Mefites: Please hope me!!!
November 24, 2009 8:38 PM   Subscribe

I need to take two exams in order to continue to compete for a job I have applied for. I very much want and need this job, or something like it (I am truly desperate!) The tests take place in about a week. The email that arrived from the HR person states that the exams I need passing scores on are:

1. Software Function and Use WOQAA198
2. Financial Services Basic Exam WOQAA130

This job is an intern (training) position for a state agency, after the year's training period the successful trainee will no longer be an intern and will probably get a small raise and a title of sorts, and have the security of a government job, which would be a HUGE relief to me.

A little Hx (I will try to keep this short): I have worked for 25 years in a relatively specialized field that is not really business related (I am a dog /cat wrangler, or, veterinary technician). Except for a little relief work and/or owners of the clinic dying or retiring, I have had the same employer most of this time. This (animal medicine) is a "dream job" for many, as it is all about "saving the animals", and because of my longevity/experience, I have a great reputation and have gone as far as a person can go without a DVM, but the problem is, a person can't really pay their bills or raise a family on the financial compensation. And I like the work just fine, but the money and the "hard labor" aspect can be tough for a woman approaching 50.
This was ok for the longest time, because my job in the family sense was to make a little grocery money and get out of the house a few days a week. Now, the situation has changed. My partner has gone from a hard-charging reliable family guy to one who has decided he will forevermore work only for himself, so he pushes an aerator around and swings a hammer here and there but has for all intents and purposes quit providing for our family (we have two kids and I helped him raise the others he had to adulthood). He gets out of bed everyday between 10 and 11 AM and doesn't see a problem with that. (That whole issue is a whole total 'nother Mefi question, but not today's!) I was a more-or-less suburban housewife encouraged by my spouse to keep that job for it's few bucks and respectability.
A few years ago now, things started to get really tight so, since I realized he wasn't really going to work anymore and he wouldn't support my going back to school (for something or anything) I have been trying to find something or anything else I can do that will pay the bills and keep my kids safe and healthy until they are grown.
I have a Bachelor's (in Biology) in addition to my animal medicine education/experience, but did not use it to do anything else (see above, and yes, my fault).
So a couple years ago I found a great job with decent money and benefits (which I formerly depended on my spouse for) which worked me hard but I loved and was related to animal medicine, but they canned me after a year and would not say why. It has been painful but also qualified me for unemployment insurance which has actually "paid" better than my vet tech job. I have used this time to try like heck to find a "real" job. I have applied to every job I can find that I am qualified for and think I would like to do. I keep getting axed at the final weed-out (when I am 1 of 6 or 1 of 3, out of an initial 100-ish). This, I don't think, is so weird, things are tough out there right now. But the unemployment money is about to run out for real, and I need to know how to ace these tests. If they don't pick me for another reason, then, fine. But I don't want it to be because I can't pass, and I have no experience in "business".
I can do anything, do any job, have proved myself a bazillion times at my hard work and adaptability.
I think they want to know I know computer and business basics. The reference librarian sent me home with a small armful of books, but can anyone out there help me get ready in a couple of days?
posted by bebrave! to Work & Money (16 answers total)
PS: I am not trying to cheat!!! I just want to be ready.
posted by bebrave! at 8:39 PM on November 24, 2009

I was on the verge of tl;dr, but I finally found your question in the last line. It sounds like they gave you books that may relate to the tests you'll take. If so, study them and prepare for the test. I don't think there are any shortcuts.
posted by Frank Grimes at 9:03 PM on November 24, 2009

What are these tests? I googled them and the only result was this thread. Can you give any more info about what they're about? Do you know anything more beside what you've posted?
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:05 PM on November 24, 2009

Executive summary, as some people may be put off by the length:

A woman approaching her fifties needs advice on preparing for examinations in Software Function and Use and Financial Services that are in one week.

She needs this because she needs the security of a government job, as she has had to take over the breadwinner role in her house (a four-person household, with she, her husband, and two kids; there are adult children) after her husband abdicated it.

She has a bachelor’s degree in biology, and her work experience thus far has been as a veterinary technician. Her prior job was animal medicine-related, but she was let go a year after starting, and while she has made it to the final round of interviews, she’s not landed a job yet.

Her unemployment is about to run out, and she is feeling desperate given the lack of success thus far.
posted by WCityMike at 10:00 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

PercussivePaul: What thread??
They (the email and HR) are deliberately vague and HR will not tell me more. I have taken a number of these tests this year in the state system and the names won't tell anything google-able. I think the Financial Services Basic Exam will ask things that will come naturally to a BS in Business, and the other will ask basic computer stuff, which I do all the time but was never "schooled" in it formally and maybe don't know the names of things or everything they do.
And, oh yeah, thanks to eveyone!
posted by bebrave! at 10:01 PM on November 24, 2009

OK you guys are right, I am (was) blathering. I need help and thought the info would get me somewhere here. Should have only told the story. Embarrassed and sorry. I just really am freaked and want to do well. Maybe I am out of my league here (and there).
Thanks to everyone.
posted by bebrave! at 10:11 PM on November 24, 2009

BeBrave, here are my thoughts on your responses:

First, can your husband’s adult children assist you at all?

Second, you say your unemployment is about to run out. HR 3548 was signed into law by President Obama on November 6. Your profile shows you to be in Colorado (click on the little planet next to ‘location’), which has a 6.6% unemployment rate. That means you should have about 14 weeks of new unemployment benefits coming to you as a result of that bill: it adds one week to EUC Tier 2, and for states that have more than 6.5% unemployment, it establishes a 13-week EUC Tier 3. Since Colorado's fractionally above than 6.5%, you may have lucked out there. Also, have you exhausted only your federal benefits? If so, there is a federally-funded “State Extended Benefits” program available to states which can go for up to 13 weeks on top of that.

Third, with the competition involved in this overflooded job market, it is not your fault that you’ve not made it past the final round. Don’t feel bad about that. The competition for positions is intense; I’ve heard some say this is the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Fourth, I don’t know as people here can really help you, because essentially, all you are asking is how does one prepare for examinations that happen to be called “Financial Services Basic Exam” and “Software Function and Use.” Since, as you say, those aren’t able to be found in Google, the only way someone could help you more than guessing based on the title of the books would be if someone’s happened to take those same examinations for the state agency you’re applying to.

Are you asking for general study tips? Are you asking for something specific about either subject — financial services or software functions? You need to be more precise; that’s why you’re not getting good answers yet.

I won’t be back to this thread thanks to family and the holiday (but the answers to my questions will help other people help you), so best of luck with the exam, BeBrave … I wish you luck.
posted by WCityMike at 10:18 PM on November 24, 2009

Did that armful of books include practice tests like the ones you will be taking? I've found that, once I have a basic understanding of a subject, by far the most useful thing to do at crunch time is to use practice questions. Try to answer them, then review your mistakes. Then take the same exact test again. Then go to next test, check answers, and then take both tests again. Repeat.

If there are no practice tests, then I have no tricks for you. It's just a matter of holing up with the books and maybe some coffee.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:32 PM on November 24, 2009

this thread, meaning, the one we are speaking in right now :)
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:55 PM on November 24, 2009

PercussivePaul: What thread??

The individual webpage this conversation is happening on is called a "thread" or "post".

Percussive Paul searched Google for the names of your tests, but the only mention Google could find of the tests was on this thread/page/post. (In other words, your description of the tests is the only time that exact phrase appears on the web, so people here can't use google to help you find a practice-test or anything else specific to the test you're going to take.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:07 AM on November 25, 2009

The fact that the tests can't be found through Google (or, incidentally, through resources available to people in the testing field) and the mention of a "passing grade" tells me that these are in-house tests. That is, they were developed and normed specifically for the company that you are applying to.

My advice, then, would be to take the titles at face value and do general preparation on those subjects.
posted by DrGail at 5:54 AM on November 25, 2009

Maybe I am out of my league here (and there).

Nip this train of thought in the bud. There's absolutely no reason to presume failure ahead of time.
posted by ook at 6:16 AM on November 25, 2009

you have MeFi mail!

Good luck & ook is right. You can do this!
posted by pointystick at 6:37 AM on November 25, 2009

While I've never seen those tests, here are some general test-taking tips:

1- Think positively. Have confidence. Any part of your brain that's occupied with worrying about how you're doing while you're taking the exams is a part of your brain that's not available to process questions. Visualize yourself walking to the office, breezily taking the test, and having the HR person say "congrats on your 100%." It sounds cheesy, but it does help.

2- If the test is multiple choice, use process of elimination aggressively. Immediately cross out an answer choice when you know it's wrong. Even if you only eliminate, say, 2 out of 4 choices, a 50/50 shot at the right answer is better than a blind 1/4 guess.

3- If the test is timed, remember that your goal is to reach the pass percentage of correct answers. Often, all the questions have the same point value assigned. If that's the case, you want to make sure that you get to every easy- and medium-level difficulty question. Don't rush them--make sure that you make no stupid, rushed mistakes. Aim for getting all the easier questions right. A lot of test takers make the mistake of rushing through the easier questions because of the pressure to finish under time constraints; but then you're rushing and making silly mistakes on easy questions in order to get to the tough questions that both take more time and that you're less likely to pick the correct answer for. It's better to only get to 40 out of 50 questions and know that you did all those questions right than it is to rush through the whole thing, but miss 20 questions out of the 50.

5- If there's a question you don't know in the middle of the exam, don't freak out. Make your best guess, and move on--don't let it become a time suck, preventing you from getting to later questions that you can get right. You are a cool, collected robot, working towards getting X% of questions correct to reach pass percentage.

Good luck!
posted by neda at 7:06 AM on November 25, 2009

Find out as much as possible about the tests. Can you find sample tests or a previous year's tests? Do you have a contact in the agency that could describe the experience of taking the tests? (without cheating, of course)

Why were the tests written? Why does this agency want you to take them? What are the testing objectives? Understanding what's important to the testers will help you focus your learning.

Is there a pre-defined body of knowledge (BoK) these tests cover? Can you find a summary source for that BoK? I sometimes even start with children's books on subjects I am learning from scratch to get a high level view and a handle on basic terminology.

What format, length, etc. are the questions? How will the test be scored? (Some tests penalize wrong answers while others do not.) This affects your study and test-taking strategy.

Techniques I find helpful in studying a new book:
Always read the preface! In it, the author tells you how to read her book. What parts are essential and what parts you might be able to skip, etc.
Assess the Table of Contents. Try to understand how the book is organized and why it might be organized that way.
Flip back to the index. Look for the terms with the most references, the main ideas from the "bottom-up."
Skim the whole book -- read titles, section subheads, first sentences of first paragraphs of each section, any bold text or pull quotes.
Pay special attention to graphs, diagrams, and pictures. These are expensive to put in a book and therefore must be illustrating a concept the author thinks is important.
Then go back and read in depth the sections that appear most relevant to your topic.

Techniques for comprehension:
Draw pictures summarizing the topic or its major concepts. Mind maps work well.
Tell an imaginary friend about the topic and its concepts in your own language.
Identify the major "metrics" associated with the topic. What measurable things does the topic address? Who are the various sets of players and what key measures are the players trying to optimize? What other measures constrain the optimization?
Pretend that you've been given the chance to make a 1 page cheat sheet to take into the exam. Make the cheat sheet.
Imagine yourself cast in "day in the life" scenarios using concepts from this topic (eg in a job situation). How would the knowledge of these concepts affect your job/life?

Effectiveness of comprehension techniques depends on your learning style. These are the ones I use. YMMV.

Good studying. I hope you do well.
posted by cross_impact at 8:44 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

These sound like in - house tests. I had to take them when I applied for a tech support job at a big telecom company that begins with a V.

The house created tests that I took were "easy" but pertained to theri stated subject matter. By that I mean you could ace the test blindfolded with one hand if you took a college level "Software Function and Use 101" or "Financial Services 101" course, but if you have no experience or exposure to those fields, you would need to get through equivalent amounts and depths of material to prepare for the test.

Therefore I am going to recommend that with a week to prepare, some type of CliffNotes might be a decent way to prepare. You can look for these in the Test Prep section of the bookstore (and study there in the cafe - dont pay for these). Something like the ____ for Dummies series might also be helpful. Finance for Dummies, maybe?

Good luck!
posted by WeekendJen at 9:22 AM on November 25, 2009

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