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By Lisa Oliveri, CPP, PCI

After I passed the ASIS International Professional Certified Investigator (PCI) certification exam earlier this month, I had a number of people reach out to ask about how I prepared for the exam, how I sat for the exam, and any tips that could help them study. 

The following outlines how I prepared for the PCI exam. I hope it is useful to others who are pursuing the certification:

Study Materials

I only used the study materials listed above to prepare for the exam and I did not participate in any formal study groups or preparation courses. 

Study Strategy

I started studying about three months prior to the date I was scheduled to take the exam.  The majority of my reading and studying took place on the weekends and I read the materials in the following order. Here are some tips and notes about each of the study materials:

1.    ASIS International PCI Study Guide

  • I read the guide and took the first practice test to gauge my exam preparedness. I strongly recommend that you follow the authors’ advice and mark your answers on a separate piece of paper because re-taking the practice tests was a key part of my preparation. I waited to take the other two practice tests until I had completed more studying.
  • The study guide is not cheap ($99 for ASIS members), but it is full of helpful tips (for example, not spending too much time on Chapter 7: Canadian Law of Evidence in the PIM) and the practice questions are invaluable. 
  • No disrespect to the study guide authors, but I did not follow their recommendation to type out multiple pages of content that I needed to review and then whittle that down to two pages while mastering the PIM and standard content. While that approach may work for many, I knew it wouldn’t be the most effective way for me to learn the material. 
  • I highlighted content that I was less familiar with per the study guide’s advice, but I also made a mark by the page numbers in the PIM and standard so that I could quickly recognize that there was something on that page that I needed to review again. Additionally, I had the ASIS PCI flash cards to help review all of the main points in the PIM and standard.

2.    Professional Investigator’s Manual (PIM)

  • I read this once and used the highlighting system I mentioned above to note concepts that I needed to review. 
  • I tried to set goals of chapters or a number of pages that I wanted to complete on a given day. However, if a chapter was particularly long or detailed (for example, Chapter 6: Evidence) or if I was tired, I would stop studying and take a break. 
  • Admittedly, I did not read Chapter 7: Canadian Law of Evidence.
  • After I read the PIM, I took the first and second practice tests together in the PCI Study Guide. 

3.    ASIS International Investigations Standard

  • I read this once and used the same highlighting system I used in the PIM, but I found that there were fewer terms or concepts that I needed to review again after I read the PIM.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the terms and definitions in the standard.
  • After I read the Investigations Standard, I took the last practice test in the PCI Study Guide.

4.    ASIS International PCI Flash Cards

  • Having the ASIS flash cards was a big help in reviewing main concepts and definitions in the three PCI domains. They are large, numbered, and organized by domain. I reviewed all of the cards and made two piles within each domain: cards that I answered confidently and cards that I knew I needed to review again. I reviewed all of the flash cards at least three times before I took the exam.
  • I know several colleagues who made their own PCI flash cards as they read the materials, so I wouldn’t worry if you cannot get a set of these specific ASIS cards. I would just take into account the extra time you may need to make your own study cards.

PCI Study Guide Practice Tests

  • The PCI Study Guide contains three practice tests. After each practice test, I took note of key words and concepts that I needed to review further, particularly if I got an answer wrong. I made note of acronyms and Latin terms that I needed to research, and this paid off when I took the exam. 
  • ASIS also offers a few PCI practice test questions.

Remote Testing, Room Preparation, and Prometric Experience

  • On July 31, 2020, ASIS announced that it was offering remotely proctored exams (check their frequently asked questions about remotely proctored exams)
  • I registered to take the exam remotely and set up the room that I was going to take the exam in about three weeks in advance. I tried to clear out as many items in the room as I could so that it would expedite the check-in process. I also took the second and third practice exams in that room to get used to the testing environment (lighting, temperature, etc.).
  • I purchased a separate webcam because I thought it was required but was told by the proctor that it wasn’t necessary if you are using a laptop with a functional webcam. This was fortunate for me because the new webcam I had purchased (Logitech C270 3MP 1280 x 720 pixels) had poor resolution and made it impossible for the proctor to confirm my identification via passport and driver’s license. The proctor instructed me to log out of the Prometric system, unplug the webcam, and log in again using the built-in webcam on the laptop. I did this and had another proctor successfully walk me through the remainder of the check-in process, which was comprehensive. 

Tip: Make sure the webcam you are using has adequate resolution so that the proctor can clearly read your forms of identification otherwise they will not let you sit for the exam.

  • You will need to show every corner of the room, under your table and chair, and they will do a scan of your person as detailed in the Prometric user guideThe check-in process took about 20-25 minutes.
  • The proctors are watching and listening the entire time. Even though you’re in your own home or office, you are not allowed to read or speak out loud. I was told by the proctor that if any proctor can hear you reading aloud, they will end your exam.
  • The proctors I interacted with were very kind and professional. They were attentive and very timely in answering questions via the “chat” feature once I started the exam. 
  • Having taken an ASIS certification exam in person at a Prometric testing center and remotely, I prefer the remotely proctored exam. 

Other Tips and Notes

  • Even though I didn’t join a PCI study group, I spoke with colleagues who had successfully passed the PCI exam and asked about their preparation strategies. I also found a colleague who was studying for the PCI exam at the same time I was, and we had ongoing conversations about our study strategy, lessons learned, and kept encouraging each other to keep studying and reading.
  • The day before my exam, I took all three practice exams in the prepped room. I reviewed my list of terms and highlighted pages of the PIM and I gave the PCI flash cards one last review. I made sure to get a decent night’s sleep because my exam was scheduled for 8 am the next morning.
  • On the day of the exam, I made sure I ate breakfast and wore comfortable clothes without pockets (to expedite the check-in process).
  • As soon as my exam started, I utilized the online “scratchpad” to type a few notes and concepts that I wanted to ensure I could refer back to. I added to this list of notes as I went through the exam and it was a good use of my time.
  • I utilized all but 3 and a half minutes of the time allocated for the exam. I left myself about 40 minutes to review all of my answers and I did not take any breaks.

I hope that you found this article helpful and best of luck to all of the future PCIs! Please feel free to reach out with any questions or to connect on LinkedIn.