While I have been working in the field of all things “Molecular” for close to twelve years, it wasn’t until early this year that I decided to actually sit for the ASCP certification exam in Molecular Biology. With over five years working in research and currently going on seven years in a clinical lab, I was feeling pretty confident about my knowledge and background, but then panic set in. Would I be able to pass a test? I haven’t taken an exam since my final years of college! I have two young children who are extremely active in extracurricular activities, a husband who also works full time. Needless to say, any extra time I had for myself would be spent studying. It didn’t take long to find out that while there was a very general outline of topics covered and an extensive list of textbooks to serve as a starting point, there were not specific details on where to focus my efforts. There was no single study guide, no tangible tools I could utilize to make exam preparation fit into my busy life any easier.
Fast forward to the present, where all of the panic was for not. In February I did pass (with flying colors) and happily sport MB (ASCP)CM after my name. When I was recently approached about writing on a regular basis for Lablogatory, I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to educate others on the exciting field of Molecular Diagnostics as well as combat the fear that comes with taking the Molecular Biology exam. I plan to focus on more specific areas in the field of Molecular Diagnostics that I came across in my studies, which will help others in their preparation for the MB(ASCP) exam. I will cover theory, applications, techniques, and practices. Also, keep an eye out for case study questions that I will provide to stretch your thinking through interpretation of molecular results, at the same time, keeping you up to date on hot topics in the field.
With all that said, the first most important suggestion I have is: spend time preparing to study. While it might seem silly to some, having a plan BEFORE you jump into study mode will actually set you up for success. All too often, just reading everything you can on every single topic will result in information overload and ultimately burn you out. You will quickly find yourself jumping all over the place frantically trying to memorize every detail you come across.
First, browse the content outline and choose some texts to review. Notice how I say, “Choose some?” Don’t feel like you have to read all of them. I went online and reviewed the texts, I asked colleagues for recommendations, then decided to purchase two books. You might find that you need more or less, just don’t go overboard.
Next organize a binder. I am extremely visual and hands on so I study best with things in front of me that aren’t electronic based. I divided my binder based on the content outline. You will come across papers, technical notes, and procedures that you will want to keep as study tools. Having a binder for all of these notes from multiple sources will keep you on track. It will also serve as a great reference guide for you as you move through your career.
Now is where you can get super retro. You may have noticed in my photos that I made flash cards! It is a little archaic and time consuming, but I knew I was going to be busy with my daughter’s traveling basketball team; therefore, I needed something small I could take with me to study while sitting on the bleachers. I am aware of software programs that allow you to make electronic based flash cards, so if that works better for you feel free to try that route.
My take home message is, obtain and prepare whatever tools you need to get yourself ready to study. Organization is key and setting aside time each day, even if only an hour to focus on one application or theory will definitely be to your benefit. Reach out to colleagues and gather as much information as you can. Once all of your tools are in place, it’s time to get to work! For anyone interested in obtaining their MB(ASCP) certification, I urge you to check out the content outline and list of texts on the ASCP Board of Certification site.
-LeAnne Noll, BS, MB(ASCP)CM is a molecular technologist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and was recognized as one of ASCP’s Top Five from the 40 Under Forty Program in 2015.