The ACSP Journey, Part 2.

Just over a year ago, I posted the story of my preparation and experience in taking the Apple Certifies Support Professional exam for Lion. I received a lot of reactions from a number of kind people over the year, and I have been very happy to know that I served to encourage others to take the exam, both blind and sighted alike. To me, that was really the best result of my story. The fact that I helped to inspire and encourage others to succeed was simply a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and pride.

On April 29 of this year, I took the ACSP exam for Mountain Lion Essentials at NovaWorks in New York City with William Keogh, once again, reading me the exam. I managed to pass that exam with another 92.5, and, thus, I am now certified as a Support Professional and Trainer for OS X Mountain Lion, along with my certification for Lion.

I think that the automatic thought from some would be something along the lines of, “well, he took the Lion exam, so the Mountain Lion exam should have been easy”. In fact, that was my initial notion as I began the process of preparing and studying for the Mountain Lion exam. It seemed logical that having already memorized so much for Lion, it would only be a matter of learning the Mountain Lion material. And, how much new material could that entail?

Why Take the Exam in the First Place?

Before I talk about the preparation for the ACSP exam for Mountain Lion, I have often been asked the question, “why take the exam when you are already ACSP certified?” Well, I was Lion certified. Mountain Lion is a different operating system, and there were several changes and updates that, perhaps, the average user does not know about. Also, it is a recognized certification and gives one the right to call oneself a “Certified Trainer” for Mountain Lion, as I passed with over a 90.

Maybe, it wasn’t completely necessary for what I do for a living. I train blind and sighted folks on the Mac, as well as on iOS devices. I earned the “right” to advertise myself as “Apple Certified” and I am allowed to post my credentials on my site and business cards. This is no small matter to me, particularly having gone through everything I described in my previous post for the Lion ACSP certification and now this one.

So, in the end, it could be argued that it was simply my choice to put myself through the trouble of taking and passing another exam. I will confess that I enjoyed challenging myself and earning my certification in the end. That was surely a part of my reasoning, but only a Part of it. I do train folks on Mountain Lion, so I feel far more comfortable and “qualified” now to do so having earned the certification from Apple. Yes, folks, there are some people out there advertising themselves as VoiceOver or “Mac trainers” who have no certification and official qualifications to be doing so. Some may not think this to be a “big deal”, but as the Mac and iOS become more and more popular among the blind, I feel it very important that there is some kind of “standards” to hold trainers by, just as a sighted person goes to an Apple store to receive training from an Apple certified training professional.

The Preparation Stage

With the decision made as far back as December to go for my Mountain Lion certification when Apple first contacted its trainers to inform them of the 10.8 ACSP exam, I began my preparation for taking the exam. All I did was purchase the updated guide written by Kevin White for the Apple Pro Training Series, Mountain Lion Essentials. That was the major tool I felt I needed, having gone through the Lion preparation last year. I didn’t waste my time at all on buying any of the various testing kits out there, as I had discovered that to be a waste of money.

Months earlier, I had gotten an iOS application someone had asked me about when they had been studying for the Lion exam called, Revise IT. He had wanted to know if the exam presented actual exam questions, and I found that the application, indeed, had some exam questions from the exam I had taken. I recall wishing that such an app had been available when I had been preparing for the Lion exam. I was happy to learn that there was an update to the app for Mountain Lion, so I used that tool as well in my preparation.

My intention was to fly through the guide and take the exam in February. Yes, I had believed that it would be a much easier process because I had already gone through it for the Lion exam. I’d just have to learn the new material and spend a few weeks studying it prior to taking the exam. No big deal, right?

Well, first off, my father ended up going into the hospital in early January, and by the time he was released from a rehab nursing facility, it was mid-February. When you hear that the flue is a big deal for the elderly, believe this to be the case. My dad had gone into the hospital for the flue, and the recovery from it was a very long and difficult process, some seven weeks in total by the time he was home again. There were a Lot of long days and running around for us all throughout those weeks.

What this meant for my exam preparation was a significant decrease in my time available to read the guide. I was working with clients and had a fairly heavy load from a combination of my private clients and those from the states I am contracted to work for. My days were often filled by training folks early in the morning, spending time visiting my father during the day, and then training additional people until 9 or 10 at night. Even on the weekends, my free time was often limited quite a bit. It slowed the process of reading the 2395 page guide in iBooks down to a literal crawl at times.

On top of that unexpected wrinkle, the guide had been reorganized substantially from the Lion version. Actually, I liked the Mountain Lion guide quite a bit more, as it is divided into 30 lessons and has exercises to carry out at the end of each lesson. It breaks the material down into smaller pieces that, in turn, are easier to digest and learn. It just made the reading process a lot easier and enabled me to reread parts of the guide two or three times as well. There are a lot of screen shots, so don’t be fooled or daunted by the number of pages in the guide should you decide to take the exam. Still, it’s not a book you can read in a few sittings, and it took me some three total months to get through.

It was not a simple matter of just learning the new material. Yes, in some ways, it was “easier” for me because of my familiarity, but I still had to study the material and become completely immersed in it all again. This included a lot of little things that one would not think is important, yet I suspected would show up on the exam. If anything, I felt a bit more pressure on myself by virtue of the fact that I felt that I “should” know so much of the information already.

In combination with the guide, there is a PDF file that contains a total of 185 practice questions. I cut and pasted all of the questions and answers into a single Text Edit document and, of course, took detailed notes from the new guide as well. No, I just didn’t use my notes from Lion and add to them. I felt it better to just start from scratch and go lesson by lesson through the guide to create a very nice and organized Text Edit document containing all of my notes.

I finished reading the guide towards the middle of March, and then had to decide when to actually take the exam. There were a few business related events and a couple of personal matters that were scattered in late March and April that I was obligated to attend, which made the matter of scheduling an exam date a little complicated. I really wanted to take the exam around Easter, but that became plainly unrealistic as I considered my schedule. I also didn’t want to rush the studying phase of my preparation, and after some thought, I wisely decided to hold off until the middle or end of April. This seemed like the smartest thing to do.

I was asked to present at the National Association of Blind State Administrators on the subject of “remote training” for the Mac and iOS devices in Bethesda Maryland at the end of April. I tried to schedule an exam date prior to that with NovaWorks, but Bill Keogh didn’t have any free dates until after the trip to MD. On the one hand, I really wanted to have the certification exam taken and passed before the presentation so I wouldn’t have to have it hanging over me and, of course, so I could advertise myself as being Mountain Lion certified. However, I also figured that an extra week of studying wouldn’t hurt me either.

I used a combination of my notes, the questions from the guide and the Revise IT app questions for my studying process. I went through my notes a good half dozen times, reread parts of the guide, learned the questions and answers from the guide down cold and took practice exams on the Revise IT app until I was getting 95 to 100 marks each time i took a simulated exam. I will forever remember sitting out on a bench in the Inner Harbor of Maryland one evening during the week I was there for the NABSA presentation with my friend, Tricia, as she read me questions from the Revise IT app and I took a good three or four mock exams. Tricia’s help, once again, by reading me so many questions from the Revise IT app and, just as importantly, forcing me to get away from the preparing and studying process when I mentally needed a break were, without a doubt, valuable beyond words, and I will always be grateful for her assistance and time.

The Exam

April 29 was a Monday, and I was scheduled to take the exam at 10 in the morning. Of course, it was raining that morning, and with my brother, Joe, once again driving me into Manhattan, we barely made it on time. The traffic on the Long Island Expressway was a nightmare, and the rain only compounded the time needed to make the drive. I think I literally walked into NovaWorks at 9:58 or so.

Just like for the Lion exam, the Mountain Lion exam was 80 multiple choice questions. Once again, a 73 was passing, and though the standard exam time is 2 hours, Apple had granted an extra 2 hours since I was blind. I knew that I wouldn’t need that extra time, but Bill did contact Apple and was granted the “accommodation.

If the Lion exam had been difficult, the Mountain Lion one was torture. I kid you not. It was like going 80 rounds mentally in a boxing ring with any heavy weight champion. I found myself quickly being thankful for the extra study time I had taken and having made sure to get all of the little things from the guide I had decided were worth getting down in my brain. I will confess that by question 50, I was praying to God that I would, at least, score a 75 on the exam.

Similar to the Lion exam, there were several screen shots that needed to be described by Bill. This was no easy task, and I, once again, must thank him and give him a great deal of credit for his ability to describe the shots adequately enough for me to answer the questions. This included a couple of very obscure and difficult questions that really required an in depth description of what was being shown in the accompanying screen shot. The man simply did an incredible job, and my success was definitely a credit to his skill as my reader of the exam.

It may sound petty, but I really was annoyed by a couple of the questions. I don’t know who comes up with the questions for Apple, but I remember expressing my thoughts out loud to Bill a couple of times of, “What the ***?”, or, “You gotta be Kiddin’ me!” Yes, a few of the questions simply seemed as chop busters and were meant to try to unsettle or trip up the person taking the exam. Fortunately, I wasn’t rattled by it, though I know that, at least one on Time Machine, was one of the questions I got wrong in the end. I also can say that it didn’t come down at all to not having studied the material enough because the questions were just nit picky nonsense types that didn’t seem necessary to me.

I finished the exam in an hour and a half. I chose not to review all of the questions either. There was only one question I went back to, and to this day, I am not sure if changing my initial answer had been right or wrong. All I know was that when Bill told me I had scored a 92.5, I was Far more surprised than I had been at the end of my Lion exam. I really couldn’t believe I had done that well. It was ironic that the sections that I had gotten perfect during the Lion exam were the areas I got questions wrong this time, while the sections I had gotten questions wrong before were areas I got completely correct this time around. Go figure ….

Advice and Final Thoughts

Let me first thank Bill Keogh of NovaWorks here for acting as my reader again, as he did a fantastic job and, as I said, was a major reason why I was able to do so well with the exam. With some 12 or 15 questions involving screen shots, the reader is critical in conveying the descriptions that will, in turn, enable one to answer the questions associated with the screen image.

Also, besides thanking my brother, Joe, for the ride into the city, and my friend, Tricia, for all of her assistance throughout the preparation process, though he will probably never see this post, I thank Kevin White for writing such a useful and detailed guide. Obviously, the guide was specifically written for the purposes of an individual seeking to take the exam, but that doesn’t automatically follow that that guide will actually be a good one for the person taking the exam. Kevin did a great job, and the exercises at the end of each lesson were invaluable to me.

Let me be clear here about two points, though. Firstly, the questions from the guide Do Not show up on the exam. In fact, the exam is completely multiple choice, while the questions from the guide are not. Even so, the information the questions force you to remember makes each of those questions important for the study process and, thus, very useful for being prepared to take the exam. Don’t underestimate them at all. Read them over and over and be sure you know the answers to each one

Secondly, though the Revise IT app is a very good tool to help you prepare for the exam, only one of the questions from the practice exams showed up on my exam. So, my point here is don’t think you can ace those simulated exams and expect to do the same on the Real exam. They will help you be ready for the types of questions you will be facing, but don’t be fooled into a false sense of security because you can score 100’s every time you take a simulated exam from the app. I’m glad I knew enough not to trust my success on those simulated exams alone. If you are foolish enough to do so, you will fail.

Speaking of failing, I was told that over half the people who take the exam, fail it the first time they take it. This is a fact. So, if you do fail it, you can take it again, and you are Far from being alone.
It is $200 to take the exam, which might be an important piece of information for you to be aware of ahead of time.

As I said when I wrote about my ACSP journey for the Lion exam, I do not post this story to brag or boast. That is not my intentions here at all. I wanted to, once again, explain what I experienced and, hopefully, act to inspire or encourage others to also take the exam. If I could pass such an exam, Anyone can do the same. There is nothing at all special about me.

Whether you are blind or not, if there is a goal you set for yourself, prepare and do whatever is necessary for you to achieve it. Life will always throw unexpected obstacles and complications at you, but overcome them and keep that goal firmly in mind. If you want it bad enough and are willing to work for it, it doesn’t matter if it is your ACSP exam or Anything else. You will Succeed.

If there is anything you come away from this story remembering, THAT is what I’d like any reader to gain from reading this. I had the challenges of being blind, having to deal with my father going into the hospital, business and personal obligations, and taking the actual exam itself, yet I managed to work through it all with my goal firmly in mind. If you want it bad enough, do what needs to be done to Earn it, blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, or not disabled at all. It doesn’t matter. You can do the same.

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