September/October 2019, Volume 7 Issue 11

Making Certification a Personal Challenge

When the housing counseling certification exam opened in August 2017, housing counselor Gwen Brown made it a point to start preparing immediately. The deadline was three years away, but, as a 24-year U.S. Navy veteran, Brown welcomed the certification requirement with open arms.

“I was glad about it because I come from a military background and had to advance through test-taking when I was in the Navy. I looked forward to having a certification that indicated that I am truly capable of doing this work and can offer the highest standard of quality,” Brown asserted. “I challenged myself to take the exam as quickly as possible.”

Brown is a certified housing counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a division of Lifelines Counseling Services in Mobile, Alabama. With 13 years of experience in the field, she’s got plenty of expertise. But she still felt some anxiety about passing the exam. “When they came out with the guidance on the six focus areas, I had concerns because there was one topic – fair housing and tenancy – that I didn’t have much experience addressing,” Brown shared. “Our agency just doesn’t see many people for that issue.”

To prepare, Brown took a more independent approach, doing most of her studying on her own during the weekends and after-hours on weekdays. While she referenced some of the online trainings, what she found most helpful was taking the practice exams. Noting that she learns best through repetition, Brown would write the practice questions and answers out repeatedly, which helped her commit the concepts to memory. “Once I started to do well on the practice tests, I felt more confident in my ability to pass the actual exam,” she said.

Brown noted that, at the time she was preparing, the practice exams gave an overall score but didn’t indicate the percentage of incorrect answers by topic area, which made it slightly difficult to identify specific knowledge gaps. She added that the resources and the exam have been updated since then.

When it was time to take the exam, Brown felt ready. She made sure to read each question very carefully and take her time answering. She shared that using the online calculator was somewhat challenging for her and urged future test- takers to make sure they fully understand how to use the tool prior to the exam. “I was one of the first people to pass the exam,” she said, adding that there were some kinks in the process, but that some of the needed changes have been made since then. “When I took the test, we weren’t allowed to have paper and pencil to do the math or re-write the question to think it out more. Now, there’s virtual paper and pencil to help with that, which is great.”

Brown passed the test in April 2018 on her first attempt. “I was relieved that I had done it and could move on,” she said. Her certification success wasn’t just important to her, it was important to the field.“Certification sets a standard of service for housing counseling. This certification, like any other in a professional field, is good for the clients at the end of the day.”


Gwen Brown