Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Customs Broker Examination, Ch. 01, Pt. 01: Causes of Failure

The following is an excerpt of The Customs Broker Examination, by Scott Warren Taylor and Andrew Moxon. This book is a part of the Customs Broker Exam Preparation Course from Boskage Commerce Publications. We'll be posting a large excerpt here, with new posts every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Click here if you want to read the whole book right away.


Part 1: Why Most People Fail the Customs Broker Examination

The Customs Broker Examination (CBE) can be a long and arduous exam, generally 80 questions and four hours long. The test is given in a quiet examination room. Test takers are usually allowed a desk, a pencil, a calculator and printed material, including notes and reference materials.

Few people pass the CBE – a pass rate below 10 percent is not uncommon, and one higher than 20 percent is rare. That means that, on any given examination day, it is likely that out of ten students seeking a license, nine will leave the examination room without a passing score. But what is perhaps even more phenomenal is that of the 1 in 10 that are likely to pass, most have failed the test before. They pass on the second, third, or fourth attempts.

Causes of Failure, as Stated by the Student

There are perhaps as many reasons for failing the CBE as there are students attempting to pass. However, as you can see by looking at the most common reasons given for failure, there are some predictable problems:


Quite common for first time test takers who may, nearly on a whim, use one or two prior tests and a few hours of study as preparation for the CBE. Their first encounter is shocking and sobering at the same time. Typically, this student will decide that the test is either not passable or not worth the effort. For this student, the first attempt is often the last attempt. For a smaller percentage of those who fail the first time, the failure serves as motivation to take more time preparing: study harder, seek help, and take a lot more practice examinations without sneaking a peek at the answers (which gives a false sense of knowledge).

The best way for the student to gauge readiness for the CBE is to take several previous CBE's under controlled conditions. This means carefully timing the test-taking period and using only the resource materials allowed in the examination room when taking the practice test. If none of the practice scores are below 75 percent and the average score is in the 80-percent range, the student can walk confidently into the examination room on test day. Anything less is questionable preparation. If you have purchased this book as part of our Study Plan, the last six exams are available as part of our software.


This catchall excuse is really a variation of the above justification. “I didn’t have enough time to study” often means, “I didn’t realize how much study was involved.” Confront the difficulty of the CBE and you will either find the time for adequate preparation, or will simply retract the license application in anticipation of a time when more preparation time will be available. The test is so demanding that unless a student is prepared and able to allocate 100 or more hours of preparation toward study, drill, and memorization, the chances of success are very small.


When a student sits for the CBE, it is often at the request of an employer. Employer decisions often can lag behind need and are made as a result of an existing problem instead of being made in anticipation of a problem. Hence, at a time when the company is increasing business or broadening its services, the employed student must allocate additional time to prepare for the CBE. This two-hammered demand is a common element in failure.


Because a number of months must be dedicated to preparing for the CBE, and because few students can exclusively devote their time to preparation, personal demands frequently interfere. True failure of this kind is rare, however, and this justification for failure serves most often as a comforting excuse.


The final cause of failure is the least-often admitted: that the materials themselves – the U.S. Customs Regulations, related trade and tariff acts, and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) – were simply too difficult for the student to comprehend. Soon after reviewing the material, most students conclude that it is the volume of material, not the level of difficulty, that impedes comprehension. Most students believe that if they can find the time and materials to help them prepare, they can pass the test. The few students who cite reason number five as the cause of failure are often students for whom English is a second language or those who are far removed from school and therefore are not accustomed to study and testing.

But there is another cause of failure, one that is rarely stated, and one that, once comprehended, can be avoided.

This concludes today's excerpt from The Customs Broker Examination.

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