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CPHQ Exam Preparation: When Less Is More

If you are like more than 90% of PC users, you will be reading this article on a Microsoft Windows operating system. In that case, you would probably also have experienced the computer hanging for no apparent reason, cryptic error messages, or even the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death.” These are just some of the problems that millions of people put up with everyday. Yet, Microsoft remains the dominant player in the PC market.

Three months ago, I had enough of it. Major trouble began in February when my computer was down for three weeks, thanks to a nasty worm. I lost some personal data, but thankfully I had made backups. (Client data are stored in a separate server and were never compromised.) I’ve also had to deal with sudden unexplained crashes and incompatibility issues with hardware. In addition, I was getting increasingly annoyed by the dearth of good software for Windows. Microsoft Windows products have some good points (e.g. ease of use, compatibility with a wide range of software, unencumbered interoperability with the majority of personal computer systems); they’re just not great.

I figured there must be a way to do my computing without the hassle.

I considered rolling my own operating system, but that idea demanded time I could not spare. That led to a quest for a pre-built system that was stable, secure, and configurable. I tried Ubuntu, PCLInuxOS, Lubuntu, openSUSE, CrunchBang Linux, LMDE, and Debian on different computers while still using Windows 7 for work; this allowed for sequential head-to-head comparisons between Windows 7 and the various Linux distributions.

Despite rumors that Linux was difficult to learn (which I now believe to be Microsoft’s anti-Linux propaganda), I’ve found the experience both enjoyable and educational. There were some hiccups along the way, but nothing bad enough to render the operating system unusable. After 3 months of testing, I’ve settled for CrunchBang Linux for its (server-grade) Debian base, inherent immunity from computer virus, and minimalist (efficient & elegant) design.

I now spend about 70% of my computing time on Linux and the remainder on Windows 7. It’s very likely that I’ll abandon Windows completely in the next 6 months. And I’m much happier for it. I get a more pleasurable experience that allows infinite configurability of both the operating system and the installed programs.

By the way, most Linux distributions don’t cost any money. And they don’t need anti-virus, defragmentation or other maintenance software—ever.

This article is not a review of the various Linux distros I’ve experimented with. It’s about a different approach to helping people pass the CPHQ exam.

As I was going through the journey of finding the “right” operating system, i.e. one that would best serve my needs, I gradually adopted a new philosophy on how to teach CPHQ candidates.

Common Problems CPHQ Candidates Face

Many individuals planning to sit the CPHQ exam share common frustrations such as: a lack of time to focus on exam preparation due to multiple commitments, confusion about which resources to use, and limited (self) funding. It’s quite remarkable how similar their needs are despite their diverse nationalities, academic and professional backgrounds, and areas of interest.

What CPHQ Candidates Want

Due to the common issues experienced by the majority of people preparing for the CPHQ exam, it’s not surprising that their needs and wants are also very similar.

Here are some things on peoples’ wishlists:

1. Streamlined notes focused only on the exam content outline
One of the commonest grouses that we receive is the perceived “need” to read a (thick) book for the exam. The rationale is that by reading a book from cover to cover, the candidate will have acquired sufficient knowledge to pass the exam. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I’ve come across a sufficiently large number of individuals who have quite literally studied Janet Brown’s book from cover to cover and still did not pass the CPHQ exam. (It is not likely that they will reveal this fact in public though.) I’m also not saying Janet’s book is unsuitable for the exam; to the contrary, it probably helps as a reference book but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is the only ingredient for passing or even the most important determinant of passing. Yet, numerous individuals have used the book as if it was a necessary path to CPHQ exam success. Well, it’s not—there are CPHQs who have passed the exam without reading the book or used it only minimally. This scenario has parallels with the Windows operating systems—the product has become the defacto standard, such that very few people critically analyze its true utility. (Again, I’d like to emphasize that the book is not bad, in my opinion, but it is probably viewed and used in a way not intended by its author.)

Many people have complained about how tiresome it is to read the book but they still slog through the task, much like how they put up with the inconveniences of using Windows as their computer operating system.

Nevertheless, a small but growing number of candidates are seeking simpler, less laborious and less time-consuming alternatives to accessing the facts that they need to know for the exam. This will be information required to answer the Recall questions and which may be required to help answer the Application and Analysis questions. Surely, the 125 examinable tasks on the content outline does not require more than 600 pages of text to read. It can be condensed to a much smaller volume.

Having shied away from what seems like a monumental task for the last couple of years, I’ve finally accepted the challenge of developing a document that gives only the theoretical information required by the exam. This work has commenced (in that I’ve started to revise my workshop training materials) and will be conducted in phases. i.e. one category of the exam content outline at a time. I have yet to set a completion date but I’ll need to sit down with the team to decide on this soon.

2. Timely access to high quality training
Another popular request among candidates is access to training workshops at a time and place convenient to them. Many people cannot afford the time or expense of traveling to attend a workshop and some prefer to receive such training in the comfort of their home. I still believe that live training is the best way to deliver content. But if that’s not possible, then alternative modes of delivery, including online learning and snail mail (folders and DVDs), should be made available.

3. Good value and inexpensive solutions
In this slow global economy, everyone’s watching their expenses. As they should! In order to make the learning materials cost-effective, waste needs to be removed. This is another good reason for cutting out the superfluous stuff, which costs money to produce even if/when it doesn’t add value to the customer. Using the analogy of an operating system, removing useless software and code means a more usable, faster and less buggy computer on which to work. Healthcare throughout the world is characterized by tolerance for a phenomenal amount of waste (muda), in all forms—waiting, over-production, inventory, defects, motion, over-processing, transportation. Sadly, this penchant for excesses is also seen among healthcare professionals. Here’s an example of the waste that people tolerate: Microsoft Windows 7 requires a minimum of 16 GB of hard disk space and 1 GB of RAM to run on a PC; CrunchBang Linux, on the other hand, requires less than 5 GB of hard disk space and 192 MB of RAM. The difference in requirements is due to excess code, non-value-added features, and rarely used software that come bundled with the operating system— “bloat” in geek speak.

The Value of Simplicity and Economy

My switch to a leaner, more efficient operating system in recent weeks brought to attention the tremendous value of trimming out the fat, including in the area of CPHQ training. While recognizing the fact that content is all important, I now firmly believe that several key things in CPHQ exam preparation can and should be simplified so that candidates can achieve their goal without the burden of excessive reading, unnecessary travel or unreasonable expense of money or time.

To quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

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