[Ask an Archivist]: Studying Strategies for the ACA Exam

Have a SNAP-related question for the archivists? Check out our anonymous submission form here.

Ask an Archivist Question:

For the Certified Archivists, how did you prepare for the exam? Did you study alone or in a group? If in a group, how did you go about breaking up the readings, and do you feel this put you at a disadvantage for learning (or refreshing) the material you didn’t read? How long did you prepare for the exam?”

Ask an Archivist Answers:

I prepared for the exam by reading as many books from the bibliography as I could and spent the whole summer reading. I concentrated on areas where I did not have as much practical experience. My degree was about 8 years old at the time I took the exam, so I needed to refresh my memory on many topics. I enjoyed the readings much more this time because I could apply the theory to what I had experienced on the job.

My assistant was also preparing for the exam and we discussed certain topics, but did not have a formal study group.

Tamara Gaydos
Manuscripts Archivist, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

I studied by myself, and I spent about three weeks total reviewing the materials. I did start out three months before the exam and spent a couple of hours a week reading and re-reading.

Gerrianne Schaad
College Archivist, Florida Southern College

This is a very personal thing. It depends on how you study. Some people prefer a group. I studied alone and took each topic and read everything I could on the list. I also took notes, which is how I study. Other colleagues were prepping at the same time, so we compared ideas and findings. We would have sessions at work during lunch. Luckily, we had most of the readings at work and I supplemented articles from the SAA Journal.

I started 6 months before and studied mostly on weekends. Starting too early or too late for me was just too nerve wracking! There is only so much you can cram into your brain, so relax and take the exam knowing you covered the bulk of the material.

Ellen Pierce
Director, Maryknoll Mission Archives

There is no doubt that anyone trying to break into the field should take the ACA exam. I passed it in 2013 and feel like it was worth the summer spent studying the wide body of works. I made flash cards and studied on my own because I didn’t have a strong network of peers in my geographical area.

One strategy that I adopted was to look at the authors of the seminal texts, trace their careers and read their published speeches, articles or course syllabi rather than whole books. It helped me get the gist with a little less reading. My blog, chaitralocksinarchivesland.blogspot.com has a few posts with tags that map to exam subject areas. You would have to be a lone arranger who also taught a survey course on archives to apply all of the knowledge referred to in the exam! I would focus on getting a good grasp on all of the areas instead of diving really deep into the writings of a specific area. There are enough diverse questions on the exam to benefit wide over deep awareness of the subject areas. Good luck with the test, I’m sure that you will all do fine!

Chaitra Powell
African American Collections and Outreach Archivist, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

I studied alone for the CA exam, but this was only because I didn’t know anyone else in my area who was taking it.  I started preparing about three months before the exam and requested most of the suggested books through interlibrary loan.  I tended to browse the books and the tables of contents of the suggested journals.  I ended up spending more time with books that were general overviews of at topic (particularly books in the SAA Archival Fundamental series) than very specific texts.  This helped me maximize my study time and not get too bogged down in the minutiae of any particular domain.

Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh
Archivist, Elizabethtown College


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