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A CPSM Story: How Failing Led to Success (Part II)

November 21, 2014

This two-part chronicle comes to us from Barbara Hicks, CPSM, the Director of Marketing and Media for Margulies Perruzzi Architects. Barbara has spent the past decade applying her talents in marketing, graphic design, social media and branding to drive MPA’s fast-paced, award-winning efforts. 

As you read in Monday’s blog post, I took the CPSM exam and failed. I wrote off CPSM forever…for about three days; that’s how long it took for me to remember why I started down this road in the first place.

When my second study group got together, I was ready. I read every single word (many of them for a second time) and actively participated in each session. I took notes until my hand almost fell off, and then studied those notes until I was blue in the face. When I didn’t understand something, I asked the group questions. When I didn’t like their answers, I pushed harder. This time, I got way more out of the experience than I expected. I really learned about the six domains of professional services marketing. The reading inspired new ideas for my career and for my firm. When discussing strategy and implementation, I’m better able to think holistically about how each task affects other initiatives, people, and my company.

Passing the test became less important than what I was getting out of the material. Bonus: I passed anyway.

Here are some tips, tricks, and personal stories for how I got through reading the material and taking the exam…twice.

Tips for surviving until the exam

  • Make yourself accountable to someone. In my case, I felt like I owed it to my boss, my Mom, and especially Jennifer Shelby, CPSM.
  • Participate actively in the study groups. These people are going through the same thing and have varying points of view, ways of learning, and ideas that you haven’t thought of.
  • Read the material. Sounds obvious, but even if you know every single tiny thing there is to know about the proposal process, the material will still do one of two things:
    • Teach you something you didn’t already know
    • Validate the way you are already doing things
  • Take thoughtful notes. No need to write down the things you already inherently know, just focus on the things you don’t. Once you are finished reading, study just your notes until the exam.
  • Understand your weaknesses. Take the practice exams and really do the research into why you got a particular question wrong.

Tips for staying motivated

  • Treat yourself to some serious study breaks. When you are tired and want to throw the book across the room, do it! I fell into an interesting pattern in wanting to save all the reading for the weekends to keep my weeknights free. I would read two sections, then watch an episode of “Breaking Bad.” Read two more sections, watch another episode. Walter White became my reading reward every Saturday.
  • Take action in your job. As you read, you will naturally want to flag concepts and ideas in the book that are applicable at your company. Make those things a reality and benefit from both outcomes: using this newfound knowledge in your job makes you feel more confident, and you look like a rock star at work implementing new initiatives.
  • Remember, it’s not just you. Some of the questions are weird. Some of the right answers seem wrong. Some of the questions make it seem like every answer is right. We are all in the same boat. You aren’t the only one questioning practice exams or the reading itself. This is really where your study group comes in handy, they are by your side when you need to understand a complex idea, vent, or even have a stiff drink after a session.
  • Remember your goals. You aren’t walking into a CPSM study session with blinders on. You have a reason for being interested and wanting to pass the exam. Remember those reasons when you start to doubt if it’s worth it (you WILL doubt it, but it IS worth it).

If I can do it, you can do it. If you fail, try again. Your mother didn’t raise a quitter. My mom didn’t!

For more posts from our CPSMs, click here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2014 11:32 am

    Barbara: I really enjoyed reading this, and congratulations on your CPSM! That is no easy endeavor, and your resilience and hard work definitely paid off. I’ll be sharing this with one colleague who recently missed a passing grade, as well as others in my chapter.

  2. November 24, 2014 2:37 pm

    Another great post, Barbara. A sense of humor is a great asset in our world.

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