Everything I needed to know for the CAE exam I learned by being a Freemason

SC-032_300Well, maybe not everything, but it gave me a good background for lots of topics and I credit some experience helping run my Masonic lodge with success on the test and with the CAE Kickoff class. I had already been part of financial audits, setting budgets, reviewing financial reports, and seen the necessity for transparency.

Here’s the thing. If you have experience helping to run a membership group, such as a fraternity or sorority, civic group, mutual benefit society, or anything else that falls under the 501(c) designation, you already have experience in the space covered by the CAE exam. Figuring out how to turn those experiences into relevant learning material for the purpose of understanding association best practices covered in the CAE exam may be the hard part. If you are part of a membership group that collects dues, such as the Moose Lodge, you have issues of membership, finance, governance, facilities, leadership, possibly UBIT issues, and more.

Think about how your previous experiences – even volunteer experiences – relate to the CAE exam, association management, and other topics. I bet there is more overlap than you initially thought there might be. A lot of that can be good learning material.

CAE Exam

How I failed the CAE practice test and still passed the real test

…continued from previous post

As I said, I had studied everything and done extra studying in the areas I knew would be especially challenging for me. I had done all the preparation and knew the material. There were only a couple weeks until the exam and I decided not to study much in the final week, so I was down to the end. If I did not know the test at this point, I would not have time to cram and learn it in the short amount of time left.

So then I took the first practice test.

And I failed.

I was heartbroken and my first thought was why did I think I could do this? Then I decided to be systematic and look at the answer explanations to see why I got the score I did.\, and I understood all the answer explanations.

I took the practice test again and got a 90% or so – well above what is needed to pass.

So what happened? Why the discrepancy? I forgot to approach the questions the right way, and in so doing, had chosen correct answers that were not the best answers, given the task.

CAE Exam Perspective

The perspective you are supposed to take is that of a chief staff executive, which is the same as a president or executive director in many organizations. They say it is a mile-high view you are supposed to take, and that you should focus on strategy, not tactics. Unless otherwise directed, assume that you are the CSE of a mid-size (maybe 50 or so employees) c6 (industry association) that has a subsidiary c3 (charitable organization). This is the perspective you should take when answering the exam questions.

With this perspective, it was clear what I had done wrong.

CAE Exam

Beat the CAE exam with this one little trick

No, doctors don’t hate me.

In all seriousness, there is a simple trick you can use to beat the CAE exam. Or rather, to pass it. That trick is to set yourself up for success as best you can. Everyone has different needs, so I will just tell you what I did that helped with my own success.

I reviewed the functional area of the exam to see which I had significant experience with and which I did not know so well, and decided to take a couple courses to shore up my education. I did not have much knowledge of finance and accounting, for example, so I took ASAE’s 18-hour course on this topic. That gave me enough knowledge to be able to do well on the exam, and has also helped with my accounting and finance classes in my current MBA program. I am far from being an accountant, but at least I can talk the talk and more or less know what I am saying.

I also took the week-long Certificate Program in Association Management class. This is pitched as something for the neophyte, but a number of us had had many years in management and other fields, and our association experience ranged from a year to more than 20 years. It was a good high-level look at the basic parts of an association. This was a 27.5-hour course.

Note a pattern here. I took classes to broaden my knowledge and they also counted toward the hours needed to apply for the CAE exam.

The bit of education I found to be an invaluable resource was the three-day CAE Kickoff class. The material itself is not terribly difficult, and in fact we did not go through a lot of the material in terms of specific questions. Where this class was a big help was in learning the focus of the test, how we should approach different questions, and what the various CAE-specific terms were. Knowing these things is indispensable. For example, coming from the corporate world, I was surprised to learn that the CEO is the Chief Elected Officer, who is the chairman of the board or equivalent. In addition, the CSE is the Chief Staff Executive, or president, essentially the same as the chief executive in the corporate world. You can see how it gets dicey.

After the CAE Kickoff, I studied everything but spent most of my time on my weaker areas, such as governance models and finance, as I said before. Shortly before the exam date, I took the practice test. It didn’t go so well.

…to be continued

CAE Exam

Why I became a CAE

In 2016, I took the February CAE Kickoff class, sat for the exam in May, and received notification a couple months later that I passed. I was glad because sitting for a four-hour exam was not much fun, and I was not going to give up on the goal after only one try. But here I am, having passed the first time.

The list of reasons for getting a CAE probably differs among people who aspire to achieve it, but one big reason I did was for the recognition, in addition to the encouragement and support I received from my employer. I knew that the CAE would set me apart in the association world and make me more employable in the future, not that I would want to leave my current position. It is about as good as it gets here. No way am I going anywhere.

I also knew that there were some areas of associations I had had no exposure to, and that studying for the CAE exam would give me a high-level view into these areas. For example, I had never studied accounting or finance. I had also never worked in a membership department, even though much of what I have done has been member-focused, and I do a lot of membership work with a volunteer organization I work with.

I knew the CAE process – all the studying and preparation – would make me a better employee, and I think it has.

ASAE has a FAQ about the CAE and I think this pretty well sums up why folks go through this:

Becoming a Certified Association Executive shows your commitment to the association profession. As a CAE, you commit yourself to lifelong learning and an ongoing pursuit of knowledge in the profession. Among association leaders, the CAE designation has become known and appreciated as a mark of distinction that offers a wide range of benefits.

Individuals pursue the CAE for a variety of reasons, including professional development, career planning and professional pride, dedication to their career, a personal belief in the association profession, and self-fulfillment.

If you are considering pursuing the CAE designation for yourself, I highly recommend it. This is my first blog post, obviously, but I plan to talk about preparation strategies, courses to take, and association life in general. Let me know if you want to read anything else or if I can shed light anywhere.