The Entomological Society of America (ESA) has two certifications for individuals looking to show their expertise in insects and/or their control. The BCE or Board Certified Entomologist is for those with a degree in entomology. The ACE, Associate Certified Entomologist, is for those involved with pest control but lack the degree. Both certifications require certain professional qualifications as well as passing a proctored exam. The ACE Exam has a reputation for difficulty. If memory serves, the pass rate is a staggeringly low, 38%.
I took the ACE Exam on Friday afternoon on February 15, 2019. Before I tell you how well I did, let me explain how the journey began. I am not an entomologist and my experience in the bug side of pest control is extremely limited. So I began my quest to be certified with several strikes against me. I am not a field practitioner in insect control and my desire to study for objective (i.e. true/false and multiple choice) exams is low. Nevertheless, I wanted to expand my horizons and possibly job opportunities so I figured getting an ACE certification wouldn’t hurt.
Preparation for the ACE Exam
I purchased the ACE Study Book, The IPM Guide to Urban Pest Control. The ESA recommends reading other books to prepare for the exam, such as the NPMA’s Field Guide to Structural Pests and Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Control. Fortunately, I already owned the latest editions of both. I read the Truman’s book, last year but didn’t get serious till about late November of 2018.
I asked for some help from colleagues and did some online searching. I received some materials. I also read the ACE Study Book. As important as those things were, I needed some help chunking volume of data. Fortunately, Sylvia Kenmuir, formerly of Target-Specialty, allowed me into her 10 week prep course. That was a godsend. It helped me get a foothold on the volume of material as well as learn strategies to study and take the test. I recommend her training to anyone serious about passing the ACE Exam. She recommends purchasing the NPMA’s Field Guide Phone App. It is cheaper than the book and provides enough information for what you need for the course. I had that too.
I also took the preparation tests offered by Practical Entomology, LLC. This site offers two tests, one study test that provides explanations for the answers and show your weak areas and another longer test to see if you improved.
Overall, I estimate that I studied about 60 hours or more for the test. The ESA recommends 40 hours of study. I made flash cards (stack was about 5 inches high) and reviewed, reviewed, and reviewed. Let’s say that Christmas break wasn’t as festive as I would have liked.
The ACE Exam
The test is as hard as they say. You have three hours to answer 150 questions. The questions are divided up into 5 sections. Once you submit a section, there is no going back to review even if you have time left over. That alone cost me at least one correct answer because one question in a later section answered the question I didn’t know in an earlier and now irretrievable earlier section.
Despite all the studying I did, I was amazed at how many questions I couldn’t answer. Many had me asking myself, “Where was this information? I never saw this before.” As can be expected with any objective test, there were questions that I thought were too tricky to be fair. As one who has written several objective exams, I know how hard it is to write good ones. So I can’t complain too much as there were also a lot of questions that I thought were too easy, even for a pest control novice like me.
I finished the test in about an hour. I say that not to boast. I am a fast reader (two masters degrees). I answered fast because either I saw the answer or I didn’t. Staring at it any longer really wouldn’t have helped me. Maybe that would be different for other people who had a deeper set of knowledge in the field. Before I hit the final submit button, I actually thought I had failed. There were so many questions I didn’t know the answer to, some that I don’t know where the information for the answer could be found, that I was coming to grips with failure. Then the answer came back, I passed. I was stunned. Did I really get 113 questions out of 150 correct for a 75% pass? Well the screen said I did better than that. Still a little shocked. I’m awaiting official notification, so my passing is still “tentative”.
What should you do? Hard to say. I felt like much of my study time was misplaced, if by misplaced we mean getting ready for the test. So much of what I learned wasn’t tested by the test. So I am a little conflicted by how to advise others to prepare. It makes me feel like the old marketing claim, “I waste 80% of my advertising dollars. Unfortunately, I don’t know which 80% is being wasted.” So my studying felt wasted but clearly it wasn’t. I passed. So my advise is to immerse yourself into the material. Memorize, memorize, review, to the point where you can describe the insects and concepts without being prompted. Master the material. Know the ACE Study Book inside and out. Read beyond it. Take the Prep Course. If for nothing else, the Practical Entomology tests help you deal with the type of questions if not the actual content. That is part of the battle. The questions make you think differently about what you know and what you think you know. Note I received “deals” on both the prep course and the preparation exams. But neither knew I was going to include them on a blog. I didn’t know myself until I received a request about my experience with the test.Stephen M. Vantassel, CWCP, ACE, is the owner of Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC. He helps people restore their balance with nature through publishing, training, consulting, and the internet. He has published numerous articles in trade and academic publications along with several books (http://kingsdivinity.academia.edu/StephenMVantassel). He is a sought after speaker and trainer. Copyright All postings are the property of Stephen M. Vantassel and Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC. Text (not images) may be reprinted in non-profit publications provided that the author and website URL is included. If images wish to be used, explicit and written permission must be obtained from Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC.