April Merritt by April Merritt
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When talking to candidates I frequently hear statements along the lines of “but there are all these trick questions” and "the questions are so vague I can’t possibly get the right answer". But when the candidates and I work the question out, I hear silence on the other end of the line, followed by, "well, that’s not what I saw".

Sometimes exam candidates elaborate on the question rather than only looking at what is being presented. I talk to candidates about reading into the question too much, which can sound like, ”but what if there is this and that issue as well?”  My response to them is, “only deal with exactly what is mentioned in the question”.

I also talk to candidates about bringing too much experience into the questions, which sounds like ‘well, if was working with this client I would do this or that, but you don’t offer those options.  My answer to that is, "of the answers given, which is the best choice to make?"

But sometimes we run into the situation where candidates just don’t read the question thoroughly and skim-read the answers. Two examples of this are as follows:

Your 45-year-old client has decreased her resting heart rate from 80 bpm to 75 bpm since beginning to exercise five years ago. Using the Karvonen method, determine her exercise intensity then and now at 70% heart-rate reserve.

  1. 147 and 142
  2. 147 and 145
  3. 150 and 145
  4. 150 and 142

If you are stumped why the answer is "c. 150 and 145," see below. 

The key phrase here is “5 years ago”. It means you must look at the woman’s heart rate 5 years ago (when her resting heart rate was 80bpm and her age was 40) and today (when her resting heart rate is 75bpm and her age is 45). The most common mistake is forgetting that the client is 45 years old now AND was 40 years old five years ago. You’ve got to read all the words. And no, that’s not being tricky!

Not convinced? Still sure that you’ve got your ‘reading all the words’ skill down pat? How about a slightly different example, then?

Use the following information to determine Sarah’s body-fat percentage:

Age: 27

Gender: Female

Height: 5’4”

Weight: 125lbs

Lean body mass: 90 lbs

Triceps measurement: 16 mm

Suprailium measurement: 25 mm

Thigh measurement: 32 mm

What is Sarah’s body-fat percentage?

  1. 23%
  2. 28%
  3. 33%
  4. 38%

So…still freaking out? Still gnashing your teeth about how you don’t have the body fat percentage equation memorized? Stop and think outside the box for a second and re-examine the question. You don’t need the big body-fat percentage equations to answer this question. Instead, consider that you know the following:

Total weight (125lbs), lean mass (90 lbs) and you can figure out fat mass (35lbs)

Then take fat mass and divide it by total weight to determine % body fat. No big calculations involved! But the question does require you to stop and think before you act.

And that’s what I encourage candidates to remember when they answer exam questions – either in practice tests or the actual certification exam. When you get to a question that you don’t get, or you can’t see how it could possibly work, or surely, we must be trying to trick you…stop and take a deep breath. Look away from the question for a moment. Then take another breath and re-read the question remembering to say, ‘what are they really asking for here?’ Sometimes that brief pause can stop the haze of panic and let you more clearly see the steps you need to take.