Posted by ajamison 1 year, 7 months ago

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In honor of PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) month, it’s only fitting that I share my journey to obtaining my APR. Fair warning, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was ugly, but I overcame many obstacles, learned many things about myself and now have something that I consider my greatest professional accomplishment.

It all started in 2012. I decided that I wanted to obtain my APR. I prepared my application and questionnaire, submitted all my documents in April and began preparing for my Readiness Review in June. The Readiness Review is the first of two steps to achieve Accreditation. The Readiness Review evaluates a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities in 16 specific areas that cannot be effectively judged in the computer-based examination. I participated in the two hour Readiness Review presentation and advanced to the next stage - the computer-based examination. After passing the Readiness Review, candidates are given a year to take the exam. Given I was anxious to move forward, I signed up to take the exam three months later (and one month before my wedding). The results were a wake up call. While I’ve never been a great test taker, I thought that reading all the books on the shortlist and reviewing the APR study guide would be all that I needed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What I learned is that this test wasn’t about memorizing information. In addition, there is a 2 hour and 45 minute time limit for the exam and I ran out of time before I had a chance to finish. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The most difficult part was that it’s a multiple choice examination and all the answers appear correct, but you have to pick the “most correct.” Following the exam, you’re not told which questions you answered correctly and incorrectly. They only provide a print out of the sections tested and what percent you scored in each area.

I didn’t want to give up so I went home, jotted down all the questions I could remember, highlighted sections in the text books and reviewed the percentages so I knew what areas I needed to focus more on. After my wedding passed and I had a better idea of what I was up against, I decided to register to take the exam for a second time in 2013. However, I quickly got pregnant after my wedding and with the 1-year time limit to re-take the exam, I ended up taking the test when I was eight months pregnant. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the best circumstances to be taking a stressful exam. What did I do differently to prepare this time around? I signed up for the APR Online Study Course, participated by presenting scenario based questions, formed a study group with two other women and we conducted a Skype session every Sunday. In addition, I decided to re-read a few of the text books. Aside from being eight months pregnant, I felt 100 percent more confident this time around. Well, I failed again. While I felt more prepared and really understood the concepts, it probably wasn’t the best idea to wait a year to take the test again. Also, being that far along in my pregnancy didn’t help.

After I had my daughter and had a chance to settle into my new role as a mom, I decided to give the test one last shot. Third time is a charm, right? If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’m not a quitter. I knew that being a mom, full-time employee and studying for this test would be challenging, but I decided to give it my all. Well, life wanted to throw me another curve ball and I got pregnant again. However, I didn’t let that get in my way and continued on with my studying. A month prior to my exam, I signed up to take a APR Bootcamp that our local PRSA chapter hosted. It was particularly special because Glen Broom, author of Cutlip & Center's Effective Public Relations, was the speaker. It was at this event that I met my mentor, Kimberly Prato, who helped me understand concepts and stressed that I really focus on the process. Again, I re-read text books and made online flashcards through cram.com that I studied on the go. Here I was, more than eight months pregnant and going in to take the exam yet again. During the exam, I felt good. I was confident answering the questions and I felt I had it in the bag. Turns out, I failed for a third time. I was devastated. I felt absolutely defeated. Prior to knowing the results, I decided that would be my final attempt. I was in complete disbelief that I didn’t pass and decided to throw in the towel.

A few days later, I had a phone conversation with my mentor. She urged me to take the exam again in the next two weeks. I was in the home stretch of my pregnancy and was torn. I was only two percent (four questions) away from passing. My life was about to change, but deep down I knew I would never have a chance to dedicate myself to this process again. I took a weekend to think it over and decided I would do it one last time. I registered to take the exam two weeks later for the final time. This time I meant it. Three days prior to my exam, I was sent to the emergency room for contractions. After many attempts, the doctors were able to stop the contractions, but ordered me to bed rest for the remaining three weeks before my due date. I explained my situation with the upcoming test and was urged not to put myself in a stressful situation. I was just too close to passing and opted to go to the exam while on bed rest. After 194 questions, I passed my exam.

What did I learn? Don’t give up in the middle of the test if you think you’re doing poorly, pay attention to the clock, read each question carefully and pay attention to key words (know where you are in the process), take the exam when you normally study, be confident and don’t give up. Lastly, it's probably best to not take the exam when you're pregnant or going through big, exciting changes in your life :)

It was one heck of a ride, but in the end, I can say I truly earned my APR! Thank you to all my family, friends, study buddies, colleagues and my amazing mentor for always believing in me and never letting me give up.

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