Adventures in CPTC Testing

Practical Tips to Successfully Prepare for the Online CPTC Exam.

As you probably surmised from the title, I’ve taken the CPTC Practitioner exam more than once before finally passing. I tend to live by the proverb,  if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. However, I learned a few tips along the way that I would like to share with you. These tips primarily focus on setting up your environment for success. They would apply to either of the online CPTC exams.

The APMG guidelines provide a limited amount of information about preparing your space for the exam. But there is so much more. Most importantly, ProctorU, the exam facilitator, will perform a thorough check on your space, your monitor, your laptop, and your browser before they start the exam. I found this check to be the most stressful hurdle and very time consuming if you’re not properly prepared. The first time I took the test, it took approximately 40 minutes to conform to their standards. It was extremely stressful; it made it difficult to focus on the exam once it began. Also run the computer and webcam test APMG provides on the portal.

Two Months Prior to the Test

Tip: Take the Preparatory Class

I found Craig Baehr’s preparatory class for the Practitioner exam very helpful. But I recommend taking the class after you have studied and just before you take the exam. His class will help you discover tips for taking the test and possibly uncover areas where you may need to study further. You want this information to be fresh.

1 Day Before the Test

Tip 1: Clear Your Environment

Before you take the exam, the proctor will want to see the desk area and the area that surrounds the desk. You will need the camera on your laptop, monitor, or an external web camera to show them the entire space.

  1. Close all doors – If you’re on the ground level, cover the windows or close the blinds – I have an actual office; but it’s part of a finished lower level with an exterior door and windows. It also has internal doors to other rooms. This made the proctor nervous. I had to close the blinds and all interior doors.
  2. Clear the room – It’s not enough to have your desk cleared. All papers and magazines laying on tables need to be removed from the space even if they’re several yards away from you.
  3. Remove additional monitors/laptops – ProctorU, the test facilitator, allows one monitor and one computer. All additional laptops should be removed from the room. Additional monitors should be turned around or removed from the area.

Tip 2: Setup Your Monitor for Success

I highly recommend using a large monitor. There will be supplements that you will need to reference to answer the questions. Additionally, your body must be positioned within a predefined frame throughout the test.

If you’re using a laptop, you will initially be required to use the laptop monitor. However, there is a workaround. The proctor will allow an external monitor if it’s designated as the primary monitor in your laptop settings and the laptop is set to remain “turned on” when it’s closed. This is important. They will only let you use the external monitor if the laptop is closed and the laptop monitor is turned off. An external keyboard is allowed.

Before you take the exam, the proctor will show you an outline of a torso. It looks like something out of a TV crime scene. Your body must remain positioned in that frame throughout the exam. But you won’t see the frame during the exam. Instead, the proctor will show it to you before the test and watch you through the outline while you sit for the exam. If you move outside the frame, the proctor will stop the test. The proctor may not even tell you why the test was stopped. It won’t start again until you are repositioned inside the frame.

To stay within the frame, you will need to sit tall throughout the exam. This may be difficult if you’re using a small laptop monitor that is not elevated. Additionally, the test has several sections where you will need to reference two extra reading materials to answer the questions. If you’re using a small monitor, you will have to switch the view back and forth between the extra reading materials and the test while sitting tall within the frame. Trust me, this is difficult, especially if your vision is poor. It consumes precious time during the test.

Tip 3: Remove STC Related Material from Your Computer

This may sound like a no brainer, but it’s surprising how much material you can collect over time. Prior to the test, the proctor will scan your computer to check for related material. I highly recommend  transferring all files related to STC and/or Technical Communications to a USB drive or some other external hard drive. I used a 32g USB device.

They will turn off your NVidia card and your VPN service if you have a security package installed, such as Norton. The NVidia card should automatically restart when you restart your computer. You may need to manually turn the VPN service back on after the exam depending upon your settings.

Tip 4: Remove Related STC Bookmarks from Your Browser

Prior to the exam, ProctorU will place a cookie on your computer to track your movements. You will need to change your settings to accept the cookie. Google has an option where you can name the vendor and accept specific cookies from that vendor. I highly recommend removing the cookie after the test.

Make sure all bookmarks to STC or any other Technical Communications material/sites are removed from the browser. This was problematic for me. I have many bookmarks on my professional google account that would be very difficult to recover. However, I discovered a workaround. Either log into a secondary Gmail account or log out of your Google account.

The first time I took the test, I was logged into google through my professional account. I didn’t want to lose the links so I switched to Firefox. This complicated matters because I was taking the exam through a browser that was unfamiliar to me. The second time I took the test, I tried to use Firefox; but it wasn’t compatible due to a Firefox upgrade. I switched back to google chrome. The proctor indicated the exam works better with Google Chrome anyway. But this time, I logged into a secondary Gmail account that was free from STC related bookmarks. It’s my understanding Edge is not compatible. But that may have changed since I took the test.

Exam Day

Tip: Rapid Recall Required

By exam day, you should be able to recall the terms and structures without little thought. I have a master’s degree in Technical and Scientific Communications that I earned many years ago. But we used a different textbook. As I read through Richard Sheehan’s textbook Technical Communications Today, I realized the concepts hadn’t changed and felt quite confident about the exam. After all, I had many years of experience. Wrong…It’s not enough to understand the concepts. You need to memorize the terms and the structures as they are defined in Technical Communications Today. Additionally, you must be able to recall his terns rapidly. If you have to think about it, you may run out of time.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned previously, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You can pass the test with a little careful planning and knowing what to expect. I highly recommend setting up your computer and surrounding environment the day before the test. If there are snafus, you have time to fix it before the exam. Properly setting up your test site and devices before you connect with the proctor will significantly reduce the stress and help you sail through the exam. If you have questions about preparing for the test, you can reach me at

By Mary Ollinger