[Note: On October 4, 2012 I posted the notes I brought into the exam. You might want to check them out.]
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(Or more appropriately maybe… how I did it, and what I wish someone had blogged about before I sat for the exam! This is the chronicle of my CSSBB experience.)
I just took my ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) exam… and PASSED! On the FIRST TRY!! (My reaction upon hearing the news was… “I am a statistics NINJA!!!” A very academic friend corrected me, and said no – not quite – the CSSBB is more like a learner’s permit for a PhD in statistics. OK, that’s cool too.)
My intent in this post is to share with you what I believe helped me get through this very daunting 150-question, 4-hour, heavy-on-the-math multiple choice exam. (Relevant superstitions and helpful snacks are described elsewhere.) This was a particular achievement for me, because although I had been doing small scale Six Sigma projects for several years, I originally intended to take the exam in the fall of 2008… and just didn’t get around to it. I had, at that time, recently completed a couple of doctoral level statistics courses and so I felt super powerfully capable at the time. But what inevitably happens is that as the days go by, and you don’t use the knowledge for practical problem solving, you get rusty and you forget.
Fast forward three years, to the fall of 2011.
When I took the plunge and signed up for one of the most recent offerings of the exam, I knew I had a lot of ground to re-cover before sitting to take the test. I knew I’d have to order some books or flashcards and spend a lot of quality time with them. I knew I’d have to refresh my memory on the nooks and crannies of all those statistical tests, especially the ones that are most frequently used in manufacturing situations. So my first step was to search Google to see if anyone had posted their personal experiences studying for – and hopefully succeeding with – the ASQ CSSBB exam.
I wanted to know: What resources helped? What resources didn’t help? What books were the most useful references to you as you were studying? Are the flashcards useful? I searched and searched all over the web, but couldn’t find any useful advice. I used search terms like “cssbb advice,” “how I passed my Six Sigma Black Belt exam,” “best resources for the Six Sigma Black Belt exam” and “best study guides for the Six Sigma Black Belt exam.” No luck. Everything led me back to companies trying to sell their training sessions. I didn’t want a training session… I wanted practical, free advice from someone who had been in my shoes not too much earlier than me.
So here it is! Feel free to post some comments if any of this advice is helpful, or if you want to add information about what you found useful when you were studying. (Remember, personal experiences with CSSBB prep are hard to find on the web, so anything you contribute is bound to be helpful to people who are actively preparing to be certified.)
#1 CSSBB Primer from the Quality Council of Indiana – http://www.qualitycouncil.com/cssbb_p.asp
BEST. Book. Ever. I ordered the CSSBB Primer as well as the CD with the practice exam questions, and although I was daunted by the sheer heft of the book, the large fonts make this reference a pleasure to get to know. It feels like someone is giving you all the essential knowledge you need for the exam, along with a cookie, a glass of milk, a hug, and a heartfelt “you can do it!!”
I read through the entire book, underlined definitions or phrases that I thought were important, and used post-it notes to tab topics that I thought I’d want easy access to during the exam.
Do ALL the questions in the blue part of the CSSBB Primer. It will take time… for me, it took about 3 weeks, working on about 10 to 20 questions a day. Understand not only what the right answer is for each question, but also WHY THE OTHER OPTIONS ARE WRONG. You won’t be able to take any of the blue pages into the exam with you, so make sure you take notes about the key facts, formulas, or techniques when you have “a-ha” moments doing the practice problems. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.
The real ASQ CSSBB exam is actually EASIER than the questions in the CSSBB Primer, but the question styles and formats are very similar. The reason that the real exam is easier is that there are a lot of questions in the Primer where at least two of the multiple choice options will tempt you into believing that they are both correct. The multiple choice options on the real exam seem to be much more distinct – that is, you’ll have an easier time distinguishing why the wrong ones are wrong.
I think the number one reason that I passed the exam was because of the time I spent on the practice exam questions in the CSSBB Primer. The practice questions on the CD were useful too, but I think the ones in the book were the most useful.
#2 The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook, Second Edition by Kubiak & Benbow
This is the second book I took with me into the CSSBB exam.
This book has mixed reviews on Amazon because apparently the book made it into print with a bunch of calculation errors in it. I didn’t lean on the calculations in this book, though, because I had the CSSBB Primer for that – and as a result, I thought this book was a great reference. Some of the concepts aren’t covered in enough depth, e.g. TPM, but there were several problems on the real exam that I wanted to double check in the references before I shaded that scantron circle with my #2… and this was the book that helped out the most in that regard.
#3 An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Data Analysis by Ott & Longnecker
This was the third book I took with me into the CSSBB exam, and I think I needed it for 3 questions, 2 of which had to do with arcane aspects of DOE. However, it’s also the book that helped me get all my hypothesis testing straight, AND understand the assumptions for all of those tests.
I also LOVE LOVE LOVE this book, and think it should be a required book on the bookshelf of every Six Sigma aficionado out there. I was first introduced to this awesome, awesome book as a student in STAT 451 at Penn State… an upper level applied stats class (which I believe is now STAT 460). In addition to providing great explanations of the concepts, Ott presents every statistical test as a recipe… what assumptions to check, how to set up the null and alternative hypotheses, how to calculate the test statistic, and how to interpret the calculated and critical values of the test statistic depending upon what alternative hypothesis you selected.
I have a hard time trying to remember whether your calculated test statistic has to be greater than or less than the critical value that you look up in a table… and this is the reference that helped me keep all those important details straight.
This book is expensive, but it’s worth it. If you can find an earlier version, these are usually much more affordable and JUST AS GOOD. Thank you, R. Lyman Ott, for making me love statistics, want to use statistical tests all the time, and want to teach college students how to do it too. You have been one of the most influential people in my life.
#4 Six Sigma for the Next Millennium: A CSSBB Guidebook by Kim Pries
I really tried to like this book, but it’s big, heavy, and there is a lot of whitespace on many of the pages (very unlike the CSSBB Primer). The amount of information per pound is relatively low. HOWEVER, I like the way it consolidates notes by topic with one topic per page. For example, there is one page with Deming’s 14 points. There’s one great page on Project Scope and another great page on Scope Containment Ideas. I’m definitely going to use some of the one-sheeters for teaching my statistics and quality classes.
Unfortunately, the book just didn’t help me as I was studying for the certification exam.
#5 The Six Sigma Handbook, Third Edition by Pyzdek & Keller
Great book but HARD TO FIND STUFF QUICKLY. I’d say read this before your exam instead of bedtime stories, take it with you when you lay on the beach, bring it to the coffee shop while you’re gently relaxing over synthesizing your Six Sigma knowledge into your blood and muscles. This is an excellent book for getting a deeper, more thoughtful understanding of Six Sigma related topics, but was not one I chose to bring into the exam with me.
#6 Statistics for Six Sigma Made Easy by Warren Brussee
This was the LEAST useful book to me for my exam prep (but it might just be as result of how my brain is wired). I find that whenever an author writes very conversationally, trying to simplify the concepts by writing long explanations of the topics (as if he or she were sitting there with you trying to explain them to you), it just confuses me. I need recipes, like what Ott provides in his book.
I can definitely see how this book might help you if you’re totally new to statistics, or if you’re starting off on the path to becoming a Six Sigma Green Belt, or if you just need someone to explain to you what in the world the meaning is behind these statistical tests.
However, IF YOU’RE CLOSE TO BECOMING A BLACK BELT, you should have a lot of this material under yours already. As a studying resource, Brussee’s book won’t be as useful to you.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions, please post them as comments below, and I will try to respond to all.