Before I start, let me give a quick introduction to what the CUA (Certified Analyst) is all about. This is what HFI (Human Factors International) says about it.

CUA certification is what you need if you are just starting your UX career, planning to switch to UX or want to demonstrate your mastery of UX principles to your organization.

In the month of December 2018, I took up the CUA Certification that is conducted by HFI and successfully cleared the examination in my first . I secured a total of 76 marks out of 100 with 70 being the passing mark.

Before I get into the crux of the article, let me quickly breakdown the pattern of the course and for those aren’t aware of it. The course is for 10 days with days off on the weekends and the is conducted on the 2nd day after the end of the 10-day course (so basically, the is conducted on the 14th day.) You can also take up the in the next batch of the course or at any day at the head office in the respective country. Coming to the part, it is an Open Book Exam with 100 Multiple Choice Questions. Each question has only 1 Unique answer to it. There are 4 sections in the exam which need to be answered one section at a time sequentially. The passing mark is 70 (which makes the exam very challenging) but there is no section wise passing mark (Phew!). Which means you can get fewer marks in 1 section and more in the other sections. Bottom Line — You need a total of 70 marks. That’s all.

Now, let me be honest here. This exam is not as easy as it seems even though it is an open book exam. We have written a ton of exams in our life and none of these were open books exams and so the study pattern and strategy needs to change extensively to crack this exam. But don’t worry, I am here to the rescue.

DISCLAIMER: Everything I mention is just my opinion and my style of studying. Feel free to tweak it or disregard it. No hard feelings 😜

I will be breaking down the study pattern into 5 sections and explain what you need to do and why you need to do that as well.

  1. What you need to do in the class.
  2. What you need to do after you come back home from class.
  3. What you need to do on the weekends (Holidays).
  4. What you need to do on the day before the exam and on the day of the exam.
  5. What you need to do during the exam.

One last thing I want to mention is the mindset that one has to have for this continuous period of 14 days irrespective of your experience/knowledge in the field of UX Design. This is the MOST crucial part of the process. The objective is not to remember WHAT but is to remember WHERE! That does not mean that you don’t have to focus on remembering WHAT but you need to give a ton of focus to the remembering WHERE aspect. Now, let’s see what I mean by this.

What you need to do in class.

The course has 4 main subjects that will be taught by different teachers. Now, based on your experience and knowledge in UX Design and even the type of teaching by the teachers, some subjects will be super interesting and some will make you drool in class. But that’s okay.

You will receive 1 main textbook for each subject and they are basically screenshots of the Presentation Slides. So, it won’t be like a novel or a regular textbook. Please do remember one thing. These books are like your BIBLE!

  1. Make sure that you are listening to the teacher at all times so that you will be at the right speed and won’t be lagging behind. It does not matter if don’t understand what he is saying but try your best to understand. You can always ask him during the break or your neighbors. Now the reason you need to do this is that your brain needs to capture all this and store it in your memory even if you don’t understand it. When you study for the second time when you go back home, you will be able to make sense of it. But if you don’t store it in your memory then you won’t even be able to remember it when you go back home as the environment changes and your brain focuses on other things. I’m not saying its impossible, but it becomes difficult to understand and remember.
  2. Most of the questions in the exam are scenario based and very few (around 25–30%) are very technical and quick to answer. So, the trick to answering both these types of questions is KEYWORDS. What you need to do is to mark the keywords by highlighting them or circling them very distinctively in such a way that, when you randomly open a page, the Keywords is what you see first. Now how does this help? Well, your brain needs to register these keywords and the more you revise, the stronger your brain becomes in remembering where this keyword was located, helping you to quickly check the navigate around the book to find the answer to the question.

What you need to do after you come back home from class.

  1. The first thing you need to do is to dedicate a minimum of 1 hour to revise what was done on that day. 1 hour should be good enough but it can increase based on your speed and understanding. Just start reading everything you see on every page a minimum of one time so that your brain knows the subject matter even if it doesn’t understand the concept. To give a real-world example, I am very sure that you would have seen someone in a mall, street, wedding, function etc and you know that you know who that is but you are not sure of their name. Or you could know their name but don’t know where you met them. You would immediately check your contacts, WhatsApp or Facebook to know exactly who that person is. Use the same concept in the exam. You know WHERE the answer lies but you don’t know WHAT the answer is.
  2. Technical questions comprise of names of people, numbers, percentages, the name of the laws, the name of the theories etc. There are good chances that this won’t be asked in the exam but even a single mark matters. Here is what you need to do for these technical questions. Type them out in Word or Excel and make sure that you make arrange them alphabetically based on the Keyword. The keyword could be the name of the law, person, type of situation/scenario or what the number represents. Do this every day and keep updating the list.
  3. The other thing I did was to make Summary Notes. Summary Notes are basically a one-liner about what every slide is about. Make sure you highlight the keywords in these again. I made my summary notes only for the slides which I felt were new to me and felt important. I did not make notes for every single slide. You can follow the same but it’s your choice.
  4. One thing that I would like to mention is that every single line is super important. The questions are going to be framed in such a way that you will have to dig a lot and find the sentence that has the answer which is very tricky unless you know where to start searching from.
  5. You will be allowed to refer your Summary Notes and the Technical notes that you have prepared along with the 4 textbooks during the exam.

What you need to do on the weekends (Holidays).

  1. What you need to do is to just read your summary notes, study the word/excel document which has the technical part and read the textbook like a simple novel. Revising will not only help you remember WHERE but also remember WHAT. The more you revise, the more your brain becomes stronger in creating a virtual book in your brain with keywords written along with it. Most of the times, you would remember the location of the keywords based on the associated picture that was there on that slide or the amount of text that was there on that slide.
  2. These 2 days are purely for revision. Spend time on this without any disturbance and then you are free to do whatever you want. I would recommend revising once in the morning and once in the night on both the days.
  3. Along with the textbooks you will also be given workbooks which I did not find much use for at all. But at the end of the workbook is a glossary of all definitions of UX Terms. Make sure that you go through these at least 2times in total in the 2 days. These might not help you with the exam but there is a chance that they might pick a few of these and create a scenario based question from it.

What you need to do on the day before the exam and on the day of the exam.

  1. Make sure you go through the summary notes, textbooks, technical notes in full just at least one time on both the days. But make sure to read them slowly so that your brain can capture the keywords and remember the location of the keywords.
  2. Focus on the remember WHERE and not WHAT because you will not have the time to remember the meaning of the concepts even though you have a fair idea about what the concept is about.
  3. The last thing you need to do is to go through the glossary that has the definition of UX terms.
  4. Don’t forget to carry all the 4 Text Books, 1 Workbook which has the Glossary, Summary Notes, and Technical Notes. The reason I am saying this is because I actually forgot my notes at home on the day of the exam. But to my surprise, I actually didn’t even need them. I used only the 4 textbooks to answer all the questions.

Oh! One last thing, on the day of the exam, when you start studying in the morning, throw away your phone. From the time you get up until you finish the exam, you need to be fully focused on the exam.

What you need to do during the exam.

Let give you a breakdown of how the exam is set up. As I mentioned earlier, there are 100 questions, 4 sections and 3 hours with you. The best part is that there is no time limit for the sections and no passing mark for any section. However, you need to finish one section before you move on to the next section. This reduces a lot of pressure because you need to only search from 1 book and not from all the 4 books.

  1. Time Management — You have 180 minutes (3 Hours) with you and you need to answer 100 Questions, that leaves you with 1.8 Minutes (108 seconds) per question. The Exam facilitator in the room will tell you how many questions are there in each section. What you need to do is to take a piece of paper and multiply the number of questions in each section with 1.8 minutes. With this number, you will be able to set a deadline for each section. Try your best to not go past this deadline but most of the times it does happen and it is okay.
  2. You will have the option to flag questions in a section so that you can check them out later if you want. So what I did was to keep 5–7 minutes in each section only to go back to these flagged questions and check the answer again. I ended up flagging a ton of questions and even changed the answer for around 10 questions. This really made a difference because if I had not done it, I would have failed since I got 76 Marks.
  3. I freak out a lot under pressure, but my focus when under pressure is monumental. When answering a question make sure that you are 100% correct, not 99%, not 98%. Why is that? That’s because the options for most of the questions are really really really close and similar. You have to be exact with the answer. You need to forget about the knowledge that you gained at your job, your experience and what you learned in college. This is a totally different game. Either flag your question or quickly go and check your answer in the book or do both. Don’t care about the page turning noises that you will make when searching for the answer cause, believe me, you won’t be the only one.
  4. The biggest mistake people do is to not read the question properly. Make sure you read it slowly and patiently. I read many questions twice even though I knew what the question was asking, just to be on the safer side. I know that it does waste time, but its worth it.
  5. Many questions are long but there are also a few questions that take 5 seconds to answer as these would be super easy and straight forward. These would definitely compensate the time spent on reading questions and searching the books for the answer.
  6. Here is a cool tip. Let’s say that you have set aside 35 minutes for one section and you keep 10 minutes for the flagged questions. So, in the end, you have set aside 25 minutes for answering the questions in that section. Assuming that you took only 20 minutes to answer all the questions and 8 minutes to revisit the flagged questions, you now have 7 minutes free (35–20–8). DO NOT move to the next section, use the 7 minutes to revisit how many ever questions you can in that section once again even if you had not flagged them. But make sure you don’t exceed 35 minutes. I am sure that you would change the answer to at least 1 question.
  7. Make sure that you drink water every 15 minutes to keep you hydrated and give some energy to your brain. You can also use the restroom during the exam. I used the restroom 4 times during the exam. I told you, I freak out under pressure 😂.

What you should not do!!!

So now, you know all about what you need to do. It’s time to tell you what you should not do.

  1. Do no use a ton of Sticky Notes! I did not use even a single sticky note for studying. Why? They are not easily accessible during the exam. You need to be delicate with them or else you will rip them off. You cant write a lot on it unless you write them in super small size which is basically useless cause during the exam you have no time to read it quickly. Would you prefer to look at a bunch of sticky notes all over your books or a few sheets of paper to refer? Your pick.
  2. Do not assume that you will have time to ask your neighbors the answers to the questions because believe me, its gonna be like a fish market in there. People sweating, turning pages, drinking water, mouse clicking sound. You won’t have time to even turn away for a minute. But yes, if you need to use the restroom, please do.
  3. When making notes, don’t make long paragraphs. You will not have the patience to read all that even when revising because you will assume that you know it and that there is no need to read it again.
  4. Do not use examples of a concept to answer the questions. Examples are only for you to understand the concept, not to remember the name of the concept. Do not use examples as keywords.

So that’s pretty much it. Hope these tips and strategies will help you crack the exam in your first attempt. If you guys have any questions feel free to reach out to me on social media and best of luck with your exams.

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