Preparing for the CIH Exam

A 12-Step Program for Certification

Brought to you by the Students and Early Career Professionals Committee

Step 1 — Self Assessment

Preparing for the CIH exam is a lengthy and arduous process that should not be taken lightly. Even an experienced industrial hygienist must be willing to dedicate days, weeks and probably even months to learning new and emerging concepts and relearning old ones. Before deciding to undertake this, you must ask yourself, “Is this something I really want to pursue?” 

Step 2 — Meeting the Criteria

The next step is to evaluate whether you have the experience and education to apply for the examination. Currently, the ABIH requires a bachelor’s degree with the appropriate number of credit hours in science, math or engineering; 180 academic contact hours or 240 continuing education contact hours of industrial hygiene coursework; and 4 years of “professional industrial hygiene experience.” Degrees from ABET accredited IH programs may be considered “professional industrial hygiene experience.”

If you do not meet the academic coursework requirement, you may have taken continuing education courses (i.e., asbestos, lead, noise, IAQ, etc.) that could qualify as industrial hygiene coursework. Courses in industrial hygiene toxicology, IH measurements and exposure control courses may be available at your local university. Some universities offer distance learning courses that allow you to get academic credit while meeting ABIH criteria. Universities with industrial hygiene courses can be found on NIOSH website. These campuses may also have continuing education courses available, as does AIHA. 

Step 3 — The Application

The application may be the toughest part for some because there are deadlines: February 1 and August 1 of every year. Transcripts, professional references and detailed experience descriptions must all be submitted to ABIH in support of your application. The references and transcripts must be submitted directly to ABIH, so you must also consider how you will obtain these and how much time this will take.  

Step 4 — Gathering Materials

Several invaluable resources and study materials are available to you through AIHA. A few of the must-have references include The Industrial Hygiene Reference and Study Guide; The Glossary of Occupational Hygiene Terms; The Occupational Environment: Its Evaluation, Control, and Management; and A Strategy for Assessing and Managing Occupational Exposures.  

Step 5 — Forming a Game Plan

Now that you have submitted your application and started to gather materials, you may decide to map out your study plan. Three basic elements are vitally important to your success in preparing for the CIH exam — time, time and more time. With our busy schedules, this can be very tough. Have you checked with your employer to set aside time at work to prepare? You may be surprised at the response. Let your family and friends know that this will be your priority over the next several months.

You should also consider contacting someone who has been through exam preparation before. Your AIHA Local Section or the AIHA Students and Early Career Professionals Committee would be a great place to start. Many of the committee members have taken the exam in recent years. 

Step 6 — Start Studying

Now that your family and friends are prepared for your absence, you need to start studying. A good first step would be to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Review the study questions provided by ABIH; they cover the main areas on which the exam will focus. Set your calendar to allow more time to study the areas that you are least comfortable with. Additional questions are available on a number of CIH prep software packages to help you with the self-assessment. Study groups work well for some, but others may prefer to go it alone. Be prepared to do lots of reading and note taking. Make sure you purchase a calculator that you plan to use during the exam. You need to become very familiar with your calculator. Switching calculators as the exam nears will only slow you down. ABIH has a list of approved calculators.

Step 7 — Concentrate on your Weaknesses

You should have already performed a self assessment to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Now that you have determined which areas will need the most attention, concentrate your time on them. Your weak areas will harm your score on the exam, even if you are scoring high in your strength areas. It is always easier to study and review information that you are comfortable with. However, the secret to passing the exam is studying information you are not comfortable with. Do not make the decision to “punt” a section that is one of your weakest. This attitude will get you only one outcome — a negative one. Concentrate on your weaknesses and turn them into your strengths. 

Step 8 — Review Class … or Not

Would a review class help you prepare for the exam? This has been a great help to many people who have taken the exam. If you decide to take a review course, make sure you use it for just that—a review. Do not treat a one-week review course like an exam preparation course. The CIH exam is much too comprehensive for that. The best way to approach a review course is to have a good measure of your studying completed prior to attending the course. 

Step 9 — Getting Focused

The test is quickly approaching at this point. You should be a few months into studying. You must now decide how you should organize your materials to get the maximum benefit from studying this close to the deadline. Can you go through your notes or study material and pick out bits of information that you are not entirely comfortable with and concentrate on those? Do you use flash cards or notepads? Would using the practice tests on CIH prep software help out? These are all questions that must be answered solely by the individual studying for the exam.

Step 10 — Getting the Brain in Shape

The exam is a rigorous 5.5-hour exam plus a one-hour optional break that must be taken at a testing center. When was the last time you sat and answered difficult technical questions for an entire day? Sitting for that many hours is extremely taxing. Concentrating for that entire period is even more difficult. Think of it like this: you train when preparing for a marathon and you should also train your mind for the testing day. Sit down for a day with no distractions and "pretend" you are at the test by studying and using CIH prep software. You should also locate the testing center and make sure you know how to get there. Take some time and drive to the center to familiarize yourself with traffic and rush hour. You do not want to get lost or delayed on the morning you are scheduled to sit for the exam.

Step 11 — The Test is Nearing…Stay Out of the Weeds

At this point the test is only a week or two away. Focus on building what you know. Do not spend hours trying to memorize the materials. Think of the big picture. It is way too late to start learning new concepts. You should be able to perform calculations “cold” at this point. Try your best to relax.

Step 12 — The Test

You sit in front of a computer in a testing center. There is a time limit. Do not freak out. Regardless of how intelligent you think you are, or how prepared you think you are, you will not know the answer to every question. You do not have to. Make educated "choices" if you do not know the answers. Pay close attention to decimal places, orders of magnitude, and units (they may help you narrow your guesses). Eliminate choices that you know are not correct. Remember to pay attention to time—it will be a factor. Be confident and trust your first instinct.

Lucky # 13 — After the Test

Relax, enjoy life and have fun. If you passed the exam, congratulations! This is a monumental achievement, and now you can take time to set your game plan for the rest of your career. Reacquaint yourself with the family and friends you have shunned during your study phase. Become active in an AIHA local section and/or committee. Mentor someone; it is crucial that we give back to the profession for it to grow.

If things did not turn out how you planned, do not give up. Think about what happened and why. Look at your scores in each area. Are they consistent with what you thought your strengths/weaknesses were? Gather additional study material in your weak areas. Talk to someone who practices in these areas at a local section meeting. Reapply after you have put some more time in. Focus and try again. Typically, fewer than 50 percent of people taking the exam pass, so do not think you are the only one.