Each Question is Worth the Same Amount

Every question (NCARB calls its questions, “items”) is worth one point, and if you get more items right than that exam’s “cut score,” you pass the exam, regardless of which subject matter the correct answers came from.

I’m going to repeat that last sentence to let it sink in, because understanding it has several downstream consequences.

Every question is worth the same, and if you get a minimum number of questions correct you pass the exam, regardless of which subject matter the correct answers came from.

Let’s explore the impact of that. A check-all-that-apply test item will allow for six possible choices and you’ll be asked to choose the two, three, or four of the six that are the best responses.

Even if you know that content well, there are just so many ways to mess up a check-all-that-apply test item because if you choose three of the four (out of six) correctly, but choose the fourth (out of six) incorrectly, the entire item is scored as wrong.

That means that these check-all-that-apply questions, which are notorious for stumping test-takers should be answered quickly rather than deliberated over.

Pick your best answer from a first reading of the item, flag the item for further review in case you are fortunate enough to have extra time at the end, and move on to the next question.

Case study questions also often take longer because they involve sifting through reference material. But because they are worth the same amount as other questions, they should be left to answer until last.

They will show up on your computer screen last, so you don’t have to work hard to remember this advice, but don’t be suckered into skipping ahead to the case study section, as you will then be using valuable time to answer questions that take longer.

Better to run out of time with five case study questions unanswered than to run out of time with seven non-case-study questions left unanswered.

Finally, know that if you got a fail report from NCARB, it would lead a reasonable person to believe that you “failed” certain sections, but that reasonable person would be wrong. You can’t fail a content area because every question is worth the same, regardless of the section it comes from.

So if you earned a level 4 (worst score) in “Content Area 2: Codes & Regulations” and a level 2 (good, but not great, score) in “Content Area 4: Project Integration of Program & Systems,” you would be forgiven for thinking that you might have passed the division had you gotten say, three more questions right in Content Area 2, the content area you are led to believe you “failed.”

But, in this case, you would have also passed the division, if you had instead gotten three extra questions correct in Content Area 4, the content area you are led to believe you “passed.”

You can’t really pass or fail a content area. It wasn’t that you failed Area 2—rather you just didn’t get enough questions correct in total and it didn’t matter where the correct and incorrect answers came from.

Studying content from Area 2 for the retake because you failed Area 2 last time isn’t necessarily a good strategy, especially because in this division (PPD) Area 2 content only accounts for 19% of the division’s questions, while Area 4 content accounts for 35% of the division’s questions.

But even if you looked at what I just wrote and resolved to study Area 4 in the retake because, though you “passed” that content area, it represents a much larger share of the questions on the exam . . . . how the hell would one study something called “Project Integration of Program & Systems?”

Where would you start? Which book would you read? This underscores the importance of using study material that takes into account the yield (how many more questions will I answer correctly, per hour of studying).

A yield approach accounts for the likelihood you already know the material from school or practice, the amount of time it will take you to learn the material, and most importantly, the likelihood that a given subject matter will show up on a question in the exam.

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