I’d Forgotten How Difficult Written Exams Were…part 2

So, on a cold and damp June morning (otherwise known as a British summer!), I was standing outside ISOQAR’s building feeling somewhat anxious.  Once inside with the rest of the attendees, the nervous bonhomie helped calm my heart rate and everyone settled in quickly.  There were 11 of us, from a variety of industries and backgrounds, and we all got on famously, which helped.  The instructor, Fred (not his real name) was superb and I learnt training techniques from him that I’ll definitely be using when I’m teaching management system implementation for Flintloque.  All in all, a good opening hour or so.  It was not to last…

Fred went through the course plan for the week, informing us that there was a “challenging” pass mark and that he expected at least three of us to fail.  This didn’t do my blood pressure any good!  Neither did his explanation that the marking system consisted of a continual assessment component (scoring us on contribution, understanding, role-play performance and daily exercises) and then the written exam.  The exam itself would be in four sections covering definitions of terms (e.g., what’s the difference between verification and validation?), a deep(-ish) understanding of the principles of quality management, audit planning (e.g., where within the QMS would you look for evidence?), and the raising of non-conformities.  Overall the pass mark was 70%, but you had to score at least 50% in each section.  “This just gets better and better” I thought…

Now, I’m not going to go into the details of what we did on the course as that would spoil it for those of you who fancy doing it yourselves, but I will say that the most important learning experiences (for me) came from doing the role-play (e.g., conduct an audit interview with the instructor, who was doing his very best am dram), watching others do the same thing, and arguing, sorry make that discussing, various scenarios and whether a nonconformity could be raised.  All-in-all damn good fun.

Right, scroll forward to Friday: the morning of the exam was spent revising and re-reading the mass of information that we’d been given.  As the exam was “closed book” we were only allowed to take in a copy of the ISO 9001 Standard and a dictionary.  When we walked into the training room, all our desks had been moved and the room re-styled for the exam; separate desks, one each!  I took my place at the front, as has always been traditional given my surname, and tried some breathing exercises to calm my nerves whilst we watched the clock count down.

When we were told to turn over our papers, I read through the whole thing through before putting pen to paper.  And then I relaxed.  Whew, I knew that I could answer all the questions, or at least attempt them, and there were no nasty surprises.  The next two hours flew by.  What was the hardest part of the exam?  Well, by some considerable margin, it was writing with a pen for TWO hours solid.  I’m not kidding.  You see, the exam fills the time allotted, so there’s no time for pausing, and I don’t write much nowadays.  Type, yes, but writing is only done in very short bursts.  By the time, I’d finished the exam, I could barely feel the fingers of my right hand!  So, consider yourselves warned.  The exam over, we all said our goodbyes and returned to our normal lives.

About a month after the course, a V-shaped envelope with “Do Not Bend” in big letters on it (thanks Royal Mail) landed behind our front door.  I admit that I stood holding it for a few seconds wondering whether I’d feel great or ghastly when I opened it.  Had I passed?  Yep, I had.  HURRAH!  I am now a certified ISO 9001 Lead Auditor.  Well, until summer 2017 that is, when I’ll have to do the whole thing again…


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