I recently took the ASCP exam in order to acquire a state license in laboratory science. I’ve written this for folks seeking advice on a passing strategy. If you’re experiencing difficulty understanding the material or are anxious about what the exam entails, i’d like to help.
Who this is for:
Different strategies work for different folks. Some can pass an exam in two weeks, while others may require more than one attempt. I wished to make this strategy comprehensive so I have written this for folks taking the exam with only a rudimentary understanding of laboratory science. You know what an antibody is, but the fella who kept interrupting the professor made it impossible for you to learn anything else. Maybe your Professor exhausted his/her own own knowledge by this point. Perhaps you crammed for every exam in school, learning nothing substantive in the process. You may even be taking the exam after being out of school for several years. Whatever your situation, I’d like you to understand that you will pass this exam, by following a few simple steps.
About the exam:
You need to score 400 points out of 1000 in order to pass. That’s all you need – 400. Easy questions are worth 10 points; moderately difficult ones are worth more; difficult ones can be worth up to 25 points. All you need is 400. How do you know if you’re ready to score 400 on the real exam? Referring to labce.com, if you can score 75% + on subject tests; 65% + on 100 question review mode; or 55% + on computer adaptive testing mode, then you have a good shot at passing the ASCP exam. I’ve heard mentioned that if you’re still getting very difficult questions around #80, the computer is essentially throwing high value questions at you, hoping you can guess correctly and bring your score up to 400. If you’re getting very easy questions repeatedly, then you’ve already passed and the computer just wants you to go away.
Survival Kit (for those who aren’t sure what to get):
This is the survival gear you need. It is essential and comprehensive. I wouldn’t take this exam without the following: Polansky review cards (THE best resource) LabCE.com subscription – absolutely essential for questions and learning Success in Clinical Laboratory Science (Ciulla) – to be used as your reference textbook Clinical Lab Science Review (Harr) – for questions and learning
How much time do I need to study?
Very subjective. Depending on how hard you work on this, you will need more or less time to prepare. Two to three months is more than adequate if you have an extremely poor understanding of lab science.
Okay fine but what do I DO?!
Take a Labce practice test in 100 question test mode. Don’t look at any resources. Just finish it to see what score you would get. Randomly guess on everything if you need to. It’s Kewl – a blue legged squirrel would score 25% by random guessing so you’ll score around 25-35% if you learned the bare minimum in school. You may be worried about a horrendous score. Don’t be – trust me on this.
Separate your Polansky review cards by subject. Chemistry, Blood Bank, Hematology, Bacteriology and Urinalysis requires 95% of your attention because these subjects comprise 95% of your exam.
Open up the Harr Review book. Examine its organization. Each subject is subdivided further into subtopics (for example, Microbiology is divided into gram positive cocci; gram positive bacilli; anaerobes, enterobacteriaceae, etc). Your cards are organized in a similar manner. Notice that each ~50 question subtest in the review book corresponds to only a handful of review cards.
Each Harr question comes with an excellent explanation. If you don’t know a subject AT ALL, go through the entire individual set of questions for that subtopic – read each explanation – look up the pertinent facts in the few review cards you’re holding in your hands and mark it up. If it’s not there, then tell that fact to @!#*$ off because it’s not important. Do this for every question in that subtopic. By the end of that set of questions, you’ll have learned the entire subtopic and noted what you need to remember on your cards.
Do the above for every subtopic you have difficulties with. It took me 1-2 days per subtopic. Keep in mind that while there are many subtopics, only a few are important for the exam.
After you finish each subtopic (say you finish the enterobacteriacea questions in Harr), do a 50 question subject test in labce, corresponding to the subtopic you just completed (eg. do Bacteriology in labce if you finished enterobacteriacea in Harr: do Hematology in labce if you finished wbc disorders in Harr). Getting a poor score is okay. Most people score around 50%. But every question you get wrong is a new fact you’ve learned and underlined in your cards.
I attempted to do as many of the Labce questions as I could. A classmate did 100 every day – that’s phenomenal. Someone else did 300 every day – that’s wild. I did a thousand in total. Do as many as you can, and learn from every wrong answer. Highlight the facts you learn in your Polansky cards.
By the end of your study period, you’ll notice that only a certain percentage of your Polansky review cards are highlighted with facts you didn’t know. The more you know when you start studying, the less marked up your cards will be. Either way, it’s these highlighted facts that you need to review, ideally every few days.
Don’t buy the BOC book. The explanations are not helpful. What’s the point of buying an inferior book with thousands of questions when you won’t even get to all the questions in the good review sources listed above (Labce and the book of questions from Harr)? The same goes for textbooks. You don’t need them for this exam.
In my opinion, class notes are utterly useless unless they’re diagrams or tables. Proper understanding requires that you create your own visual aids in between answering questions. Don’t waste time staring at monotonous text or reading the gibberish we tend to jot down in class. Those notes have a place and it rhymes with recycling bin.
Each day, try to recall all of the important information you learned that day. Some will also do this as part of a weekly group meet. I can’t stress enough how important it is to recall the information you’ve learned. If you understand something well and wait 2 weeks to think about it again, you’re liable to forget what you understood so well just a short while ago. Attempt to recall as you’re about to fall asleep every night and it will be fresh in your mind in the morning (an added bonus is that it may knock you out like a light). Therefore, review early in the morning, as well.
Picture the branches of bacteriological charts or certain key antigens in blood bank. If you can’t recall something, look it up immediately! Learning is all about layering knowledge. When you take the time to do several layers (learning, doing questions, drawing charts) your recall will be solid.
Use my high yield charts or make your own. But please know the relevant information!