Create Good Habits for CEBS Success: Top Tips to Study Smarter From International Foundation Staff

To learn about all things related to employee benefits and provide the best possible education for members, many International Foundation staff pursue the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist® (CEBS®) designation. It’s a life changing learning experience that helps you gain a comprehensive understanding of the employee benefits industry.  Small, repeatable good study habits will help you absorb and retain new content and connect it to the big picture of the employee benefits landscape. As you apply what you’re learning to your work, you’ll embark on a learning journey that’s uniquely your own, transforming your career trajectory.

Below is a little advice from International Foundation staff on earning the CEBS designation and maximizing your professional development.

“I made index cards of important Key Terms and read them aloud multiple times.”

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS, Senior Editor Publications,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“I know there are a lot of thoughts on what that ‘one’ thing is that will help you pass the test!  While I can’t offer you the silver bullet, I’ll share what made me successful with every exam that I took.  First, be kind to yourself.  Celebrate the fact that you’re looking to stand out!  You’ve just tackled a lot of material and what you’ve learned during the many hours of preparation.  Second, literally picture yourself getting the pass notification on the exam.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your first exam or your last one—Capture and remember the smile that’s on your face and everything you’ve accomplished!”

Linda Bielski, CEBS, Executive Director CEBS/ISCEBS,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“Make sure you take the practice exams – they help reinforce and test your knowledge of the content and get you comfortable with the testing format!”

Terry Davidson, CEBS, Chief Executive Officer,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“I learn best by note-taking. Not only does note-taking make me think about and rephrase things in a way that makes more sense to me, but also the physical act of writing something seems to reinforce the concept and engrain it in my brain. So, I took notes in the margins of my Study Guide. When I was done with the entire course, I typed all those handwritten notes into a document. This gave me further reinforcement of concepts, and then I had a shorter study aid.

I also found the Online Study Groups very helpful. Access to the instructors notes, quizzes and flash cards were incredibly helpful. In many cases, the instructors explained the concepts in ways that stuck in my brain and helped me understand better than the textbook for the course.

Finally, ALWAYS take the practice exam! It will point you to the items you need to study up on more when you’re prepping for the test.”

Amanda Gilszmer, CEBS, Sr. Video Editor Producer,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“I took the practice exam repeatedly until I could explain and understand not only the right answer, but why all of the wrong answers were wrong.”

Teri Dougherty, CEBS, Supervisor, Content Services, LLC,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“• Be overly detailed in your study plan (e.g., cover one module per week). Vague goals make for poor results.

• Use multiple study avenues to reinforce concepts (create flash cards and Word documents, view the digital study guide, etc.)

• Create flash cards with basic terminology. Then you can cover those topics when completing other daily tasks.

• Break study time into small chunks. Instead of cramming for hours over the weekend, add an hour of study time to each workday.”

Justin Held, CEBS, Associate Director, Research and Education,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“I’ve always found it helpful to study right before going to bed. It seems like information sticks better if it’s the last thing in your brain before sleeping.

Take the practice exam a day or two before testing. Being fully prepared for the practice exam is a great way to boost your confidence and discover if there are any topics you need to review one last time.”

Jonas Leyrer, CEBS, Instructional Designer,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“When I made flash cards, on the front I’d write a question and on the back, I’d write the answer. On the front, I’d also note the chapter/section, so it was easier to re-read information.

I also found it helped me to read out loud. Sometimes my husband would help me study. When I took the test, I could imagine him asking me questions and telling me the answer. Other times, I’d read the textbook out loud to myself. After my youngest was born, I would read to her while we snuggled. It helped put her to sleep and help mom finish up U.S. GBA/RPA 3!”

Jen Mathe, CEBS, Director of Member Services, ISCEBS

“Don’t make it harder than it is. Once you have taken one CEBS exam, you will understand the process and have a better understanding of how to study for the rest. The worst you will do is fail a test.  Nobody’s life is riding on that. That’s just gaining experience.”

Barb Pamperin, CEBS, Instructional Technologist,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“My best study tip is to create flash cards of the Learning Objectives and Key Terms within each Learning Objective for each module of the Study Guide. 

I would go through the stack of flash cards, and if I felt that I could say all that I needed to about a topic, I would put the card in a ‘done’ pile. A week or so prior to the exam, I would review all of them and pull any flash cards I was really struggling with to spend extra time studying the content on the last few days leading up to the exam.”

Laura Scholz, CEBS, Manager, Continuing Education,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans 

“When studying, I focused on my notes, the highlights in the Study Guide (Outline of Knowledge, Learning Objectives and Key Terms) and the practice exam.

I made sure I really understood what was in the Study Guide. I did carefully read the book, but I focused on the Study Guide because I felt that reflected what the course developers thought was most important to know.”

Julie Stich, CEBS, Vice President, Content,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“My first tip is, the list of Key Terms in each module of the Study Guide is your vocab test from high school. Write out the definition of each term in your own words, and if you have an example of it from your own experience, noting that can help, too. Focusing on the Key Terms was a big part of my success, especially for course content that I had little to no practical experience with.

My second tip is believing that you can do this! Be confident and reward yourself along the way!”

Erika Turner, CEBS, Director Professional Development,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“Throughout the course, I dedicated several hours each Sunday afternoon to reading the modules and reviewing the study guide questions. Once I got through all the modules, about two weeks before my testing date, I took the practice exam.

I never tested well on that first run, but that didn’t bother me. The practice exam would queue up how I did on each module, and there was always a pattern—There were a few modules that I performed spectacularly badly on. I would go back and read those pages, often explaining the concept out loud to my faithful study partner, Greta James Van Wonderpants. (She totally got it.) Then I’d take the practice exam again. I’d usually do much better the second time, but I would still trip on the more abstract concepts. These I would write out in longhand. The physical act of writing helped cement the correct answers in my mind.”

Stacy Van Alstyne, CEBS, Director, Strategic Communications,
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“My study tip is to use the Outline of Knowledge to create flash cards you can use to study. I find that creating flash cards is almost as beneficial as using them leading up to the exam. Also, remember to use the practice exam to prep for the real thing! It’s a great way to get you ready for the exam experience.”

Carey Wooton, CEBS, Director, Educational Program Development, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

“On a colorful index card or sheet of paper, list the reasons why you would like to earn the CEBS designation and what you would like to learn more about. Before I worked at the International Foundation, I was a Spanish instructor. Here I was aspiring to speak another language—the language of employee benefits. I hoped the CEBS designation would help me gain, ‘Credibility, Excellence, Benefits knowledge, Strategic vision,’ and that’s exactly what my learning unlocked for me. Define what the four letters C-E-B-S mean for you! Place your inspiration card somewhere where you can see it every day and even frame it if you would like to. Remembering your ‘why’ will carry you forward every day of your learning journey, inspiring you to make progress one page at a time, one course at a time.”

Christine Vazquez, CEBS, Director, CEBS Educational Services, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

Visit CEBS online for information about purchasing course materials, signing up for an Online Study Group, virtual exams and more details on the program.