Are you just a little apprehensive or concerned about the prospect of taking one or more of the popular technician certification exams? Perhaps it has been many years since you took an exam of any kind. Sure, you can do your job and you are a good installer, service technician, or troubleshooter, but taking a written exam even in your chosen career field can be more than a little frightening.

Here are a few test tips and exam strategies taken from my book, PAL's HVAC Technician Certification Exam Guide.

Testing Tips

  • Know the importance of memorization. No matter what your teachers told you, memorizing some things is important. Much of what you learned and what you know was learned through pure memorization.

    You know your multiplication tables through memorization. You know that there are 12,000 Btuh per ton of cooling and that in a resistive circuit the amperage is the voltage divided by the resistance. You know that there are 144 square inches in a square foot and that airflow in cfm is the area of a duct in square feet times the velocity of the air through the duct in feet per minute.

    Many fundamental facts and numbers related to our profession are simply memorized. Of course, our instructors want us to fully understand the concepts and relationships behind such memorized information, but the fact still remains that some things simply need to be memorized. Reviewing these and other basic facts, relationships, and values before taking a certification exam will raise your score.

  • Read the exam instructions. Don't assume you know how to take the test without carefully reading the instructions in the exam booklet. Some people taking the test are so concerned about not completing a timed test within the time allowed that they skip the instructions. Failing to take the time to read the test booklet instructions could easily result in failing to follow one or more simple instructions that could lead to a lower score or total failure.

  • Leave the more difficult questions for later. If the exam you are taking has a time limit, don't spend too much time considering those questions that are difficult. If each question is worth one point, it is better to answer all the questions you are most comfortable with first and then go back to the more difficult questions if there is time available.

  • Don't hurry through the exam. Keeping the previous tip in mind, you don't want to rush through the exam so quickly that you make basic mistakes and miss questions you obviously know. Rushing the exam is one of the most common mistakes made. Taking practice exams of the same length as the actual exam is a great way to learn to pace yourself for the real thing. Once you complete one or more practice exams within the time allowed, you will feel comfortable when confronted with an actual exam.

  • Answer every question. Unanswered questions and incorrectly answered questions are both counted as wrong answers. Therefore, it is a good exam strategy to guess at the answer to those questions that have you baffled. A multiple-choice question with four possible answers gives you at least a 25 percent chance of choosing the correct answer even if you have no idea which option is the correct answer. If you can eliminate two of the choices of the four answers, your chances have increased to 50 percent. If you don't answer at all, your chances are zero.

  • Spend personal time preparing for the exam. Most college-bound high school students must take a college entrance exam such as the ACT or SAT exam. Their scores determine if they will be accepted into college and what college will accept them. The wiser students prepare for these exams by purchasing a college entrance study guide containing sample practice exams or by attending a test preparation seminar. Better students are not just better because they are smarter; they are better because they study.

    You, too, should take the time to prepare yourself for the technician certification exams. Pretty obvious, right? Well, apparently it is not so obvious to many technicians who fail their exam or just barely pass with the minimum score because they did not prepare.

  • Take a practice exam. One of the most beneficial ways to prepare for an actual exam is to take several practice exams that are similar to the one you are about to take. The best way to learn to do something is to actually do it. Sure you should review the material you expect to be tested on, attend a preparation seminar, and spend time in personal study, but there is nothing like actually taking a practice exam to prepare you for the real thing.

  • Know which exam you will be taking and plan accordingly. Don't study material you will not be tested on. Know which of the certification exams you are going to take and study what you expect will be on the exam. In addition, don't spend a great deal of time reviewing material or topics that you already know well. It may be fun to study your favorite topic and prove to yourself how well you know that material, but you should spend your time reviewing topics in your weakest areas, where you will make the most gains and improvements in your scores.

  • Don't panic. Sure, taking a certification exam is serious business and is important to you, your employer, and the industry, but taking the process too seriously may cause you to panic and perform poorly. If you have prepared properly, you have little to worry about. Once you have taken serious efforts to prepare, you need to relax.

    Consider the exam a game where you are about to beat the test writers at their own game. You have studied the material, spent time in review, developed a "test smart" exam strategy by learning how exams are structured, and are aware of the simple mistakes you need to avoid. You are ready to take on the challenge and win. You don't need luck on your side because you have a game strategy. Now go out and win - there is no need to panic.

    Summing Up

    In my view, one of the primary objectives of the available technician certification exams is to raise the bar - to set a higher, yet reasonable, standard for those of us in the industry to strive to achieve. Perhaps the most valuable time spent is the time we spend in study, review, and preparation for the exams; that is where some of the greatest gains are made. The tests themselves are simply indicators that we have met the standard.

    Continuing education after passing one or more exams is not only the professional thing to do; we owe it to our employers, our customers and ourselves.

    Norm Christopherson is employed with York International UPG as a senior training specialist based in Norman, Okla. York International supports and promotes NATE technician certification. For more information about NATE certification, visit

    Publication date: 05/16/2005