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What was it like taking the ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) Exam? Interview with student who passed the exam in Jan 2024

One of my clients asked me to help their staff obtain Green and Black Belt certification through ASQ. This involves filling out an affidavit with the certification requirements (minimal for Green Belt, 1-2 verified projects for Black Belt), and passing a 4-hour exam.

I had just completed a Green Belt training for their staff a few months prior and helped them work on their projects that could be used to qualify for the Black Belt exam.

I developed a customized course to help employees prepare for the Black Belt exam. Green Belts received more help than was needed, but it was easier than setting up a separate course. Each week, we spent 2 hours virtually going through a different section in the review materials (I prefer the Quality Council of Indiana (QCI) Primers). This lasted for 16 weeks until we covered most of the content in the Black Belt body of knowledge. I covered the highlights of the content, and went into detail on some of the difficult practice questions with everyone. For the rest of the session, I give them time to read through the content and work on practice questions, and help them understand the questions they couldn’t get correct.

One of the students recently passed her ASQ exam in late January 2024, so I asked her to share her experiences with others taking the exam at a testing center. Here are more details about what to expect, but I also wanted to share her feedback.

Exam Preparation

Q: How much effort did you put into studying?

It just feels great! It paid off for all the hours worked. I don’t know how many hours I put into that. I would say apart from our classes, let’s say I think I probably put more than 100 hours altogether.

Q: How did you prepare for the ASQ exam the last few days?

The last days prior to the test, I took PTO (personal time off) so I could just concentrate on studying. I totally disconnected and I studied probably eight hours a day. I took the test on Wednesday. Last weekend on Saturday and Sunday, I studied a lot. Monday, I did eight hours. Tuesday, I did a little bit in the morning, then we had our weekly study session, but then after the session, I didn’t do anything else. I just revised my own notes and questions that I marked that I haven’t completed or I got it wrong.

I was already done with my two pass throughs reading and doing all the practice questions in the Primer book (as you suggested). I did a final third review on the questions, so I just went and read the questions and I tried to answer as I went through it.

I tried to relax on the day before (Tuesday). I took like two hours of talking to my best friend, random things. I said, “I don’t want to talk about nothing. I just want to laugh,” and that was very good for me.

Exam Testing Location Logistics

Q: What was your plan on the day of the exam, including your travel?

I was two hours away from my testing center, so I decided to travel the day before so I could get into a hotel. And I didn’t want to have to worry about traffic complications and things like that on the day of the exam. You could book either a morning or afternoon session, so I booked the afternoon session. It started at 1 PM my time. And I chose that because I like to sleep, so I prefer working in the afternoon and waking up at the time I wanted. I knew I would be in a hotel, so I don’t have any responsibility of waking up early and setting my alarm clock and then having all the worry about not waking up on time.

I had a light breakfast at around 10 AM. Then I actually drove to the test center. I picked a hotel that was 10 minutes close to the testing center. I drove there prior just to make sure I could find the place. Sometimes, it’s in suites or office complexes and you can’t find it, or it’s hard to find parking because they didn’t give me all the required information. So I drove there, made sure I found my testing location site, so I was very relaxed after doing that.

I also looked into the room to glance at how the tables were set up, and I looked at the lockers where we would have to store our stuff. The lockers were small, so for my backpack, I left it in the car for the exam because it would not fit the locker. I tried to organize everything I would bring into the testing center.

Then I went back to the hote, took my shower, checked out, and arrived one hour early at the center. The instructions say to arrive 30 minutes earlier because they do inspect all of your things before you enter, and to make sure you arrive in plenty of time just in case.

Q: What did they inspect and allow you to bring into the exam?

I took pens, two pencils and an eraser, but they were not allowed. They give you a pencil with an eraser on top. I did bring a second calculator, just a very simple one, but it was one with an attached cover, so because of that, it was not allowed, as they thought someone could hide cheat sheets. Any sheets or tables that come with a calculator are also not allowed. Since I didn’t want to remove the calculator from the cover and damage it, I couldn’t use it. I asked them what would happen if my calculator failed, and they said they could provide me with a simple calculator to use as a backup.

I also printed out some of the slides you gave us. Not the questions and answer examples, just the theoretical slides. Those were fine as long as they are put into a 3-ring binder with holes punched into the papers. But I put them into a plastic sheet without using a hole punch, so they did not allow that, since I could take the slides out of the binder. So I had to take them out of the plastic cover sheets, and punch holes in them, then add them back into the 3-ring binder. They luckily had a 3-hole punch device for me to use, and I arrived early enough to get it done before the exam started. They don’t allow any loose papers, nothing in the pockets of the 3-ring binder. It has to be hole-punched and attached inside the binder.

They also inspected my primer book to ensure that I took out the questions and answers. I brought with me the Six Sigma Handbook from T.M. Kubiak, my own notes I took while studying (in a 3-ring binder), some slides from the prepartion class you helped us with (in a 3-ring binder). I also had a separate binder with just the Index and Appendix from the primer book, as I found out that it was easier for me to access those sections much quicker when they were separated into another binder, instead of turning the huge book to the back all the time. You definitely need to have your own tables and Appendix, as they don’t provide anything for you during the exam (such as Z-table or F-distribution tables).

They didn’t allow me to use the scratch paper I brought. They provide you with yellow scratch paper, and they can provide you more if you need more. They don’t want you to leave with any yellow scratch paper, so they collect it at the end. I think they’re trying to prevent people from writing down test questions.

All my personal items (phone, purse, etc) I had to lock in a locker during the test. I did have to keep my ID on the desk the entire time. I wasn’t even able to bring napkins or Kleenex with me, those were not allowed.

They also inspected all my pockets in my pants. They made me lift up my shirt slightly to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything in my pants. They also use an X-ray or metal detector wand that they scanned over me for metal objects.

Then I was able to enter the room and sign in with my ID.

About the Testing Computer System

Q: What happened next after you completed the check-in process before the exam started?

Because I arrived early, about 12:30, when my exam start time was 1:00, they asked if I wanted to start early. I had already used the restroom, so I was glad I didn’t have to wait around for 30 minutes, so I decided to start right away.

They do provide you with earphones if you want to try to isolate yourself. There are many people that are taking several tests in the same room, so there is a lot of traffic coming in and out of the room, which was distracting and bothered me in the middle of the session. I didn’t use the earphones, as I thought it would give me a headache, so you need to be prepared for that.

The table was a good size. It did have enough room for the things I brought, and so I was able to organize everything. I kept things that I know that I would search for closer to me, and then I was ready to begin.

Q: What was the computer testing program like to use?

Yes, the first 6-7 minutes are instructions on how to use the computer. This does count against your total time. There were about 15 bullet points on how to use the testing format.

The computers have a few nice features to help you keep track of all the questions. If you want to flag a question, use this flag button, so you have to click on it and you can find all the flagged questions later on. There is also a highlighter feature, but I didn’t use that. In total, I had 4 hours and 15 minutes. Another feature is that you can right-click on any answer, and it will eliminate it for you. So let’s say you want to flag a question and come back to it later. If you know that answers B and D are definitely not correct, you can eliminate those options and it puts a line through those, showing them eliminated. When I come back to the question, I can see that B and D are eliminated, and I need to decide between A and C.

There is aslo a calculator in the computer, so you can pop that up anytime. It’s very user-friendly. It has both a simple and scientific version you can select. I didn’t use that. I just decided to use my own calculator, but the one in the computer was very similar to mine.

The time is shown at the top of the screen, so I used that to judge where I was on the exam and how much I had left to complete.

The questions is centralized on the screen. On the left side, it shows all of the 165 questions. They show little icons, very small, and if you are good with the question, if you answered something and you didn’t flag it, it would show in one color (I think it was black). If I flagged the question, it was show me a flag next to it, so I was able to come back to it if I had time and review it more detail. If you don’t answer the flagged question, then it will show that you skipped it, and it doesn’t change the color. If you did answer the flagged question, it will still show flagged but it will change it to black. But if you don’t have time to come back to the flagged questions, it will submit your answer either way. So if you leave it blank, it will submit it as unscored and you’ll definitely get it wrong (no points). You don’t want to do that, you need to answer every question. I made sure that even if I didn’t know the answer, I flagged it, but I picked one answer, just in case I ran out of time at the end. I always picked an answer on every question that I flagged. There is no penalty for guessing wrong, so don’t leave any questions blank or unscored.

During the Exam

Q: What happened once the test began?

For the first 20 to 30 questions, I don’t know if I was nervous, but I felt the questions were very difficult and I was flagging a lot of them. I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or it’s just a feeling, but I felt very unprepared right away. Maybe I was trying to concentrate too much on each one or overthinking. I started to get nervous. The questions weren’t even difficult ones with calculations, more like subjective questions that seemed to have many answers that seemed correct, and I had to pick the BEST answer. I would eliminate two and I would be in doubt on the other two answers.

Then I encountered quite a few questions that only took about 10 seconds to answer. They were very easy, and I started getting confidence. After one hour into the test, I felt that I was doing fine and not thinking too much about each question or having to look up the answers, and I started to feel good that I was probably going to pass the test.

Q: What happened after you completed all the questions?

After I answered all 165 questions, I had flagged around 30 questions with 4 of the questions being more difficult requiring some calculations. I saved those to the end, so I could get through all the questions first and not get stuck on a calculation question. I did do some calculations that I found easier to do during the exam, that I didn’t think would take very much time. So I didn’t leave all the calculation questions to the end, only the ones that seemed harder. But there were 4 questions with calculations I left for the end of the test. However, I only had 14 minutes left at this point, so I knew I was not going to be able to go back to all the flagged questions. I kept some notes on my scratch paper on the flagged questions that I felt pretty good about my answer, so I just left them with my original answer and didn’t go back and look at them.

I did have time to work on 2 of the 4 calculation questions and I felt good about my answers. One of the other questions was about confidence intervals and I didn’t know exactly how to solve it. If I had more time I could have figured it out, but I had to guess at that one. The other question was a matrix with a weighted calculation of cycle times, and I wasn’t sure how to calculate that answer, so I guessed at that answer.

There was another question about calculating ROI. If you invest $200K, and save $700K, what is the return on investment. I didn’t find the correct answer, so I had to guess, but I’m not sure why that question confused me (my comment: should be $200K / $700K = 0.28 years payback, or 3.4 months payback).

For many of the questions, I felt I understood what they were asking, but the answers were subjective, and I kept looking through my reference material to see if I could find the best answer, which took a lot of time. There was never a question that would match exactly the words they were asking.

Q: What were some of the topics they asked about that you remember?

There were 3 questions on the power of the test, a lot of questions on business management, team management, project management, and sequences for the project charter. There were two questions about goal statements, like what is the proper goal statement, and then they give you several examples. They asked a lot about the seven tools of quality, like prioritization matrices, affinity diagrams, etc. A few questions about applications of tools, such as “what tool be best use for a given scenario” and things like that. I think they had five questions on benchmarking and the steps you take to conducting a benchmarking session. There were a lot of questions about DMAIC, on which tool goes with each phase. There were some questions on roles, champions, sponsors, Black Belts, etc. There were probably 4 questions on balanced scorecards. Maybe 10-12 questions on design of experiments (DOE) and interactions, and maybe 2 questions on sampling methods. There were also a few questions on alpha and beta risk, along with power of hypothesis tests, and interpreting a p-value.

I don’t remember any questions on the Qualiy gurus like Juran or Deming or Taiichi Ohno. (my comment: each exam has different questions, so don’t assume you will get the same questions).

There was one question about waste that I remember, asking what wastes were observed in a healthcare scenario.

They also had a question about reading the Stem and Leaf plot and how to calculate the median, which I asked you about in one of our review sessions. I felt so happy that I knew the answer, like it was a sign!

Another question I had to complete the ANOVA table, since it was not completely filled in, so you have to know the equations for the table.

Overall, for the calculation questions, I did not feel they were too hard (aside from the few ones that I didn’t know). I think, in total, probably around 15 to 20 calculations, not more than that (my comments: that surprised me, since half the primer book is filled with statistics and calculations).

Q: What happened when the test ended?

I was watching the clock and I wanted to use up every last minute I could. The clock showed 30 seconds left, so I decided to submit my test. It asked me “You still have flagged questions. Do you want to continue?” and I said yes, since I had already guessed at all the flagged questions, and none of the questions were left blank. And with only 30 seconds left, I didn’t have time to go back to the unflagging questions at all.

Once I submitted, it said on the screen that in one hour, I was going to get a report on my test results, so initially I thought I failed, because I heard that you only get a report if you don’t pass. Then it asks if you want to exit the test, as the time is still counting down, so I said yes to one more confirmation screen.

Then it provided me with a score, and then in small words it said “PASS”. I said, “Oh gosh! Why did you do that? Like you’re trying to trick me again?”

I was still a little confused, so I asked the proctor if I actually passed or not. It seems like I did. After probably 30 minutes, I did get an email confirmation saying “Congratulations, you’ve passed the test!” so then it was official and I was not dreaming or making up anything. Then the next day I did receive another email with my digital badge for the certification.

Recommendations for others

Q: Based on all the studying and practice questions you worked on, what would you have done differently to prepare?

I don’t know if reading through the primer book would have helped or not. It might have given me more confidence in my answers. But I knew what benchmarking was, I knew what project management was, but sometimes I couldn’t figure out the best answer to choose. English isn’t my first language, so I had some difficulties with some of the answers and determining the best answer to select.

Q: We did practice questions on the QCI Primer book and some of the practice questions online through ASQ. Which one seemed to be a closer fit to the questions on the exam?

The calculation questions, for sure, were more related to the primer book. It doesn’t seem very similar to the online ASQ questions that we reviewed. I also think the subjective questions from the primer book were also closer than the online ASQ questions. But I would not completely ignore the online bank questions because maybe around 10 questions seemed similar.

I also brought the Six Sigma Handbook from Kubiak, and that was my main reference on about 10 questions. So I would recommend bringing that book with you to the exam. Again, I didn’t study the Kubiak book, but just skimmed it briefly to become familiar with it, but it was easy to find topics from their index and search through it.

I think if you study the Quality Council of Indiana (QCI) Primer book questions and chapters, and bring the Kubiak book with you, you should be able to pass (my comments: that’s what I did when I passed this exam, studied the primer book and brought one big reference book)

The online ASQ questions might be good for further studying if you have time, or if you want to learn the concepts more deeply forreal-life application (especially those who will be full-time process improvement consultants who really need to know the material).

Q: For any improvement succes, it is important to celebrate! Did you do anything to celebrate becoming a Black Belt?

My birthday is on Saturday, so I had to pass so that I could give this gift to myself. I’ll probably go out to dinner.

Thank you, Brion, for all the support!


I hope you found that useful, and it didn’t scare you away from taking the Black Belt exam.

Here is a video from CQE Academy that explains a similar experience taking the Certified Six Sigma Green Belt exam (but is similar to the Black Belt exam).

As she mentioned, I ran a Six Sigma Black Belt exam preparation course at her company, and she was the first one to take the exam, with others planning to take it later in 2024. I wanted to interview her right after the exam to share with others in the class, so they could be better prepared.

However, taking the ASQ exams are not the only way to achieve a Green or Black Belt certification. You can also take some training and complete a real-life project instead of passing an exam.

If you’d like to figure out what certification option (Lean, Green Belt or Black Belt) might be best for you and your career goals, check out the Lean Six Sigma Certification Roadmap

Contact us if you’d like us to help you with a similar exam preparation program at your company.

 

Want to learn more about Lean and Six Sigma tools, and apply them to an improvement projects? Check out these low-cost online courses and certification programs

 

 



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