The One Where I Failed My Test….Twice!

I remember the day I first learned about the option of becoming Accredited in Public Relations.  My employer offered me the online course, and I thought it was one of those quick courses you could just breeze through, and print a certificate of completion at the end.

The actual process was much more intense.

First, you have to present a public relations case to a panel of PR experts.  This portion of the process is called the “Panel Presentation.”  I went through my case files, and found a PR campaign for which I was the lead author. I had to organize a portfolio to prove I could demonstrate research, planning, implementation and evaluation(RPIE) within my campaign.  Fortunately, I was able to prove to the panel that I understood what it took to become accredited.  Within a few weeks, I received a letter stating I could proceed to the second phase of the process: the computer-based examination.

The exam was just under 200 multiple choice questions.

Multiple choice?


With my many years of media experience, I knew this would be a piece of cake.  After all, surely the correct answer would jump out at me. I was already doing the smarty-pants victory dance in my head.

The day of the computer-based examination, I walked into the Prometric Testing Center.  I remember it was cold.  Very cold.  I signed in and sat in the waiting room.  My nerves were on overdrive.

I looked around and saw several people waiting to be called back into the testing area.  Some of them were there to take the Graduate Records Exam (GRE).  Another group was taking some sort of physical therapy examination.  One of the guys looked at me and asked, “What test are you taking?”

At that point, I kind of felt like I was in prison, and my fellow inmates were asking me, “what are ya in for?”

“I am taking an examination for my Accreditation in Public Relations,” I responded.

Then, I heard a slight chuckle from him.

Oh, so you think my test is a piece of cake compared to physical therapy?  ( I imagined myself saying this to him in a loud, intimidating voice.)

“Good luck on your exam!” I stated with a fake smile.

At that point, two young guys called me back to the testing area.  One had kind of a gothic look about him.  We’ll call him Mr. Gothic. He asked me to put my purse in a locker.  Then, he used a metal detection wand to ensure I was metal free!

Wow, this IS prison!

I just wanted to get this over.

Mr. Gothic gave me a dry erase marker and scratch pad, and escorted me to my computer.  He explained that I had three hours and 45 minutes to take the exam, and the clock didn’t stop when I took a pee break.

Ok.  Let’s do this.

I put on my little headphones and went to work.

The first ten or so questions, I breezed right through it.  Oh, I’ve got this! I’ve so got this!!

Then, the questions became a little more complicated.  To see an example of the examination, click here.

As I scrolled through questions related to communication theories, PR history, business, law and issues management, a feeling of panic overwhelmed me.  All of the answer options seemed like they could be right!  Thankfully, I could mark a question and come back to it later.  I soon realized I was marking tons of questions.

This isn’t good.

I couldn’t believe how quickly the clock was ticking.  Just like that, I was in the final countdown to the last minute of the examination.  Three…..two……one.

What happened next is what I call the “circle of doom.”  While the computer analyzes your results, these little circles appear on the screen.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the results appeared.

Did Not Pass.

Say what?

I had come so far.  I successfully pulled off my Panel Presentation.  I went through several modules on my online course, and I thoroughly went through the Study Guide.  Now, I am staring at a screen that says Did Not Pass.

I was mortified…and embarrassed. (Why did I tell everyone and their grandmothers I was taking the test today?)

I had to regain my composure as tears filled my eyes.  I couldn’t let Mr. Gothic or Mr. Physical Therapy see me cry.

I wiped my face, picked up my supplies and went to sign out.  With a very fake smile on my face, I told Mr. Gothic to have a great day.  That’s when I proceeded to my car and cried.

Thankfully, my mentors were fully supportive and encouraging.  They explained how it wasn’t uncommon for candidates not to pass the first go at the examination.  I was more determined than ever to pass this exam.

I bought the textbook Effective Public Relations and studied it inside and out.  I made dozens of note cards, went over my modules, presented a case study through a facilitator, and met with my accredited colleagues.

Round Two.

I showed up and saw Mr. Gothic again, who greeted me warmly.  I went through the same routine of the metal detector and dry erase notes.  This time, I went through the questions with so much more ease!!!

But it wasn’t enough.  Once the time ran out, I saw the circle of doom on the monitor yet again.

Did Not Pass.

How could this be?

After going through the breakdown of my scores, I realized I didn’t pass by a mere three points.  After wiping the tears, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I could do this!!!

I knew I needed to retake the exam quickly.  Two weeks later, I was back at the Prometric Testing Center.

Round Three

Gosh, I was tired of this place.

I used up every bit of three hours and 45 minutes before the screen flashed the circle of doom.  I put my hands together and prayed.


Did I read that correctly?  I passed!!! I cannot adequately explain the joy I felt in my heart.

Lessons Learned?

  • To pass the examination, don’t rely solely on the Study Guide.
  • Buy Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations.  Learn it. Live it. Love it. (For a cheaper version, search the used books)
  • Don’t just memorize glossary terms.  There are very few definition questions.
  • Questions are scenario-based.
  • Get a mentor or join a study group.
  • Practice presenting case studies that demonstrate RPIE.
  • Every question on the test has been vetted by the Universal Accreditation Board. 
  • Every answer LOOKS to be correct.  Remember your studies so you can figure out the BEST answer.
  • Get plenty of rest and nutrition the night before you take the examination.
  • Do not tell many people when you are taking your test. (If you don’t pass, it sucks getting ten text messages asking you how you did.)
  • Relax!  If you don’t pass, you can always retake it.

4 thoughts on “The One Where I Failed My Test….Twice!

Add yours

  1. I took the APR exam in the age of the dinosaurs. My test was different; a big portion of the print exam was a full PR plan, with a lot of strategic thinking and writing. The second part was a three-person panel made up of chapter members who met with you and asked you questions fromt he scope of study, plus some specifically tailored to you. I easily passed the writte exam but failed the verbal. I knew that if I failed anything, it would be the verbal. I’m so much better in writing than in person! But your advice would be as valuable then as it it today. Loved your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved your story, too. Like Cathi, I took the exam back in the 1990s and passed. I also took the beta-test for the “new” exam back around 2000. All of your tips are fantastic. Thanks for sharing and motivating others. (Full disclosure, I serve on the UAB)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad you posted this for those who are afraid of the panel presentation and exam. You are a brave soul to admit to having taken the exam three times, but it is truly worth it! Your experience (hopefully) will prompt more people to become accredited. The profession needs accredited professionals, and professionals will benefit by having been through the process!

    Liked by 1 person

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