in the exam.
They go on to cite many references you could use and should have familiarity with:
- Statistical Methods for Engineers and Scientists
- The Memory Jogger II
- Implementing Six Sigma: Smarter Solutions Using Statistical Methods
- Integrated Enterprise Excellence: Improvement Project Execution: A Management and Black Belt Guide for Going Beyond Lean Six Sigma and the Balanced Scorecard.
- Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices That Lead to Superior Performance
- The Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance
- Practical Nonparametric Statistics
- Tolerance Design: A Handbook for Developing Optimal Specifications
- Introduction to Statistics and Probability
- Six Sigma Team Dynamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success
- Lean Six Sigma for Service: How to Use Lean Speed and Six Sigma Quality to Improve Services and Transactions
- The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook: A Quick Reference Guide to nearly 100 Tools for Improving Quality, Speed, and Complexity
- Nonparametric Methods for Quantitative Analysis
- Statistical Quality Control
- The Visual Factory: Building Participation Through Shared Information
- Juran’s Quality Planning and Analysis for Enterprise Quality
- Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations
- Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success
- Applied Multivariate Statistical Analysis
- The Lean Company: Making the Right Choices
- Juran’s Quality Handbook
- The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook
- Six Sigma Project Management:A Pocket Guide
- Design & Analysis of Experiments, 7th ed
- Six Sigma for The Shop Floor A Pocket Guide
- Customer Centered Six Sigma: Linking Customers, Process Improvement, and Financial Results
- Competitive Manufacturing Management: Continuous Improvement
- Quality Engineering Using Robust Design
- The Six Sigma Handbook
- Quality Engineering Handbook
- Six Sigma Pocket Guide
- The Team Handbook
- A Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System
- A Quick Changeover for Operators: The SMED System
- Statistical Methods
- TPM: Total Productive Maintenance
- Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation
- Design for Six Sigma for Service
In my mind, this is a ridiculously long list to prepare for an exam. Don’t get me wrong; I think if your intentions are to be a professional Six Sigma Black Belt these are all materials that you should be familiar with. I get the impression that ASQ wanted to convey that their exam is no joke, that you have to really understand this material, and they reserve the right to test you on anything in the field.
In my opinion, that’s part of your own professional library that could be curated over a career.
The Books I Used
This is a small list that I recommend my colleagues use to prepare for the exam. For me, it’s very helpful to see how these concepts were played out in real life. It’s said that you can become an expert in anything if you truly understand 5 books in your subject. For less than $100 US you could buy your own copies of these favorites and then easily stand out in any Six Sigma interview:
My Favorite Six Sigma Books for Contextual Knowledge
- Straight from the Gut – This was the book that I believe started Six Sigma adoption at my company. I recognized that all of the executives at my company were reading this the month it came out and immediately got a copy. It serves as an autobiography for GE’s Jack Welsh but illustrates how and why he deployed Six Sigma at the enterprise level.
- Porter’s Five Forces – This is the seminal book on business strategy. Perhaps more important to read and apply this material than to even take the Six Sigma certification.
- The Lean Start Up – We are living in the start up generation. Eric Reis applies traditional Six Sigma tools to ensure business start up success. Especially important to anyone who has been told that Six Sigma is not applicable to software development.
- Best Value: Six Sigma for Small Business – You can get this one for free in PDF format here! Informal and engaging, by casting Six Sigma as something applicable to small business, you gain an understanding of Six Sigma DMAIC methodology through the perspective of actionable techniques anyone can use.
- Optional: The GE Way – I debated putting this one here. In short, this is a good book but redundant – both to some of the other material on this list and also to itself. In the end I left it on because I found it very helpful to read while traveling. You get great excerpts and quotes and the redundancy is helpful if you’re consuming it on-the-go and have a lot of interruptions and context switching going on.
Now, gaining contextual knowledge is different from actually studying. Once you have a good base of knowledge I would consider the following resources to help you prepare and do well on the exam.
My Favorite Study Materials
You can review these as well as bring them to the test.
- This website – you can print out my notes from any page and bring that with you.
- Indiana Council Primer and Question Bank
- There are 400 sample questions included in the primer, which is very useful.
- The book also comes with CD containing sample exam questions and simulated exam.
- What others have used:
- The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook: A Quick Reference Guide to 100 Tools for Improving Quality and Speed
- The Cartoon Guide to Statistics
- Not a joke, this is awesome.
- The Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt
- This book is the ASQ handbook and it basically contains the bare minimum explanation on every section of the body of knowledge. You will find that the text is a lot less than in the primer and this book is very “to the point”.
- I used this book after reading the primer and I found out that although all topics of the body of knowledge are covered, the topics are not explained in great detail. However, there are many example questions in this book as well within the chapters which help you to attempt the questions that will appear in the exam.
- I recommend to study this book as well, since it is the official ASQ handbook and it relates to many questions in the exam. Even if you cannot read all of it, just skim through it make sure you go through all of the example questions in the chapters. They definitely help during the exam.
- The Teaching Company videos.
- Six Sigma and Minitab by QSB consulting (yes…get even if you aren’t using Minitab). Bring both to the exam. You’ll just have to remove practice problems from the Indiana book. Very important…know where things are in both books…this will be critical. And as we LSS types should know…focus on getting 80% done first…then go back for other questions…don’t waste time on questions that take more than 2 min!
- Khan academy – free courses. Tons of material.
Like I said, I like having strong context on how to apply academic subjects to real world problems. Harvard Business Review offers tons of case studies. You can also search Google News.
This only makes sense. First, the exam is cheaper if you are a member. Secondly, it’s a great resume item. Join your local chapter of ASQ. Participate and be active in their events. Read the national magazine that comes out every month to understand the jargon typically used.
5) Get Practical, Hands-on Six Sigma Knowledge
The benefit of having strong general knowledge is that it gives you context for how these topics exist in the real world. After all, the most having a certification can do is ‘get your foot in the door’ of a company or at a position. It’s the application of the material that counts. That’s where hands-on application comes in.
Even before you sit for the exam ASQ requires that you complete a project. While everyone talks about practice exams and reference books they miss the fact that you can’t even sit for the exam if ASQ doesn’t approve your project.
What Kind of Projects Count?
Let’s see what ASQ has to say about projects:
The Six Sigma Black Belt project is one that uses appropriate tools within a Six Sigma approach to produce breakthrough performance and real financial benefit to an operating business or company.
The two tenets here are breakthrough performance and financial impact.
To be certain, this must be a real project with a real company that uses Six Sigma tools to make an impact.
They go on to specify some example projects:
Examples of projects that qualify:
Manufacturing product defect reduction.
Human resources recruitment cycle time reduction.
Reduced accounts payable invoice processing costs.
Reduced Manufacturing machine setup time.
Have GREAT documentation!
What ever you chose, be sure to document it well! From personal experience the documentation can save your skin! About a month before I was to take my test ASQ called my company to verify or validate my project. Fortunately I have a great team and they were able to attest to my project and provide rigorous documentation. Without that documentation and my coworker’s help, I would have had to wait another 6 months to take the test.
Finding a Project
This can be difficult for some candidates. I don’t think it should be. Yes, it is hard to act in a role before you are in the role. No, it is not insurmountable.
Take an entrepreneurial mind set; this is a challenge that you must turn into an opportunity.
If you are not getting monetary compensation (currently) for running such projects, perhaps there are other forms of compensation that would be worthwhile to pursue? For instance:
- Being helpful to others
- Solving pressing problems
- Learning new skills or about new companies / divisions / processes.
- Making an impact in your current role.
Those seem like pretty good benefits, right?
All of these items may not directly impact your paycheck (but on the other hand they might!) Each of these tactics helps you in so many other ways. You get to network with other leaders in your company or outside, demonstrate your competence, and deliver great value which will make an excellent resume item.
Those people who say there is no way for them to find a project to work on are simply not networking enough. Remember, networking is not a dirty word.
6) Set a Deadline & Commit
Deadlines make things happen. Once you have your qualified project complete, it’s time to schedule your exam date. I suggest 3-6 months out depending upon your current level of preparation.
The ASQ exam is offered twice a year – once in March and once in October. Sometimes it is offered as part of a conference. You can find the dates here. Register for an exam and block the time out on your calendar.
How long will you need to study for the ASQ Black Belt Exam? How far out in advance should you plan your exam?
The amount of time to prepare will vary by person.
Things to account for in your studying:
- Amount of training – did you pass a Green Belt? Did you a take formal training class?
- Contextual knowledge – have you been keeping up with the industry? Have you read supplemental books?
- Projects worked – have you completed your project yet?
- Work demands – Working 80 hours a week and studying is much different than working 40 hours a week and studying. Also, if your work requires a lot of travel or similar overhead, your ability to have dedicated focus will be limited.
- Family / personal demands – Everyone has responsibilities outside of work. You must take these into account when planning your study time.
7) Baseline Your Knowledge
Sort of sounds like the backbone of Six Sigma DMAIC, right? Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. Well, that proven system is exactly what we want to follow. We want to improve the process of taking this exam.
It is very important to know ASQ vocabulary. I had taken the Villanova training in 2013 and passed their Black Belt exam in 2014. My gut is that 50% of the material overlapped. There is very specific verbiage that occurs in each class. I am very glad I spent the last 2 weeks prepping with only ASQ materials. Wish I had spent more time.
Review the ASQ BOK
You can baseline your knowledge by the previous technique of reviewing the BOK and having a discussion about that topic with someone else. Don’t have someone you could talk to about these arcane topics? Not to worry, neither did I. I’ll talk about how to solve that in a moment.
For now, simply reviewing the ASQ Black Belt BOK will help you understand where your strengths are and what needs improvement. If you are weak in any area, study up. You’ll notice my ASQ BOK page includes a link to my notes on that topic. Try checking out those pages to get up to speed.
Take Sample Exams
There is no substitute for practicing with test questions. ASQ provides one sample test with 75 for free. At the very least you MUST take this practice test.
Practicing a wide variety of questions is also a good idea. I have a comprehensive list of free Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt practice exams here. If you are going for the Black Belt exam, it is worth your time to review Green Belt material. After all, if you can’t answer questions at the Green Belt level, there is no way you will be able to answer questions at the Black Belt level.
There seem to be many options out there but I really liked the Indiana Council Primer and study guide. It’s packed with some 400 questions. In fact, that was the only reference that I took with me to the exam.
It comes with a huge binder organized by test topics. You also get software that allows you to test yourself with a ridiculously huge question and answer bank derived from actual questions used on previous exams.
Very helpful, very useful, very much recommended.
Other Practice Exam Options
- The Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt – I haven’t tried this one myself but it comes recommended.
- Ebay has a bunch for sale – I have not tried it. Something about buying goods for 5% of what everyone else is charging makes me think of poor quality or piracy.
- People on various Linked In Groups tend to share a lot of questions. I am unsure how legal that is so I avoided it. Perhaps you can ask them about copyrights.
8) Analyze Your Weaknesses and Decide How to Turn them Into Strengths
How to Identify Your Weaknesses
I find that the most effective way to pass a test is to identify your weaknesses on the exam first, and try to practice more and read more books or articles that related to your weakness.
Let’s review what we know about the exam:
- There are roughly (10) categories in the ASQ exam.
- There are 150 multiple choice questions.
- There are 4 hours in the test.
- This means 1 minute 33 seconds per question.
- We don’t know what the cutoff is for a passing grade (because the ASQ does some crazy normalizing stats) so we have to aim for >90% of the material being well-understood.
Taking the Sample Exam
There is a great quote that sports coaches the world over use; “Practice how you’ll play.” This means that how you practice is indicative of how you will perform when it matters. In our case that means practicing under exam conditions.
Find a quiet place that has ambient noise. Bring your printed paper and all of your reference materials.
Print out the sample exam and mark down which categories you did well in and which you didn’t. Time yourself.
Don’t skip any questions. If you feel that a question is going to take you longer than 1.5 minutes, make a random guess (you have a 20% chance)
How did you do?
I’d consider anything less than 90% to be unacceptable. Not to worry, that’s why we have this guide. We’ll get you to 90% with the following techniques.
9) Improve Your Weaknesses
There are 3 things we have to look at:
- Accuracy of your answers
- Speed of completing questions.
- Endurance: Actually completing all of the questions in the allotted time.
Most people focus on a very specific portion of the quality of your answers – did you get the question right or wrong. They ignore the speed and endurance components and end up failing because they ran out of time. It’s essential that we focus on all three.
How to Increase Your Accuracy
The sample exam is a great first step but it has weaknesses. The % of questions by topic on the sample exam is not the same as the % of those on the test. They even make that clear on the grading sheet.
Additionally, some categories only have a few questions – that’s not enough to gauge how you will do on the official exam.
To truly assess how well you know the material, you will need to do many sample questions. I suggest no less than 1000 questions.
Find Your Worst Category
The sample exam is only 100 questions and the real exam is 150. Calculate how many questions you would have gotten wrong if you had taken the 150. Sort that by category.
Option 1: Turn the Weak Category into a Strength
Since every question is worth the same, it makes sense to become very strong in the most popular categories. So how do you know which category has the most opportunity?
Easy! Make a Pareto chart of the questions you missed on each category if it was 150 questions long. Work the worst one by taking mini sample exams (this is where an automated system like the Indiana Council’s software really comes into its own.)
Take the mini exams of random questions in that category until you can reliably score 90%. I focused on 25 questions with getting <= 2 wrong inside of 40 minutes. Once I could do that, I would move on to the next topic.
But don’t study one area so much that you forget the other areas!
Once I could score 90% on a section, I would do a cumulative test of all the sections that came before. Ex. When studying section 3 I did a cumulative test including sections 1, 2 and 3 before I was allowed to move on to the next one. This would ensure that I wasn’t losing anything.
The benefit of this approach is that you can study and master each section in a logical sequence. As a contextual learner this made the most sense for me.
However, this is not the most strategic way to gain the most points. If you are cramming and are up against the deadline, try the next approach.
Option 2: Focus on the Most Popular Categories.
Again the Pareto chart is your friend!
Instead of studying the sections in order try studying them by section weighting.
The sample test tells us that the actual exam will be weighted as follows:
If you went in order (like I did), you would not focus on the area worth the most points for some time. Re-ordering that list based on point values you’d study as follows:
How to Increase Your Speed
Of course being accurate is great, that’s why we are here. But accuracy alone will not let you pass the test. You have to be fast enough to answer the questions in the allotted time.
The test is 4 hours, thus 240 minutes. There are 150 questions. That means you have under 2 minutes per question.
- Lots of practice on lots of different problem types.
- True understanding of the material.
- Be very familiar with your reference material.
- Every second counts. Don’t waste your time fumbling around.
- know the Primer and know how to navigate it well.
- Have a system for marking questions to return to.
I found the sample questions to be difficult to understand. It seems that when the Indiana Council was adapting old exams they didn’t take too much care to the grammar of the questions. Poor punctuation and grammar is everywhere. Double or triple negatives abound.
In the end I was pleased to see that the real ASQ test was written in cleaner, plainer language. All the time that I spent in practice trying to figure out what in the world the sample test question meant made me much faster on exam day.
Test Taking Endurance
Four hours is a long time to sit still. As the test wears on your abilty to concentrate will wax and wane.
10)Test Taking Logistics
Sometimes success is more about avoiding mistake than anything else. There is an excellent article by Govind Ramu on the top mistakes to avoid when taking an ASQ test. We’ve covered many items here but of particular interest are his logistical items.
In my conversations with others that have passed and failed the exam, plus my own experience, I see the following items as the major contributing success factors:
- Prevention of Stress:
- Your best course of action is to have adequate preparation with planned study the months and weeks ahead of time.
- Week before
- Double-check enrollment & location
- Secure travel arrangements
- Night Before
- Eat well.
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Day Of Exam
- Eat a good breakfast.
- Bring the right materials
- Getting to the exam room early.
- Bring any medication you may need
- I brought 2 waters and 2 Coke Zeros – that’s a tradition I have going back to my freshman year in college.
- The Calculator:
- Have the right calculator allowed – Remember you are not allowed to take your cell phone, ipad, or any device with access to internet in the exam room.
- Lots of experience practicing with it – don’t use an unfamiliar calculator on the test!
- Knowing the calculator’s functions.
- Bring extra batteries – I brought 2 calculators – just in case!
- Reference Materials:
- A good reference book that you know how to use – I brought the Indiana Council Book with the practice exam questions removed.
- Your own personal notes – I wrote these in the margins of my reference book.
- Extra blank note pages to do calculations on – I am a visual learner so having some 50 blank pages of printer paper helped me understand each problem and sketch so I could better attack it.
Conclusion: Make the Material Your Own
Just taking practice exams helps, but it’s not everything. You will see questions on the exam in ways that you never thought of before. The only way to train your mind to handle those unfamiliar questions is to get past memorizing facts and move towards understanding the material.
This is sort of like learning a language. Certainly you could memorize a bunch of vocabulary and learn how to conjugate verbs, etc. But that’s very different than speaking with someone in real life.
Everyone learns in a different way. Some people are audio learners and benefit from lectures, podcasts, or books on tape. Some are visual learners and retain information best when it’s presented in image format. Some people learn best in groups; others do best on their own.
What is important to you is to understand your own, personal best way of learning. I can’t know what that is, but I can give you some thoughts on different ways you can personalize your study approach to make the material your own.
Some people go as far as taking additional courses (on line, locally, or with a tutor). I personally work better wrestling with the material on my own so instead, I made a website. Trying to put my thoughts on paper so-to-speak helped me crystallize my understanding of all of the topics required. Since I am a contextual learner – I learn best when material can be linked to other things that I know well – this method helped see relationships that were not there by fitting each topic into the greater whole.
By putting the notes out to the world other people contacted me and sent me their notes. Sometimes people would ask me questions on the material and I had to study like crazy to give them the best answers possible.
I also volunteered to teach topics at work that I was not strong in. There is nothing like a deadline and the fear of looking incompetent in front of your colleagues to make you want to learn a subject!
Simply anticipating their questions gave me wonderful practice for the exam. But there was another benefit; I got to hear their questions and experiences applying that material in the real-world! Some even asked me to help them make their projects successful. In that way I was both learning, teaching, and getting great practical experience I can use on my resume and talk about in any interview. That’s some great benefit! Not to mention how much stronger my professional network became
Some people feel that doing these extra things are too much work to pass an exam. They are missing the point. The goal isn’t to simply pass an exam and gain a certificate; the goal is to understand and leverage this material well enough to deliver excellent business results – and hopefully be compensated appropriately.
Let me ask you; which do you think is ultimately more helpful to the goals you’ve established; increasing your value to your colleagues, delivering great business results, and establishing yourself as an expert or gaining a certificate? Obviously the first but it’s nice to have both! These steps should help you achieve each of these goals quickly and reliably. It’s worked for me and many others and I am confident it will work for you.
I hope this helps. I’d love to know how you are preparing for the exam or if you have any tips you’d like to share. Of course, if you have any questions, please post them below. Have you passed the ASQ Black Belt exam? Tell us below how you did it!
Frequently Asked Questions
I do not write the ASQ Exam and have no inside knowledge of how it is created. However I have asked a lot of questions as have my friends and colleagues. Here are the answers as we have found them
Will the exam have MiniTab questions? Do I need to learn Minitab to pass the Six Sigma Black Belt Exam?
The good news is that You do not need to learn Minitab as no computers or programs are allowed in the exam area. You will need to be familiar with a basic scientific calculator and statistics, though.
I did find that MiniTab’s references were amongst the best that I have seen. Their index materials have great instruction.
People tell me that Six Sigma and Minitab by QSB Consulting is a VERY GOOD book to purchase. They say that the hints it gives with each tool are very useful for the test and for everyday use. I haven’t tried it personally so I cannot vouch for it yet.
What materials can be taken to the exam room as it is a open book test ?
You’re allowed to bring instructional books of pretty much any kind. The only book that I brought was my Quality Council of Indiana CSSB Primer.
- You will have to remove any sample questions from any of your materials. The Primer makes this easy because it is a binder and all of the questions are blue pages.
- I took good notes, put them on this website, and printed the pages. You are welcome to do the same.
- I did not take any additional books but text books are allowed. To me this was a time and space constraint. Remember that you are on the clock so you want to be able to access information as quickly as possible.
- No pages of your books may have example problems or multiple choice problems.
- A good, ‘dumb’ calculator.
- No device with an internet connection – this is an open book, not an open web test!
- Only exception is you cannot carry books with Multiple choice questions.
- Customized study sheets – again, I printed pages from this website.
- Suggested 1 pagers:
- Make a one pager for Quality Gurus (Or add additional details to the Primer page on Gurus)
- Make a one pager for Quality tools by each phase and know when/How to use them.
- Make a one pager for Formula/Equations with examples.
- Hypothesis testing (Alpha/Beta)
- Probability (Non-Parametric as well)
- Control Charts
- Design of Experiments.
- Suggested 1 pagers:
- Statistical Tables
What is the best test taking strategy?
People talk about skipping problems or this and that. In my opinion, that’s way too complicated for a test you only have 1.6 mins per question to answer. Think about it from a Lean standpoint – stop starting and start finishing!
This is how I did it:
- Read the question carefully.
- Be sure to identify what they are looking for.
- For equations, write out all of the variables on a sheet of paper.
- Label the number neatly so you can return to it if needed.
- After enough practice you’ll recognize what they are asking for based off of what they give you to work with.
- Cross off any obviously wrong answers.
- Taking the test on paper was so much easier than taking it on the computer. Loved the ability to mark up the questions and possible answers. I felt I really got a psychological burst when I eliminated answers and drew a line through them.
- Guessing would give you a 25% chance of getting a question right.
- Crossing off 1 increases to 33%.
- Crossing off 2 gives you 50-50 odds.
- I found that many questions could be immediately answered by eliminating the nonsensical answers.
- If you feel like the question will take > 2 mins
- choose the best answer you can.
- Mark it on your exam to return to it.
- Write down any thoughts on your numbered scrap paper.
- If you have to return, any marked off answers will help you focus your attention.
- Keep track of your time.
- Get through the first 40 questions – check the time to see if you are ahead or behind.
- Check time at the 75 question mark.
- Check time at the 110 mark.
- After the 150 go back to the questions you checked off to return to.
- I answered every question in order. If I didn’t know it, I looked it up. If I couldn’t figure it out, I made a mark to return to it. This is my version of “stop starting and start finishing.” This goes counter to other strategies where you try to answer the ones you know first then go back. That always feels needlessly complicated to me. In my mind I am never concerned with not having enough time to answer all questions. I do get paranoid if I leave questions without my full attention. This strategy helps me remain stress free through out the test although others may differently. Not saying this is right, just what works for me. If you have similar psychology, it may work for you.
- The calculations cost me a lot of time. Many were compound questions – mash ups, if you will, where you had to figure out one calculation and apply it to the 2nd half of the question. In retrospect, I should have passed on those as soon as I realized it.
- I thought there were an inordinate amount of statistical problem questions.
- Read the question carefully.