Failed Printer and the Certified Usability Analyst

“Paper Jam. Remove paper from a tray” read the printer in its 8-bit style, unemotional font. It spoke as if it didn’t know what I was going through.

“NO! NO! NO!” I screamed internally! “The exam is in 40 minutes and I do not have the time to go to a print store”

Immediately contradicting myself, I unplugged my laptop, tucked it under my shoulders and took off! I felt like Robert Langdon from Angels & Demons when he was trying to save Vatican City.

I ran with my unbuckled slippers, a fall was imminent. The closed shutters that I ran past reminded me about the Sunday but I was still running. Multiple thoughts running through my mind — “Am I being punished for taking a day off work to prepare when I was actually playing FIFA?”, “I should have not slept last night”, “I should take life more seriously”

My Certified Usability Analyst (CUA) exam was in 40 minutes and I was still in my pajamas. I assumed that I needed just 5 minutes to print out but oh boy, was I wrong!

You could argue that I should’ve probably taken all the printouts I needed the previous night but how could I? I finished typing them out only a few minutes ago.

I’m still running but why am I running? Let’s back up a month

“Certified Usability Analyst” is a 10-day course followed by an open book exam. (Now you know why those notes mattered a lot). This June, I made a decision to sign up for the course as I felt It’s been a long time since I invested in structured learning.

Why did I want to be a usability analyst?

User Experience has always interested me. Given that a lot of things we do involves human & tech interaction, I felt the learning will definitely add value. I can intuitively understand the Dos and Donts but I felt that wasn’t enough. Hence, I asked my mother to pay for this course.

What did I l̵e̵a̵r̵n̵ infer from this course?

I’m not going to share my top learnings based on the content of the course because I’m not qualified enough (Also, I could go to jail if I share their content). But I have inferred a few things that I want to share

UX professionals struggle to communicate the value of UX

This was evident throughout the course. HFI has clearly internalized this and trying to enable UX professionals to communicate UXs value better. This is infused throughout the course in formats that make sense to ‘business stakeholders’ (\(\))

UX is more psychology & science than research & wireframe

Maybe I’m too late to realize this. The course had a lot of content that spoke about analysis, UI elements, etc but all that is primarily driven by how humans do things.

The study of usability is to teach humans about how humans interact with computers which were also created by humans. Ironic, but true.

UX is common sense that we’ve somehow managed to lose along the way Yes, my vocabulary is up by a few more jargons and I now know a few scientists name after the course but for the most part, I learned a lot of uncommon, common sense. UX is just common sense that is packaged and structured well in the context of computer interaction. I digress…

But, what happened to the exam?

I finally managed to find a store that was open. On the way, I printed out all my notes and sighed a breath of relief. But, another thought crept in. I knew that I didn’t put in the effort that was needed.

I opted for a weekend course as opposed to their 10-day continuous course. 4 courses, taught over 4 weekends with a full working week in between to drive everything out of your head. However, I didn’t worry about the exam at that point — I simply wanted to learn. That helped. I just paid attention to the course material out of the exam context. That meant I was simply listening to elevate my understanding of UX; not to memorize & reproduce.

During my work week, I’ll forget all about the course until Friday. I decided to schedule my exam 2 weeks after my course, hoping that would give me enough time to prepare. That did give me enough time but I just didn’t prepare.

My preparation just involved going through the books, extracting the key points and typing them out as notes. As I would later realize, I didn’t get to use them.

Open book exams were also completely new to me but it was comforting to know that I’d have access to my notes and the 4 dictionaries sized books.

I reached the exam center just 5 minutes before the scheduled time. Neatly arranged all my books in the order that I wanted to take them in — UX Foundations, User Centred Analysis, User Centred Design, Usability testing. I logged into the exam application to find out that the order of the exam is predefined. Yes, that’s how unprepared I was. I quickly rearranged my books to reflect the exam ordered and went ahead.

The moment I went through the first few questions, I realised — it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Without revealing too much, here are my top tips for exam:

Pick answers by elimination

Most common advice but doesn’t hurt to repeat. Almost always, you’ll be able to quickly eliminate two answers. Do that. Then let the remaining options battle it out and even if you’re unsure, there’s a 50% chance that you’re right.

Treat them like 4 exams, not 1 exam

This one was reiterated by my brother who took the exam a few years ago. You must have the discipline to allocate time for each sections and actually stick to it. You do not want to end up in the last 20 minutes with 30 questions to answer.

Trust your common sense a little bit more than your memory

The course will give you an elevated common sense of usability, trust that. Especially for scenario type questions. Don’t rely too much on the course material and trying to map topics to questions, it’ll just create unnecessary stress. If you’ve understood (as opposed to studied) the course material, you’ll be able to pick the right choice instinctively.

Know the broad outline for each book

There are a few direct questions and the easiest way to get them right in the first attempt is to quickly scan the book. To be quick, you need to know exactly where they’re located.

Content is organized logically in the book but spends some time with the books to understand its outline. I referred the book to almost every question because I was able to quickly figure out where it was in the book

Watch out for language traps

Questions and options are worded weirdly. Sometimes, even direct questions are worded slightly differently. I’m assuming HFI is pushing really hard to test for understanding versus memory. To illustrate with a fictitious example, your course material might say “preferred method” but option might say “like to”.

There is some joy in taking a well-designed exam. I enjoyed the whole experience and was quite surprised with myself to finish it 30 minutes early. I confidently clicked “Submit” knowing that I would clear it and yes, behind that loading screen, I was awaiting my confirmation to be a Certified Usability Analyst.

Oh and those printouts that I struggled for. Turns out, I didn’t need them at all :)