Is it too much to ask for a climax every now and then?

By Lowell Aplebaum | International Facility Management Association

Oh Association Law Handbook – the love/hate relationship we have….

Perhaps I have been coddled by being out of school for too many years.  Outside of reading I have had to do for my professional life (yay meeting status reports and market research) I have had my choice of books.  I am not afraid to say – yes, I prefer to read pieces with a narrative.  When I read, I like to disconnect from the world for a few moments and enter a story in a different setting with interesting characters – whether they may be historical or fictional.  There is a certain satisfaction to engaging in a story arc – from introduction to conflict and climax to resolution – that I do not think I truly appreciated until I started studying for the CAE.

And then came the Association Law Handbook (and its sidekick, the Association Law Handbook Update).

There is no doubt that I am learning new association-related concepts and practices everyday from my CAE prep readings.  From my ability to answer new questions correctly I can see that the knowledge absorption I need from these pieces is happening.  Nowhere is this more true than the Association Law Handbook.  On the path to become a CAE, and to grow in my association career, the laws and practices delineated in this book are frequently pieces of information that I did not previously know.  I appreciate the quality of information that I am experiencing and that I think will help me in the short and long run.  The quantity is a bit overwhelming, but that too is simply a necessary part of the process.  The setting of the information however – that is where I have started to stray.

Everyone has their own mental cues on how they remember information – some people make a song or a rhyme, others use repetition and flash cards.  For the Association Law Handbook I have found myself taking each piece of information and playing it out in my head like we are in Judge Judy’s Courtroom.  From the bailiff and court stenographer to the lawyers and the Judge herself, I am somehow making this informational piece of work into the narrative I need.

So the point?  I think that more than simply informational, what we can learn in CAE prep has to be internalized and not just memorized.  From the situational presentation of actual CAE exam questions to the hope that what we are learning is going to serve us as practical knowledge for years to come – everyone needs to be able to internalize this information.  For me, I find myself daydreaming of running a CAE review course where we hold mock-trials reviewing some of the most prevalent concepts in the Association Law Handbook….do you know how you best internalize your data?

Contact Lowell Aplebaum


Why this advocacy chick has her CAE

By Stefanie Reeves, MA, CAE | American Psychological Association

A few years ago, I was talking to a colleague about ASAE when the topic of the CAE came up. When asked if I was going to sit for the exam, I said no. At the time, I didn’t feel I needed to. I didn’t think it would enhance my career. I saw myself as a lobbyist, not an association executive.

I’ve had similar conversations with a few of my government relations colleagues who question their need to earn the CAE. It’s true that association executives should know something about government relations. However, what’s the benefit of earning the CAE to the government relations professional? Is a lobbyist with a CAE more valuable than one without? As an executive director, where does having a CAE fall in the list of qualifications when hiring a lobbyist?

As the title indicates, I’ve since eaten my words. I earned my CAE and had the pleasure of participating in the Walk during ASAE10. So why did I change my mind?

Taking a look at my resume, all four of the jobs I’ve held since graduating college were for associations. At any point in my career, I could’ve jumped ship to Capitol Hill or some lobbying firm downtown. But I didn’t. Associations offer me great opportunities and challenges I can’t find anywhere else. What other industry would allow a 22 year-old administrative assistant to become a director of political advocacy in four years? Realizing my commitment to this community, it was no brainer for me to pursue my CAE.

So has the designation helped me in my lobbying career? Yes and no. While the CAE may encourage Members of Congress to cosponsor my bill, it did come in handy when I moved from a 501(c)6 organization to a (c)3. Knowing what I can and can’t do in terms of lobbying made a big difference in my transition. Dare I say it; it made me a better association lobbyist.

Preparation Tips

  • Give yourself enough time to study for the exam.  For some it will take six months, others six weeks.
  • During your study period, dedicate at least 30 minutes every day to prep. Use one day to make flashcards, another to review a chapter.
  • Study your area of expertise. Don’t take for granted that you do government relations or membership. Study all of the domains as if you have very little content knowledge of them.
  • Take the practice exams.  I know some are flawed, but if nothing else, it can give you a sense of your test-taking skills.
  • It’s not enough to just know the answer.  Make sure you understand why the answer is correct.

Contact Stefanie Reeves, MA, CAE
Association Advocacy Chick

This is just a test

By: David M. Patt, CAE | Association Executive Management

I always liked taking exams.  In elementary school, high school, and college, an exam was like a day away from class.  I sped through the questions, lingered a bit on those I didn’t know too well, finished early, and went home.

I never felt anxious or pressured – even when I didn’t have total command of the material.  It was like trying to win a contest.  It may have been intense, but in a bizarre sort of way, it was also fun.

CAE exam day was thirteen years after I had left graduate school.  I was no longer accustomed to cramming for exams and spitting out all those facts on command.  Still, I was confident of my association management knowledge and ready to tackle any challenge thrown my way.

The CAE exam was an all-day, handwritten essay test (don’t worry, that’s no longer the case).  There were no true/false or multiple choice questions.  We had to spend the whole day (with breaks) writing answers to questions.

When it was over, my test-taking colleagues and I retired to a local restaurant to celebrate the completion of our journey.  I didn’t fret over whether or not I had passed.  I was done.  (Besides, I assumed that I had passed).

Sometime later, ASAE sent a letter informing me of my new status as a CAE — and reminding me that I would need to be re-certified every three years to maintain the designation.

But there would be no more exams.

Contact David Patt, CAE:

How much does it cost to earn your CAE?

By Kelly Chase, CMP | Michigan Society of Association Executives

Published with permission from – MSAE does a study course for CAE prep that has great pass rates, and I found this piece very interesting for those concerned with cost.

All credentials involve an investment. Planning ahead is the best approach to gaining the credential without breaking the bank. Most candidates will break up the professional development over 5 years. Here’s a breakdown of costs involved:

Pre-Application- approximately $5,000

• 100 hours of professional development

• Average cost per CAE credit hour is about $50 per hour –OR-$1,000 per year over 5 years

• Cost not included- time away from work and travel

CAE Application Fee- $500-$700
$500 for ASAE Members; $700 for Nonmembers

CAE Prep Course- Courses range from $250-$1,095
MSAE Full Course over 14 weeks $695 for SAE Members; $795 for Nonmembers
MSAE Concentrated Course over 9 weeks $450 for SAE Members; $550 for Nonmembers
MSAE 3-day CRAM Session in Detroit- $450 for New Participants and $250 for Current MSAE Course Participants
ASAE 3-day Kick-Off Course in D.C.- $895 for ASAE Members; $1,095 for Nonmembers

CAE Books-$278-$725
$525 for MSAE’s Complete CAE Bookset
$725 for ASAE CAE Full Authoritative Literature Power Package
$100 for MSAE’s CAE Flashcards

CAE Renewal- $225-$425 for each three-year period
if the renewal application is received by October 31: $225 for ASAE Members; $325 for Nonmembers
if the renewal application is received by December 31: $325 for ASAE Members; $425 for Nonmembers

When you are starting your budget, plan on $1,000-$2,000 per year for professional development. Once you have earned enough hours to be eligible, the initial investment with Application, Books and Prep Course is about $2,000.

By Earning your CAE Designation, you are committing to yourself and to your profession to maintain an elevated standard within the association community.

Contact Kelly Chase, CMP

The waiting game

By Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE | ARMA International

I think this was the hardest part of the entire process.  Let me begin by stating that I know that I’m not a patient person in regards to these types of things and it was a bit of a nightmare for me.  I was thankful that I took the exam in December as the upcoming holidays were a nice distraction to the waiting process.  After the New Year is when the waiting got interesting.  Everyone wants to know if you have heard anything on your results.  Everyone is sure that you have passed.  You might find yourself stalking the mailman to see if the letter came that day.

This is how I actually found out.  For me, I discovered that the letters had been mailed and mine would arrive while I was out of town on business.   I had resolved myself to the fact that I would drive back by the office when I returned to see what my results were as I wanted to open the letter myself.  That is until my study group partner let me know she passed and that plan went right out the window.   I had to know right then and I wasn’t going to be able to get anything accomplished until I knew the results.  I called my staff and had them open the letter for me.  They let me know the results and sent me a PDF copy of the letter so I could see for myself.  It was great finding out that I had passed but even greater that the entire process was complete.  From there it was letting everyone know.  I wanted to share my results with all of those that had been so supportive to me.

Contact Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE

Pro tip: Sign up for a study course!

By Janet L. Kane, CAE, CIPS, RCE | Washington Association of REALTORS

I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree, I’ve taken several other designation tests successfully, and as a former English teacher, have written exams.  None of those experiences prepared me for taking the CAE exam.  When they tell you it’s a difficult test, BELIEVE them!  The test is about your judgment, more than it is about factual information.  (Those are the EASY questions!)  The Study Course I took really helped me understand HOW to take the test, HOW to prepare mentally, how to reflect on my reactions in order to be successful during the exam.  It also helped me learn what NOT to do. I know that I would not have passed the test if I had not participated in the study course…AND, prayed a lot!

The study course provided a structured study guide; it provided sample tests to get you acclimated to the style of the actual exam as well as a way to examine what areas you needed to study more; it provided amazing facilitators; and best of all it provided other people to learn with.  Having a group of people discussing a question…why they got it right…how they defended it when they got it wrong…was so helpful in figuring out the “right” answer on the actual exam.  It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than having to retake the exam!

Exam Tips:

1)      Read all the assigned reading as planned.  I studied every weekend, and many evenings.

2)      Prepare your family for the journey you’ll be starting.  It does involve their understanding that you’re not going to be available all the time; you’re going to need the space and “guilt free” freedom to study; and you’re going to be stressed and tired.

3)      As mentioned by a colleague, follow your plan for taking the exam, and don’t let others deter you from it.  (Example:  When I took the exam, I planned to open the test; write down a couple notes at the top that I wanted to remember; let the adrenaline rush pass; and then begin.  I also planned to take a stretch break.  In the actual exam, I took it with two others…both of them dove right into the test when the monitor said, “Open your exam,” and neither of them took a stretch break.  I know that my passing was aided both by calming down before beginning and taking the stretch break.

4)      They always say, if you don’t know the answer, just move on…which has never been in my nature.  What I found though, was it WORKS!  During the pre-tests I found out that if I forced myself to give an answer right away, and succumbed to my self-induced pressure to do so, I usually came up with a wrong answer.  When I allowed myself to jot down the question, and then come back to it when I finished the rest of the exam, the answer just jumped out at me.  Perhaps the brain was figuring it out, or it just made more sense the second time I looked at it…either way, it’s a tip that worked for me.

5)      Things I failed to do…locate the exam site the day prior to your test if possible.  I relied upon a popular online map program, and it failed me the morning of the test.  With 15 minutes to go I was on the phone frantically trying to get to the test site.  I arrived on time, but I felt very stressed…which is NOT the way you want to feel as you begin a four hour exam.

6)      Don’t change your answers!

7)      Believe them when they say you’ll need to practice your “self-talk”.  The facilitators of our study group told us how during the test we may begin to doubt why we’re there, doubt our readiness, doubt our ability…and it’s true!  I relied on their guidance and when negative ideas popped into my head (as I was taking the exam) I did just as they had instructed…I told myself I had done ALL the studying, I was READY, and I COULD answer the questions.  It got me through…

8)      Finally, you will walk away not knowing how you did, and presuming you failed…don’t waste precious time beating yourself up.  I was more surprised that I passed, than I would have been if I had failed.  I wasted a LOT of time during the “waiting period” feeling like I had failed. Don’t do that to yourself!!

CAE Benefits:

Studying for the CAE exam made me realize how much I still have to learn about my profession and instilled a desire to keep learning and honing my skills.  It has also  given me great ideas to help our association; and has provided me with an extra boost of confidence in my abilities and strengths as an AE.  It’s well worth the many hours of work, stress, and personal time.  Commit to it and you WILL succeed!

  Contact Janet L. Kane, CAE, CIPS, RCE

CAE/Study Group experiences

By Jennifer Rogers, MPA, CAE | Michigan Association of School Boards

*Note: Jennifer took the CAE study course through MSAE, which is referenced in her comments below.

Overall, the CAE experience was a positive one that I feel no matter if I passed the exam or not, was worth my time. For the record I did pass the exam the first time, but only after studying, reading and being extremely diligent on keeping up with the workload and conference calls. I highly recommend participating in each and every conference call as they were very helpful in hearing the perspectives of other professionals in order to reframe my thinking. The main hurdle for me was to realize that I wasn’t going to know the answer to many of the exam questions, even after studying and reading.

After taking the exam, I tried to reflect on the questions, process, etc. The four hours felt like 20 minutes and I needed every bit of that four hours, which shocked me because I thought I would be done early. I never even left the exam room and only got up for about 60 seconds to stretch. I can’t even remember many of the questions on the exam…my brain felt very overloaded and after I turned in the exam, I had to let it go…what’s done is done. My main concern was that the last hour of the exam, I felt rushed. In hindsight I should have spent more time and attention to watching my pace, but for whatever reason, I went into the exam a little cocky thinking no way will I need four hours….boy was I wrong! I would have loved another hour.

Besides reading and studying the flash cards and practice exams, talking through the scenarios was a huge help. I talked to anyone that was willing. Listening to the thought process of others was invaluable to me seeing the big picture, which is truly what the exam is all about.

My biggest challenge was to read the question and read it again. I found some questions to have tiny, subtle details that changes everything, including the correct answer. Frankly, I could have spend five minutes just reading and analyzing the questions. Don’t do this! You have to trust your gut and intuition. I found the more time I spent on the question itself, the more I was talking myself out of the correct answer. The practice exams really helped me feel comfortable with the questions, which I can’t stress enough how important that is—especially when questions may have two right answers and you have to pick the best one…or the least crappy one.

Like I said, overall the experience was positive. Any this may sound corny, but going through the process, learning from others, experiencing their commitment and passing the exam, just makes me love association work so much more.

  Contact Jennifer Rogers, MPA, CAE

Exam “Game Day”

By Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE | ARMA International

In reflecting back, the day of the exam was very similar to the days I played sports in high school.  It was as much about being in the right mental and physical state as it was about the exam itself.  The night before I had a good meal, didn’t study anything, had everything ready to go, and went to bed at a normal time.

The next morning I woke up, had a good breakfast, and didn’t focus on the exam at all.  All of my study material was packed up.  I knew at that point that reviewing it anymore was only going to make things worse, not better.  I continually repeated to myself that I knew the information, I had done everything that I could to prepare, and that I was going to do my best.  On the drive over to the exam site I had the music on and made sure each song had a positive, uplifting beat to keep me focused.

When I arrived at the testing center, I got myself situated and familiar with the location.  I made sure I was relaxed and ready.  At no point did I ever let negative thoughts come in to my mind.  I knew that would be my downfall if I did.  I completed the exam in 3 of the 4 allotted hours.  I marked all over that booklet to better help me dissect the questions.  I would skip questions if I was having issues understanding what they were asking.  I marked certain questions if I thought that more than one answer was too close and wanted to verify it.  I took the opportunity to challenge two questions that I thought were “poor” and needed to be reworked.  There were times where I would just close my eyes for a minute to rest and refocus.  I knew from the pre-tests that after a certain point I would need to have these mini breaks to be successful.

After the exam I knew that I did the best that I could and there was nothing else I could have done differently.  I took a little bit of time to reflect on the questions and wondered if I had answered them correctly.  This was a good exercise as it allowed me to wind down from the exam.  There were times were I would go back and forth between “I know I passed” to “I know I failed”.  I quickly stopped this or it was going to make the next 8 weeks drag on worse than I was already anticipating for them to be.  It was now time to wait.

Contact Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE

Study… or else

By: David M. Patt, CAE | Association Executive Management

If association professionals were tested on their knowledge, there would be few, if any CAEs.  Even Executive Directors – who often think they know everything (yes, I’m one of them) – don’t know everything.

Studying is how you acquire the knowledge you’ll need to pass the CAE exam.  And joining a study group will improve your ability to learn.

I participated in a study group hosted by Association Forum of Chicagoland (the fee was reasonable).  It was walking distance from my office and I usually stopped at a nearby food court on the way to pick up a couple slices of pizza (one for me, one for a colleague) so we could scarf down something quickly, before the sessions began.


1.  Join a study group.  Even if you are not accustomed to studying with others (I wasn’t), the collaborative learning process will help you and will prevent you from falling behind or being negligent in your studies.  And study group facilitators are excellent content resource people.

2.  Don’t skip study group sessions.  Rearrange your work schedule (to the extent possible) so you can attend all of the sessions.  The study group is an essential activity, not an extra.

3.  Schedule a specific time and place each week to read the reference materials.  Treat it like a very important meeting.  Don’t skip it or reschedule it.  If you don’t study during that time, you won’t be able to study at all.  I hunkered down in my local library every Saturday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  I knew that if I didn’t read the stuff then, I never would.

4.  Assign each study group member one or two topics to outline and share the outlines with each other.  That will guarantee everybody has well-thought out synopses of each topic and it will force you to become much more knowledgeable about at least one or two topics.  Choose subjects to outline that you don’t know much about.  You’ll pay more attention to the material and will learn it more thoroughly.

5.  Be friendly.  You will bond will colleagues more than you may think. They’ll become an important part of your professional network and will remain so for a long, long time.

Invest the necessary time and money into CAE exam preparation.  It will pay off.

Contact David Patt, CAE:

The exam.. and the waiting game

By Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE | University of Illinois

Exam Experience

Wow!  The time flew by.  I guess I was in a zone.  Once I got my exam, I marked where I needed to stop and take a stretch break.  I also had in my head where I wanted to be at what time.  I wrote the key pneumonic devises such as SPIE to help me remember basic best practices.  Honestly, the exam was not like the practice exams.  I felt it was very situational based and sometimes I didn’t like any of the options.  I tried not to change any answers because as a rule, if you change it you are more than likely to change it to the wrong answer.

I had no idea once I left if I had passed it or not.  I took the exam at a Sylvan Learning Center because I was too far from a pre-established test site.   The Sylvan Center was recommended to me by the Study group leader.  I found the Sylvan staff to be very professional and because the children who get tutored usually come after school, I was not overly distracted by additional noise.   Sylvan had a count-down clock so I could see how much time I had which was nice.  I finished with less time remaining that I expected (only about 20 minutes; I spent about 5-10 minutes looking over the few that I didn’t answer right away and turned in my exam).  Overall, I thought the Center was a perfectly fine site for the exam.

The Waiting Game

Augh!! After the exam I felt like I laid it all down & what would be, would be.  I called my study buds and kvetched for an hour.  They are an hour ahead of me so they had already had their margarita lunch.  For about 7 weeks I was able to let it go but my study buds reminded me that the time was near and I started to get anxious for the results.  Each day that it got closer to the anticipated date, I got a little more nervous.  Maybe I knew I hadn’t passed so I set it aside?  *Sigh* I really wish I would get to know when everyone else does.  I have heard from four of my friends and they have all passed.  I told my husband, “If everyone else passed and I didn’t I will feel so embarrassed.”  A good lesson, the CAE is a good goal, sometimes it takes more than one or two tried but life goes on.  You can take it again or not.

Will it be today?

My DC friends found out on Thurs. My OH and KY friends found out on Friday.  I had my results sent to work which resorts all US mail so HOPEFULLY I will know by Monday.  If I have to wait until Tuesday, I will go nuts!


My results came 8 weeks and 3 days after I took the exam.  Advice for handling the time between the exam and when you get your results: chill, have fun, and try to ignore the time.

Contact Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE

Top 10 CAE Study Tips

By Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE | ARMA International

This is not an original list but a compilation of advice I received during my study process that I found helpful and wanted to share.

  1. Realize that you are not going to know everything and that’s okay.
  2. Know what your study habits are and what is successful for you.
  3. Take time to rest and take breaks.  It’s a long process and the stress can build up if you let it.
  4. Establish a schedule for yourself and stick to it.  Try not to get behind.
  5. The test is just as much about how to answer the questions as it is the actual question itself.
  6. Focus on one domain at a time.
  7. Make sure to give the domains that you work with on a regular basis just as much focus as those that you don’t.
  8. Don’t get too down in the weeds on topics.  There were times where I realized I didn’t need to get that specific on an item.
  9. Have someone that you can talk with.  Many times hearing how someone else would answer a question and why was helpful in picking the question apart.
  10. Bulleted lists and steps in books are a great source for test questions.

Contact Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE

CAE Tip: Take a study course!

By: Lauren Hefner, CAE | Laboratory Products Association

I can’t emphasize this enough. I can’t imagine a world in which I could have passed the CAE exam without a study course, and I’ve heard many others say the same thing.

There are no “official” study programs; even the CAE Cram Sessions from ASAE aren’t officially endorsed, because the CAE Commission themselves aren’t the ones hosting them. But having the opportunity to take practice exams, have general insight on where to read to get all of the info from the domains, etc. was helpful. Additionally, I met some amazing people who I could bounce ideas off of.  I took the MSAE course, but I know there are a lot of others  (and I’ve linked to the ASAE list of them at the top of this website).

Why are these programs so good? Because no matter how much experience you have, and no matter how amazing you are at all aspects of your job,  you are likely not an expert in the CAE exam itself. This test is HARD, guys. Not the facts – you know those or you don’t. But a lot of the exam is so qualitative. You take practice tests and you think you nailed them, and find out you got a 50% — because it’s less about how you think you should logically respond and more about how ASAE wants you to be able to reason through a situation. There could be four crappy answers; the goal is to find the least crappy answer. The word “best” vs. “first” could make a huge difference in the answer. READ READ READ.

What other study programs have you all taken and enjoyed?


Contact Lauren Hefner, CAE

My study process

By Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE | ARMA International

I’m sure that many of you reading this have being through courses/training on how to study before.  While we all approach things differently there are some similarities.  Here is how I went about the study process for my CAE exam.

Recommended Reading – ASAE puts out a great authoritative reading list.  While I did purchase the full list, I primarily used the Association Law & Update books and the Professionals Practices in Association Management book.  One of the best pieces of advice I received was to start reading these books a year before hand to be familiar with the information in them.

Study group – I recommend, and you’ll probably see it other postings, that having a study group is essential to the process.  My local SAE established a study group as one of its offerings to the members preparing for the CAE exam.  They used the study guide published by Associations Societies Alliance and established a time line for studying each domain.  We would cover a domain a week to keep on track.    Additionally they pair up the study group with a current CAE that focuses on that domain every day.  Make sure that you understand each other’s learning style to get the most out of the process.   I couldn’t imagine doing this without my study group.

Weekly Timeline – With the overall process mapped out by my study group, it was easy to focus from there.  Each week I would focus first on the recommended reading.  While I was reading I would highlight those items that I thought were relevant and important.  I would then go back through the book and create a note document of what I thought was important.  I would then review the key terms for the domain and do the self – assessment.  I wouldn’t review any test questions until our next study session were we would review and discuss them at that time.  I would add any additional information suggested from the facilitator to my notes.  Then repeat the process again the following week.  I would allow myself 1 day each week that was “study free” to be able to decompress and maintain my focus.

Week before the exam – I went through my notes and practice tests to see where I needed to focus and where I had a good grasp of the information.  I focused my time on the law as I felt that I had the best practices down.  That week I monitored the chats provided by ASAE and took the day prior to the exam off for final preparations and to relax.  I made sure to be aware of myself and how I was feeling.  At one point the day before the exam I just shut down.  I knew at that point I couldn’t study anymore and it was time to stop.

Other resources – I reviewed chats on ASAE’s and YAPStar discussion boards, practice tests that I could find from other sources, and flashcards from the Michigan Society of Association Executives.

  • Discussion Boards – The discussion boards were good to see what others were asking questions about and the answers they received.  When I noticed that it was confusing my studying I would stop reviewing the comments.
  • Practice Tests This had to be the most frustrating part to me until I figure out how to best use them.  The issue with the practice tests is that you may find the same question in different tests with different answers.  The tests shouldn’t be used to measure your knowledge of the domain but rather to help you understand how questions will be asked and how to go about breaking them down.
  • Flashcards – These were helpful when I was waiting on something to occur.  (at the doctor’s office, sitting around the house, on the plane, etc.).  I primarily used the electronic version that they offered as it helped me on the go but believe the physical cards were just as helpful. 

After it was all done, I don’t believe I have ever study this much for anything in my life.  In the end it is worth every minute you put into it.  I saw immediate, positive changes in different aspects of my work performance as did my employer, co-worker, and staff.


Contact Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE

The CAE: Not (just) your father’s or grandfather’s credential

By Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA | Event Garde LLC

Undoubtedly, you or someone you know can relate to this statement: “I’ve fallen into the career of association management completely by accident.” I’m certainly one of those people. In fact, my first full-time job out of college was for a statewide trade association in Michigan—and they held onto me for nearly nine years before I decided to start my own professional development consulting firm.

And I’m fortunate to say that the last nine years provided me an inordinate amount of opportunity for growth and development. During that time, I had the occasion to study for and subsequently sit for the CMP exam. Upon learning that I had earned this important industry credential, I was immediately encouraged to pursue the CAE.

That certainly was a challenge I had not previously considered so early in my career, but as an association professional committed to lifelong learning—and a competitive person who rarely backs down from a challenge—I made up my mind to do just that. And I would urge others to do so early in their careers, as well.

Upon enrolling in a CAE study course, reviewing the requisite reading assignments, memorizing the all-important flash cards, engaging in thought-provoking discussion questions and taking the difficult practice exams, I earned the CAE credential about four months before my thirtieth birthday. But that’s become less and less unusual. Not only is it okay to be young and take the CAE, but it’s encouraged.

From where I sit, no longer is the CAE a “career aspiration” – something you strive to achieve toward the middle or end of your career. Rather, it’s a designation pursued more and more by young/emerging professionals early in their development as association leaders (or, more accurately, as soon as they’ve met the minimum requirements to sit for the exam).

And this is admirable. The journey toward becoming a CAE is a valuable and enlightening one that promotes self-discovery and growth. I also think the exam—and the process of studying for the exam—sets a firm foundation for future success no matter what route you choose to take on your journey through the maze that is the association industry.

That’s not to say the exam is easy, by any means. Without a doubt, it was the most challenging exam I’ve ever taken in my life (and one I didn’t expect to pass the first time around). Within a couple of weeks of taking the test on that fateful December morning, I had already begun to study again (no joke!). But I think that speaks to my commitment and belief in this valuable credential.

Nevertheless, I did pass and it was by far one of the most personally rewarding experiences of my life. To this day, I still remember opening the envelope that contained my test results—almost in slow motion. For me, it was good (no, excellent!) news. But those who don’t pass it the first time around, I have only one piece of advice: Chin up, little soldier, and take it again. (You’ll thank me in the end.)

I can tell you the exam will drive your professional self-confidence, that it garners widespread value and recognition, and that it opens doors and creates connections, but these benefits and outcomes don’t mean a thing if you’re not doing it for yourself. The reasons and motivations for pursuing the CAE must be your own. Do it for you—and nobody else (and this is much easier earlier in your career when a board of directors or an over-eager boss isn’t breathing down your neck).

I love this space we call the association community. Not only does it allow for creativity and innovation, but it serves as a significant platform upon which we forward many of today’s important social issues. I want to continue to support these endeavors in the best way I know how and I hope you plan to do the same. For me, it starts with earning the CAE.

Contact Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA
founder and president of Event Garde LLC, a professional development consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I Have to Take Notes?

By Lowell Aplebaum | International Facility Management Association

Studying for the CAE is no joke – that is clear.   Years working in the association world have only shown me just how much I have left to learn, and trying to prepare for the CAE highlights each of those areas where Principles of Association Management and the Association Law Book and I are going to spend WAY too much time together.

With that said, I was excited to sit down and start reading for my first domain review.  I had all the readings mapped out, and checked them off as I went through them.  At the end I felt this nice, warm sense of accomplishment – I had earned a silver star, if not a gold one (ok, maybe I glossed over a bit or two of the Association Law Book chapters – but I mean, who doesn’t?).  Then I took some review questions.


It has been way too many years since I was in a formal classroom and it suddenly came back to me – I may read for ideas, but I have to take notes for content – and for the application skills you need for the CAE you need the content.  Off I went to my local Staples, got a notebook, a nifty new pen, and here I am on round two of the same readings, this time furiously taking notes.

Moral of the story so far – trying to remember how you used to learn when you actually had to learn the material helps BEFORE you start your review….not back to the note taking.

Contact Lowell Aplebaum

Final preparation, the big day, and waiting for results

By Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE | University of Illinois

A Weekend for Cramming

About 2 weeks before the exam, I went to a cram session weekend hosted by my study group.  As a social learner, the face-to-face study session was ideal for me.  I met a neat group of people–all inspiring in their own right.  I also found value in the structured review and games.  I emphasize “review” as I felt that I was able to get more out of the session having more targeted questions than those who came less prepared.  The best part of the weekend was the interaction—especially with the instructors.  How cool are association leaders?

Final Prep for the Dreaded Exam

I finished re-reading sections of the six books that I reviewed for the CAE and reviewed my notes.  I didn’t review too many “practice tests” as I didn’t know if they were reliable/valid and also because there seemed to be different answers floating around.  I had also heard that available exams were different than the current exam content.  The study group gave us practice exams so felt prepped for the exam experience and had developed a strategy to deal with fatigue and pace myself.  The final week, I primarily read and tried to synthesize the info. and also joined an on-line chat.

So Ready

Although I felt the final week of prep flew by, the day of the exam, I was SO ready to take it.  I wanted to get on with my life.  I had been a bad wife, poor mama, and derelict housekeeper (who am I kidding, that is not the fault of studying for the exam).

Contact Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE

Pace Yourself!

By Colleen Knight, CAE | ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association

One of the things that stood out most to me on the exam day was how ready I was for the whole CAE process to just be OVER. I had planned to take at least one bathroom break during the exam – partly because I thought I’d need to use the bathroom and partly because I figured I’d want to stand up, stretch, and take a couple deep breaths to reinvigorate/refocus myself. Ultimately, however, I ended up not even getting out of my chair once the exam started. After I passed the 3-hour mark, the constant thought I had was “you’re almost finished, why get up now and break your concentration, just stay seated and finish this thing!” I was so excited at the prospect of putting the CAE (and all of the hours/days/months of studying) behind me that I didn’t follow my plan going in to the exam.

Of course, right after I turned in my exam and left the room, I started second-guessing myself. I quickly realized I had kind of “floated through” the last 20 questions or so; for some of them I had even randomly guessed at the answer instead of going through my normal thought/elimination processes. It occurred to me that I had reached “burn-out” before the exam even started – and this manifested itself in my willingness to risk answering the last 20 questions incorrectly instead of getting up and leaving the room for 3 minutes in order to refocus and finish strong. I’m sure you can imagine how furious I was at myself. Late in the afternoon of exam day, I promised myself that when I sat for the May exam (because I was SURE I was going to have to) I would take my time to answer each question and not waste the opportunity just because I was ready for it all to be over.

Anyway, the moral of this story is two-fold: 1) pace yourself in the months leading up to the exam. There is a LOT to read and a LOT to memorize… but make sure you still have a life outside of the CAE. I put many things on hold while I was studying for the exam, so when I sat down to take it all I could think about was how I’d finally get my life back! And that made me anxious for it to be over, and therefore rush through parts of the test. Which leads me to 2) follow the plan you set for yourself on exam day. You’re thinking much more clearly during your prep for the exam than you are on exam day, so when you plan to take a break halfway through because you believe you’ll need to stretch and take deep breaths to refocus, trust your instincts and follow the plan. Fortunately I passed and those last 20 questions didn’t come back to haunt me, but if I hadn’t passed, that was one of the major things I would have done differently the second time around.


Contact Colleen Knight, CAE

Taking the plunge, and applying

By: Lauren Hefner, CAE | Laboratory Products Association

I had always assumed that the CAE credential was years decades beyond me. Most people I knew who were CAEs had a lot more experience than I did, and I knew it was an executive-level credential and never even looked into it.

About a year ago, someone asked me – “Why haven’t you taken the CAE exam? You have the experience and the education.” This floored me. I was eligible? No way. So I looked into it, and sure enough, I was. But I still put it out of my head in the short term.

Then I started meeting people and being on committees with people who held the credential and were only a few years older than I was, and at the same experience level I was (every job I’ve had, including in college, was in associations). I served on a panel with Laurie Kulikosky, CAE & Peter O’Neil, CAE on career development during the 2011 ASAE Membership, Marketing, & Communications Conference, and a few people made reference to asking “when I was going to take the CAE”.

So, I looked into it.

I talked to my boss, Clark Mulligan – he had successfully taken the exam about ten years ago and is a huge advocate for the credential (and for my professional development in general). I applied for a CAE scholarship through ASAE, and got it – this paid the $500 for my exam application fee.

So, I signed up for the MSAE study program, and applied for the exam.

Tips for applying:
-The exam application itself isn’t difficult, but it’s time-intensive. You have to document 100 hours of qualified professional development, your years of experience in association management, and a Bachelors’ degree or higher. I recommend beginning to track your professional development immediately. ASAE can help you figure out anything you’ve registered for through them.
-Education hours don’t have to be expensive. I know ASAE and a lot of state SAEs have free education opportunities (in the DC area, there are roundtables worth an hour a piece, for example). I know Higher Logic has webinars that have CAE credit with them as well.
-Don’t rely on presentation and volunteer hours – I was not able to get hours toward the exam through sitting on ASAE committees or presenting at ASAE meetings. You *do* get hours for these things once you’re already a CAE, but not before.
-Apply for the scholarship! They gave out 45 scholarships last year. That’s a HUGE number (generally, way less than 200 people take the exam). Also, filling out the scholarship app prepares you a little for the CAE app itself, since you have to outline some of your education hours.


Contact Lauren Hefner, CAE

Support: A cornerstone for success

By Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE | ARMA International

Support is one of the key elements that every CAE candidate needs to be successful during the journey of obtaining the CAE.  Here are some of the different types of support I received along my way:

From my employer – While I personally made the decision to get my CAE with or without my organizations support, I knew it would be much easier if they supported me.  When I was promoted to the Director level a year and half before I was eligible to sit for the exam, I made it known that this was one of my goals and would like the organization to support me.  My executive director was happy to hear that this was a goal of mine and was willing to support me however I needed it.  I was fortunate that my organization was willing to pay for my application fee and study group materials.  While I was one of the recipients of the ASAE Foundation scholarship for the CAE it was good to know that my organization was willing to fund this.  I was also prepared to fund this on my own as it was something I wanted and not something that my organization was requiring me to get.

From my staff and co-workers – Have the support from my staff and other co-workers was very beneficial throughout the process.  I would ask them question and test my knowledge in practical, everyday settings to aid in my learning process.  While I’m sure from time to time they would have wished I would have stopped talking about it, it was very helpful that they were so supportive.

From my mentor and other association professionals – Anyone that has gone through this process understands how critical it is that other association professionals play in this process.  I relied on my mentor and others that I knew to aid me in my studying.  They were there to fill the gaps in my knowledge on areas that my organization doesn’t cover (trade membership, certification, etc.) as well as provide a general understanding of organizational management.  Having only worked within one association, it was key for me that that I focused on best practices and not how my specific organization would do it.

From my family and friends – I believe that this was the toughest of support groups to manage.  While they were all willing to support me, most of them had no idea what I was going through or the time commitment I had to give to be successful.  I would spend countless hours reading, reviewing, re-reading, etc. and was not able to do the things that I would normally do.  The key I took away from this was on helping them to understand what was going on and how their support was helping me.

Without good support in place, you will find that this journey will be rougher than if you had it.  It all comes down to finding those that will provide you with the support you need to be successful and helping them understand what it is that you need.


Contact Trevor S. Mitchell, CAE

Committing to the CAE adventure

By: Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE | University of Illinois


I had given my boss three developmental options for me for 2011-2012.  One option was to earn certification in project management, one was to start an MBA and the other was to earn my CAE.  He felt earning my CAE would be the most beneficial for our organization so he encouraged me to pursue it.  I applied to sit for the exam and was accepted.


Early on in my plan to study, I knew I would need help in preparing for the exam so I joined an online study group through MSAE.  Yes, it cost some dinero but the support and camaraderie (or shared misery) helped me keep on pace for a spaced learning pattern (The optimal way to learn and retain new information.)

Reality Check

I took a “practice” exam with my study group over the first three domains that we studied.  My results were so poor, I immediately signed up for a review session to be held two weeks before the exam.  I had an all or nothing attitude for this exam—I wanted to be successful the first time I took it.  So, I indulged in all the support options available.

Hard Core

My study group leader gave us the advice to find 6-8 hours of study time per week & commit to it.  My original plan was to study Friday nights and Sat. mornings.  I had planned to get three hours on Fridays and 3-4 hours on Sat.  Well, life happened like birthday parties and sleepovers so my 6-8 hours of study was often reduced to 2-3 hours.   After my first practice test I had a reality check and realized that I needed to create a better study plan.  My new plan was to wake up an hour earlier (5:30 am) Monday – Saturday .  Then I only needed to I spend an hour or so each Sat.  to answer the practice questions.  By keeping up with the reading, the study questions seemed easier.  It wasn’t always fun to get up earlier but I went to work feeling that I had accomplished something plus I was able to enjoy the weekends with my family.


Contact Jean Drasgow, PHR, CAE: