And the answer is A, no B. Or could it be C? Or D?
And who wrote this question? Everyone who has ever taken the ASE Parts Specialist Test, or P2, has had the same thought. Someone who has never been in an auto parts store must have made up a few of these questions, right?
If you take the P2 in 2009, maybe you will be answering a question I helped to write. I just returned from a four-day workshop emphasis on “work” sponsored by ASE. The purpose of the workshop was to perform “maintenance” on the ASE P2 test. Maintenance requires that some questions be added, some be re-written and some removed from the current test.
There are about 400 questions that currently can be used. Why would I be interested? Do I need a badge to be a counter pro? I have always been a supporter of certification for counter pros. I was among the first group of test-takers in the early 90s. In the early 90s, the technology on cars exploded and made alphabet soup: ABS, DIS, PCM, skid control, MAF, TCC, to name a few. These were just some of the new terms that a counter pro needed to learn. And none of us learned fast enough. There was no Internet. The counter pro was the main link between the technician and the manufacturer. We were proud of our profession, our dedication and our quest for knowledge. The first parts specialist test was initiated, almost as a dare, by Babcox Publishing. Babcox suggested that every parts store send in $5 of their own cash to start the process rolling. Yes, counter pros funded the beginnings of their own certification process. We knew our place in the industry was important. We needed the industry to know we were professionals. The overwhelming response was unheard of in the occupational credential business.
Ancient history? I have kept my certification current, I have taken the same test as most of you have, and walked out of the testing center thinking the same question. Who wrote that question? (You know, the question with either two or no correct answers.) After the test, I wrote to ASE about a question. Every time I saw an ASE booth at a trade show, I would volunteer to help with the next test. The squeaky wheel gets the grease? ASE invited me to the question-writing workshop. Cool.
ASE had assembled a team of 18. Some were counter persons, some trainers of counter persons, and some who managed stores and counter pros. The big and the little were represented, the East and the West, the North and the South. It was a real sampling of the current marketplace. There were three recipients of Counterman’s Counter Person of the Year award, as well as four recipients of the NAPA/ASE Counter Person of the Year award among the question-writers. And there were three women on the panel, who represent a growing part of the business.
Twelve of the 18 were rookies. We had no idea of the procedure of writing test questions. We soon learned that writing a good question takes a certain set of skills. Plus there are some rules. First, there are no trick questions. There’s no Parts Specialist A vs. Parts Specialist B in a three-fall, winner-takes-all cage match. The questions must be fair to the test-taking candidates, properly stated, technically correct, and regarding need-to-know information.
The ASE 18 also was reminded that the ASE certification is a professional certification. A professional certification test must be administered by an independent third party in a secure environment. The test must comprise industry-accepted practices and the results must be verifiable. We then learned about “psychometricians,” who verify the accuracy of test results. This is serious stuff lawyers get involved in tests and test questions! And you sign your name to any question you write, as the expert! Also, there was an L-1 tech on staff, to be sure our technical questions and answers were correct.
After instructions for the rookies, we proceeded to our first task. Twenty questions from the last test writing session did not test well. Huh? You know the questions the ones with two, three or no correct answer. A question is never added to the test file until it has passed the test, test.
We all know that most ASE tests have questions that do not count toward the final score. These are usually the new questions, and they are under review by the test takers. If 33 percent get the question wrong, or if 93 percent get the question right, the question is either too easy or hard, worded incorrectly or may not be relevant. A perfect question will be answered correctly by those with the highest scores. Fifty percent of those who score in the middle will answer a perfect question correctly. Of course it’s never this simple, and there are five or six other calculations taken to ensure that the question is a good indicator of the candidates’ knowledge.
Some questions could not be saved, or returned the next day in a completely new form. This exercise helped the new people to truly understand the need for correct wording, procedures and fairness. Then it was our turn. Each panelist was handed 25 or so pages to write the question that they have been dreaming about for weeks, days, hours or minutes. To task was to write the question, write the answers, assign the question to a specific test location, sign your name and turn in your questions. The ASE staff would look over the handwritten questions, edit if needed and type up books of 20 or so questions. The ASE 18 would then take the test of the new 20 questions. After taking the test, each question would be revisited. A few questions resulted in no comments, while others got a complete rewrite or a trip to the scrap yard.
Hard as it is to believe, most of the questions regarding store policies could be crafted into viable questions. There were some questions where a mom-pop store operates differently than a chain of 3,000 stores, but fewer than anyone on the panel would have suspected. The hardest part was getting the right wrong answers. Right wrong answers? Yes, our task was to see if the candidates knew the required information. That required having answers that were close to right, but still wrong. Our three days of constant effort yielded 70 or so questions. Some of the questions were about emerging technology that has gained importance in the last two years. Some of the questions were about the information explosion and new customer service expectations. Even after all the serious attention to every test question, the final say regarding which questions stay or go ultimately is in the hands of the candidates.
I came away with great respect for the ASE test. The quest of the administrators and panel to provide a proper test was inspiring. My question to my fellow counter pros are you certified? I know, you have been in the business for five, 10, 15, 25, 30 years and have forgotten more than I ever knew. I never said I was the smartest, I said I took the test and achieved a passing score. While there are about 40,000 ASE Certified Parts Specialists, there are others who are not certified. I have heard most of the reasons for not being certified, and a few of you need an attitude adjustment.
Are you proud of your profession? Or is being a counter person just a job? For those who struggle to achieve a passing score keep trying you will get it. A few tips: Read those Parts Specialist A and B questions carefully. Remember they are two distinct questions, like two true or false. The answers are not related to each other, they just happen to be in the same question.
As an industry challenge, let’s get certified. Let’s tell our customers and our suppliers we are professionals. There are nine ASE Blue Seal Parts Stores in the 50 states. I was the first in New Jersey, three others are in our local marketing group. I know four of the nine. Will you join us? Be first in your state? Can we add at least 50 ASE Blue Seal Parts stores next year? Thanks to my fellow question writers and Dave, Dan and Linda from ASE for making the experience rewarding. And if I happen to see one of my questions on a test, I should be able to answer correctly.