Wow. First off, thanks for the huge response to my last post “What to do if you didn’t pass a Six Sigma exam.” The amount of feedback and engagement was incredible. Apparently I struck a nerve there.
If you did not pass your exam and are gearing up for another try this year, please know you are not alone. I heard back from many, many candidates that didn’t either. If haven’t had a chance, or thought that it didn’t apply to you because you didn’t take the exam yet, please go back and read it. Learning from colleagues who didn’t pass their exams was how I was able to create my own process for passing the exam.
One common element I’ve heard from people over the past few years is just like this comment I received from a reader;
“Retaining the information because I do not yet work in a position where I use these skills regularly.” – Thomas B.
Thomas is right. Retaining all of this information is hard. There’s no way around it, you have to put in the effort.
But how much effort is needed? And can you optimize it?
1. Create a study plan with many mini-cumulative reviews.
The problem with an exam the size of any of the Six Sigma certifications is the breadth of material. I found it helpful to find ways to get targeted wins, then loop back and make sure I hadn’t lost any ground on what I studied.
Let’s say you made a study plan to focus on 1 phase of DMAIC for a week leading up to your exam starting with D- Define.
I would gather all of the questions I could find having to do with that phase and work until I could answer all of them.
Next week I’d move on to the next topic M – Measure. I’d do the same thing for that phase. However, after mastering Measure, I would then do a mix of all of the Define and Measure questions together. I wouldn’t allow myself to move to the next phase until I scored perfectly. Once I did, I would move on to the next topic – Analysis in this example. And then the process would repeat.
By doing this you are setting up regular checks with yourself to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything while still systematically progressing through the material.
Of course there are multiple ways to do this. I wouldn’t suggest studying all of Measure or Analysis in one go- that’s a lot of material. But you can follow the pattern for all of the subtopics inside those phases. Similarly with the historical topics and the rest.
If you really want to get fancy, you could change the order to reflect what your exam values. For example, if your chosen certification body weighs the phases differently, perhaps you’d go out of sequence in something like AIMDC order. Or perhaps you’d put them in order of your weakest elements first. It all depends on your unique situation.
2. Restate Topics in Your Own Words.
As the proud father of a 3 year old, I can tell you nothing tests your understanding of a topic than having to answer ‘Why, Daddy? Why’ on endless repeat.
I’m sure many parents out there are smiling at how fun it is to describe a complex universe to an inquisitive toddler. Why not put that same principal to work here?
Take a look at your BOK. Pick a random subject. Now get a blank notebook and start from scratch describing it without referring to your notes. I promise you that will highlight what you know and what you need to learn more on for that topic.
For ease of reference I’ve listed the various BOKs here. Each has a complete list of topics tested complete with links to how I’ve tried to describe the topics. I’m more than happy to update the pages with your feedback!
3. Look for applications of Six Sigma topics in the ‘Real World’.
Each of the Six Sigma exams are ultimately trying to determine if you’ve internalized the material. An easy litmus test that I’ve notice if I’ve internalized a topic is if I can see it’s application in real life.
When I was studying for my Black Belt I watched a National Geographic video of deer or caribou crossing a road in some winter-y, snowy place. The animals all traveled as a pack. And the entire pack had to jump over a fence, cross a road that bisected their migration path, and jump over another fence. In the video the entire pack made it across the two fences and the road except for one member. As a result the entire pack waited and waited for that last member to make it across. I was half asleep when I was watching this but I remember immediately thinking Theory of Constraints!!!!
At that point I knew I had internalized that concept.
Now you don’t have to watch animal shows looking to apply this stuff. In fact I recommend against it. But you might look for it in business articles, case studies, or at your place of work.
Another way I applied this topic was on my interminable delays at the airport. I would pass the time thinking about how I would use process mapping, calculate takt time, or any of a dozen other tactics or examples of Six Sigma tools and techniques.
Whatever you can do to make this material real to you, do.
OK, now it’s your turn. What have you done to help remember all of the material you need to master to pass these exams? What elements are particularly ‘slippery’ for you to remember? What can I do to help?