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CPSM Studying Tips from Someone Who Hates Studying

I can’t believe it, but I’m currently in the midst of studying to take the CPSM exam at the beginning of the year.

It all began last spring, when I discovered that I was a recipient of the CAA Scholarship.* Never heard of it? Neither had I until I went poking around on the SMPS website and randomly found it one day. As a recipient, I received a copy of all the study materials, including A/E/C Marketing Fundamentals, the new Markendium set, and the CPSM study guide (a binder of great tips and tricks and practice test questions that you can purchase from SMPS). SMPS also reimburses exam fees if and when you pass!

When I tell my SMPS friends that I’m studying for the CPSM exam, they usually have many questions. I still have questions about it myself to be honest. But from these conversations, I’ve noticed a few recurring excuses about why people aren’t interested in studying for or taking the CPSM exam. As far as I can tell, none of these excuses are very valid, and here’s why:

Excuse #1: I don’t have the time.

Take a close look at your schedule. When do you have ‘down time’ or time that you could realistically be multitasking? Chances are, it’s during your commute or while you’re hitting the snooze button five times. Maybe it’s during your lunch break. If you look hard enough, you’ll find some, somewhere.

Whether I like it or not, I happen to have some time to spare, because I have a commute. I ride the ferry to Seattle from Bremerton and back again almost every day, so it gives me lots of ‘free time’. Sometimes I just use the time to stare out at the water, sometimes it’s so darn early I just can’t focus on anything at all, let alone studying. But sometimes, I can muster the resolve to crack open one of my Markendium books and start reading. I bet you could must the resolve, too.  

Excuse #2: I don’t have the will power.

I hear you, I’d much rather watch a movie on the couch with my husband than study something that’s so closely related to my profession it feels like an extension of the work day. But if you want to take the CPSM exam, chances are you’ll need to find a way to make studying a priority during your free time.

A good way to do that is to tell other people your plan, so they hold you accountable. Make it a personal and professional goal to take the exam, and tell your boss or supervisor. Put it on your annual review and list it as a goal. Tell your loved ones, your colleagues. They’ll check in with you periodically and when they ask how much you’ve learned, you’ll want to be able to tell them.

Excuse #3: I don’t want to lug a textbook around.

Let’s talk about Markendium. I’m told that it’s much of the same content that could be found in previous versions of study materials. The thing is, it’s updated and repackaged in the most convenient format possible. The six slim books are really easy to slip into your bag or purse. Even for someone who commutes by bike and then by boat, I can justify carrying a single ‘chapter’ around with me in case inspiration strikes, and oddly enough, sometimes it does.

Excuse #4: I won’t learn anything useful.  

Really? Are you confident you know the first thing you should do prior to designing a lead tracking information system? Do you know how frequently you should conduct market research? Do you know the most important factor in the long-term success of a company? If so, great, maybe you won’t learn anything useful. It also means you could probably waltz into the study center and pass the exam with flying colors.

Personally, the thing I’ve learned about studying so far is that holy cow, THIS IS USEFUL STUFF. I’m not joking. The main challenge that I’m facing is that as I’m reading, I’m simultaneously taking mental (but often written notes) about all the things I should be doing at my firm. It’s exhausting. I can barely make it a page before making a to-do list that’s 20 items long.

Additionally, so much of what I’m learning applies to professions outside of A/E/C. Even if I choose to leave the industry someday, I know that a significant portion of what I learn will still apply as long as I’m doing something remotely similar.

Excuse #5: Why bother? No one at my firm cares about CPSM.

I totally get that we don’t need credentials to do our jobs. But the fact of the matter is, we work in the professional services industry, and the vast majority of our coworkers have some sort of initials at the end of their names. Why not have them take us more seriously?

Even if you don’t care about respect from your coworkers, you must feel pretty strongly about money, right? Well news flash: most of our firm leaders decide our salaries. I’m guessing that 98% of the time, these people have studied for and taken some sort of test to receive accreditation, and they’ll respect (and reward) you for doing the same.

Excuse #6: I can’t afford it.

Um, hello, did you read the opening paragraphs? There is a scholarship that as far as I can tell will be offered again this fall. Keep your eyes open and apply for the darn thing.

If you don’t win, don’t sweat it. There are other ways to make it happen. SMPS Seattle has a set of Markendium books that you can check out from our Library. Your firm might be willing to pay for the study materials, because they’re great to have around as reference books (remember my point above? They actually have really useful info!) Or you can apply for SMPS Seattle’s Continuing Education Scholarship and apply the money toward certification expenses.

So what’s your excuse? Have one that doesn’t fit on this list? Send it over to me and I’ll see if I can shoot it down, too.


*I know I’ve really gulped the Kool-aid here and it shows, but I swear I’m not getting a kickback other than those disclosed.

Erin Hatch is the SMPS Seattle 2017-18 President Elect and is the Marketing Manager and a Senior Associate at Weber Thompson. She has been in marketing, graphics and communications for nearly ten years, and has a degree in Interior Architecture from the University of Oregon. You can reach her at [email protected]

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