For the past couple of months I have been studying hard to earn a Supply Chain certification from APICS, the leading association for supply chain and operations management.
This morning I passed the exam on my first attempt! I am now Silvio Kusakawa, CSCP.
Before proceeding, visit my Professional Profile. It is important to know where the advice that follows is coming from. I hope what worked for me worked for you.
Despite the fact that it is the most widely recognized education program for supply chain professionals around the world, I could only find a two good blogs with tips and information.
One of them (from 2008) has sound advice and can be found here:
I am reluctant to link the second blog because I definitely did not follow any of the advice given there and the poster sounds like a joker. Let’s call him “Pat”.
Before I describe my study habits and give some advice on taking the actual test, let me address some questions:
How much money did you spend on this certification?
The fee to take the test is $830 US dollars for those who do not have a membership with APICS.
Pat suggested that all you need is an old version of the books and a Datachem CD. He claims he spent $215 dollars buying both on eBay so his total expense when he took the exam in 2011 was $1045 dollars. His advice, “Rewrite the books by hand.”
Since I did not want to buy old books (and rewrite them), and my goal was to actually understand the material and use it later in my professional life as reference, I set out to spare no expenses.
I purchased the APICS membership ($200) and bought the brand new 2014 modules in my local APICS chapter for $1600 dollars.
I ordered two books from the reference list and one small book that is referenced in the modules:
Supply Chain Logistics Management (Fourth Edition)
Donald Bowersox, David Closs, M. Bixby Cooper, $174 dollars
Designing and Managing the Supply Chain: Concepts, Strategies, and Case Studies (Third Edition)
David Simchi-Levi, Philip Kaminsky, and Edith Simchi-Levi, $136
Demand Management Best Practices: Process, Principles and Collaboration
Colleen Crum with George E. Palmatier, $60
In June I flew to Chicago for the Best of the Best S&OP Conference to have the pleasure of attending Salam Akhtar’s presentation, among others. $1395 + Flight and Hotel.
I also purchased a copy of the Datachem CD for $249 dollars plus shipping. I bought a little machine to cut the flashcards ($50) and spent $20 on highlighters and post-it notes.
All things considered, adding the cost of taking the exam itself I spent a little over $5,000 dollars for the certification.
How many hours did you study?
I signed up for the course and was present for ten of the 13 classes, for a total of 30 hours in class. I read and highlighted the material on the weekend before each class for about an hour to two hours.
*IMPORTANT* For about half hour EVERY DAY I looked at the flashcards. More details on that later.
30 hours in class + 20 hours at home + flashcards (45hours) + review (4 hours) = around 100 hours total.
How smart are you?
Very smart. However, that doesn’t mean that what worked for me is not going to work for you. If anything… if you believe I am smart then perhaps my study method may be ideal for this exam.
If you are taking the 2014 exam, here is a screenshot that you can use to make a comparison:
Back in April I took the pre-test and scored 36%. After going through my study routine (details to follow), I scored 84% yesterday.
How did you do in the module quizzes and online components?
Now here is the important thing and I wish I knew this from the beginning. The quizzes after each module and the online element are NO INDICATION of how well you are going to score in the exam. The quizzes are designed to heighten your level of understanding of the material.
When you get a question wrong in the quizzes, you have to go back and look it up to understand the correct answer. In the online component, don’t rush it. If you did not get the question, pause and look it up. It can be frustrating but the APICS CSCP Learning System is really meant to make sure you learn the material.
Any study tips?
Just one. May be worth a shot. Before you do anything else, get some card stock paper in at least three colours. Print the provided flashcards front and back, separating each module in a different colour. After that, place each stack in a different place. In my case I had:
Yellow: Module 1, Fundamentals of Supply Chain at work
Blue: Module 2, Supply Chain Strategy, Design and Compliance in the car.
Pink: Module 3, Implementation and Operations in the kitchen (keep dry).
Here is how to use them. Place the definition somewhere facing you. Read it out loud in the car, in the kitchen or at work (if nobody is around). Go about your business replying to work E-mails, driving around, cooking… read again after a while and flip the card.
After a month I was getting most of them right. Towards the end I could get them backwards. If you try this, it is important that you print them in different colours and keep them in separate locations. At least it worked for my brain.
How did you study?
I read the module on the weekends. I used a yellow highlighter for important parts, a pink highlighter whenever I saw a catchy phrase and blue highlighter whenever the text cited APICS Dictionary definitions. Then I flipped through the class slides, went back and read all lines I highlighted in pink. Did the quizz.
Went to class on Wednesdays. Great instructors here in Toronto!! I don’t know what your local chapters do overseas but here they are extremely organized!!! Here is one big tip that I probably did not follow in the beginning, “Don’t waste time in class asking/worrying about the exam. Go there to learn the material.”
Completed the online portion on Thursdays. My scores for the online components were all over the place, ranging from 30% to 90% on first tries. For some modules in Operations, I would get a perfect score in the textbook quiz and a low 50 online.
Whenever I saw a low score I did some extra reading from the additional text. In my case I was very intrigued by this S&OP process and it was actually fun reading it. I read Collen Crum’s book on the way to Chicago and back. Didn’t feel like studying.
Two days before the exam I did all the questions in the Datachem CD. All 700+ of them. I used the option to mark all that did not make sense to me at first. I mean anything that did not seem to have an obvious answer and re-answered them on my second run.
For the Datachem I scored high 80s for Module 1, low 70s for Module 2 and 90s for Module 3. I felt ready for the exam…
How is the exam? Tips?
Don’t panic. Like I said before, the online component is no indication of how well you are going to perform. If you understand the material and remember some definitions, you are going to pass.
I will not give specifics because we do sign a series of papers before taking the test. I remember a lot of the questions but putting them here serves no purpose and would land me in trouble.
Here is one thing that I am going to say… this exam really tests how deeply you understand the material. If you sort of know… or sort of remember… you are likely to choose the second best answer to every question.
Make sure you use the “flag”option to flag questions that you feel have two good answers.
The exam is 4 hours long. I reached the last question in 70 minutes then went back to the ones I flagged.
Here is a great tip: if you don’t know the answer, do not flag. SKIP. At the end of the exam you will have the option to click an icon and review all unanswered questions… in other worlds, it is a waste of time to flag questions you do not know. Instead flag questions that have two good answers.
After you reach the last question, work on the questions that you left blank. At this point, again if there are two good answers… flag it.
When you reach the end, go back and work on the questions you flagged. This time around, read the alternatives from D to A.
After you answer all questions, take a deep breath and submit.
Why do you think that is a good way to take the exam?
In my opinion, a lot of the questions have two really bad choices and two good ones. Sometimes you are lucky and get three bad choices so you can be 100% sure you know the right answer.
I can’t give an example from the test today, that would be unethical but it is like asking, “Who is the strongest super hero?”
D- The Hulk
The way I take tests… sometimes I fall in love with the answer. I am very decisive and that makes me a bad test taker because once I make a decision, I stick to it. So in my first run I read the choices from top to bottom and immediately click “Superman”. Then I see Hulk at the end and that means “flag”. When I get the question again, reading from the bottom up, I see The Hulk and I can measure that reaction to the first… and rationalize.
Do not contact me to buy my materials. Like I said, I intend to keep them and use as reference. If you have comments or questions about CSCP, feel free to contact me on Linkedin.
If you live around Toronto and you are considering taking the CSCP or want to review a module… we can schedule a meeting at Second Cup. Coffee is on me if you come to my area.
If you read this far, feel free to connect to me on LinkedIn. If this helped you in any way, feel free to type up a recommendation there.