Let's Make Home Happen
April 2018, Volume 6 Issue 10
Five Tips to Prepare for the HUD Housing Counselor Certification Exam
While 2020 seems far away, time moves quickly—especially when it comes to preparing for the HUD Housing Counselor certification exam. At BALANCE, formerly known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco, they made the test a top priority but were nevertheless surprised by a few curveballs along the way.
Almost 90% of BALANCE’s housing counselors have passed the exam. To help you prepare, here are a few things they learned:
1. Leverage existing resources. As they approached the exam, they drew heavily on the material provided by the interactive online training and study guides from HUDHousingCounselors.com. Both resources led their team through the six subject areas of the test in a careful and detailed manner.
Additionally, BALANCE added two extra tests. Before their counselors began the online training, they went through a 100-question pre-test. Then, after completing all 15 modules and HUD’s practice exam, they were assigned a post-test. Both tests used questions based off of those found in the study guides, from all six subject areas. Taken together, the pre- and post-test provided extra opportunities to familiarize housing counselors with the material.
2. Pace yourself. A 90-question exam covering six subject areas is quite intimidating. By tackling one subject at a time at a manageable pace, you can alleviate your exam anxiety. To help counselors set such a pace, BALANCE provided each one with a study schedule using the existing structure on HUDHousingCounselors.com as a guide.
For example, counselors were required to cover the first four modules on Budget, Credit, Managing Assets, and Protecting Assets by the end of the first week of study. For the following week, the next two modules, Renting vs. Buying and Affordable Housing Options, were due. At this pace, the counselors could finish the training on HUDHousingCounselors.com in two months. While this timeline may seem lengthy, keep in mind that a counselor often does not have the luxury of studying for eight hours a day at work. Limiting the number of modules due per week increases a counselor’s flexibility as they thread their study efforts into their usual work routine.
3. Plan ahead. Make sure to build in a cushion of time before the exam. For counselors, this will provide more opportunities to review the material. For staff members who are coordinating the exam, this allows more time to iron out logistics. Depending on how the test is taken, arranging it can become a more involved process.
At BALANCE, they used both the online proctoring setup and the off-site testing centers. For the former, the logistics proved to be a little more challenging than expected because of the technical requirements, such as the need for a specific type of webcam. They had hoped to use the webcams embedded in their agency’s laptops, as a number of their housing counselors already used them. But because the online proctor needs to see both the test taker and their screen, they bought a couple of USB webcams instead to share among their counselors.
Another requirement was the software used by the online proctoring service. BALANCE’s Training Department was unable to get the software to work on their computers, even after multiple attempts. They realized their network’s settings prohibited anyone without administrative access from using the software. However, thanks to the BALANCE IT Department and the technical support staff at Kryterion (the online proctoring vendor), they figured out a solution. Without the extra lead time, they would have had to reschedule or cancel exams.
4. Get input from your community. As agencies across the country work toward meeting this new requirement, everyone stands to benefit from sharing their experiences and providing resources to help prepare for the exam. To that end, this community has already provided great insights.
Some of the BALANCE counselors attended workshops and classes presented by organizations such as the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) and The Counselor’s Corner. They also solicited advice from housing counselors across the country. And don’t forget to utilize the community within an agency. For example, if there is more than one housing counselor, start a study group. Once a few of the BALANCE counselors passed the exam, the organization arranged for them to lead a group review session for their colleagues who had yet to go through the certification process. Whether it’s a community of agencies or fellow employees, a group provides valuable insights in preparing for this exam.
5. Be mindful of test anxiety. Initially, the BALANCE Training Department focused on the content of the exam and the logistics of taking it. But the degree to which counselors felt comfortable taking the exam was lost in the shuffle. To ease their nerves, BALANCE researched test anxiety tips and held breathing exercises before the exam began. Focusing on the test takers themselves, in addition to the test, helped BALANCE set their counselors up for success.
Overall, earning your HUD Housing Counselor certification is like accomplishing any other goal. To succeed, BALANCE found that using existing resources, starting early, setting a manageable pace, planning ahead, working with peers and colleagues, and staying loose were all crucial. BALANCE hope these tips will help all housing counselors in their efforts. Good luck!