How to pass the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt exam

Well, ok, the article title is a bit misleading. This post is moreso about how I passed the ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Exam (on the first try!) – but it may give you some tips that will help you. So first off, let me give you some background about my experience so it’ll give you an idea of what I started with. I took a Six Sigma Black Belt course in college but that was ten years ago. I still managed to keep some of the notes from the class which helped a little bit. After college, I got green belt certification at my first company and did a couple projects. Since then, I’ve been doing black belt level projects sporadically with my current company. Lean has been a greater focus in my role and six sigma is more like a nice-to-have skill. I thought it would be important to round out my skill set as a problem solver and get ASQ certified.

I first submitted a few projects I did to ASQ in order to sit for the exam – my projects were approved and I had about 3 1/2 months to study. The first thing I did was a quick search online through some blogs and forums to get some exam advice. The most useful article I found was from Nicole at a blog called Quality and Innovation (article can be found here). Based on advice from her blog, I bought two books – the CSSBB Primer from the Quality Council of Indiana and The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook (Second Edition) by Kubiak & Benbow. I bought a used copy of the Handbook off of Amazon that included the CD. The handbook arrived first around 2 months from the exam date. I started reading it from page 1 and to be honest found the content structure to be a bit confusing. I understand what they were trying to do with tying to the Body of Knowledge but for me it just seemed cumbersome. The CD contained one file and it was a 70 question practice exam (one that I later found online for free also). The handbook did end up helping me on exam day though as I was able to find a couple of key definition points in there that weren’t in the Primer.

When the primer (along with the Solutions handbook and test CD) came, I started going through each section one at a time. After each section, there is a set of blue pages that has practice questions related to that material. I found those questions to be very useful in testing knowledge of the content. The structure of the questions were also very similar to the ones found on the actual exam. I took about three weeks and two hours each day to walk through the entire primer and every blue page test question. The solution handbook explanations of the questions were very detailed and well-written. In the last 8-10 days before the exam, I started working through the test CD. The test CD has a ton more questions and you can do them either as simulated exams or topic by topic. I chose to do a bit of both. The questions and answers on the CD are actually explained very well also and they reference back to the primer with exact pages.

The test, as you probably know already, is open book and open notes. You can’t bring in the blue page question sections so you have to rip those out of the primer. So what exactly did I bring with me on exam day?

  1. My notes – As I went through the blue page test questions and the CD questions, I jotted down notes on all the questions I got wrong – those notes helped me a lot in the exam.
  2. The CSSBB Primer – I ripped the appendices out of the back and laid them on the table to make them easier to reference during the exam. I probably went to the primer about fifteen times during the exam.
  3. The Kubiak and Benbow handbook – again, I think I referenced this twice during the test.
  4. Calculator – my TI-83 wasn’t allowed so I brought an old Casio.
  5. Two bottles of water (long test!)
  6. Four #2 pencils (I only used one)

So on exam day, my strategy was to circle all my answers in the exam book and then to transfer them to the Scantron at the very end. This strategy nearly backfired on me because I was literally filling in my bubbles in the final minute of the exam. I probably cut it a bit closer than I should have! In comparison to the practice questions, I found the exam to be equal in difficulty on the non-statistics questions but a little easier on the ones where I actually had to bust out a calculator. I left the room feeling relatively confident that I passed the test although theres always that little voice in the back of your head that questions that confidence! The ASQ site says you typically get results in about 7-10 days – I took my test on a Saturday and got my results the following Friday so about 6 days. They send you an email first and then a packet comes in the mail with your shiny certificate. Anyways, I hope the story of my journey has helped you a bit – let me know if you have any questions!

Edit: I would also recommend challenging yourself with the lean history and lean fundamentals quizzes – this content is aligned with the lean portion of the ASQ Body of Knowledge.

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