CMPP™ and me

I didn’t want to jinx myself by writing this too far in advance, but much like a hastily prepared Oscars speech, I decided to put something together just in case I got my moment on the podium. And after a torturous 8-week wait, I finally discovered that I’d earned my official Certified Medical Publication Professional accreditation (or See-Map, to those of us in the biz), awarded by the International Society for Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP), back in May.

That is to say, I PASSED THE EXAM! I wanted to take a quick moment to jot down some practical advice for anyone looking to gain accreditation before getting back to tackling all things publication related here at Word Monster HQ. And now that the next examination window is almost upon us, it seemed like the perfect time to share, so here goes…!

1. Check your eligibility status

Much like a swanky nightclub where not everyone makes the cut, ISMPP have strict criteria about who is and isn’t eligible to take the CMPP™ exam. I won’t bore you by listing them all out (and frankly, I don’t want to obliterate my word count) but you can read the full criteria here. In a nutshell, you need to have at least 2−3 years’ experience in publications for eligibility and to prepare you for tackling the exam questions!

2. You’ve got to be in it to win it

This might sound obvious, but it was actually the part I found the hardest. CMPP™ accreditation has always been something I wanted to achieve as part of my med comms journey, but when the opportunity came to make it a reality, I’ll admit it, I choked a little. Ok, maybe a lot. After months of deliberation and talking myself in and out of it, I finally registered myself to sit the exam on the very last day of the registration window. Talk about down to the wire! It took a lot of psyching myself up (think Rocky montage) before I was finally ready to accept that not going for it was the same as failing. From that moment on, I vowed to be all in. It was a big commitment, but I wanted to give it absolutely everything I had or else die trying.

For anyone interested, you can only sit the exam twice a year in March or September, after pre-registering at least 4 weeks in advance of the testing window. To take the test in September 2023, register on or before 7th August 2023. Once you’ve got yourself into the right mindset, you just have to go for it!

3. Plan, plan, plan

Believe me when I say that the test date can come round quicker than your Nan hurtling through Aldi’s ‘Special Buys’ aisle! I deliberately picked a test date on the very last day of the testing window to prolong my agony give myself as much time as possible to prepare. But getting started is daunting, especially when you first clap eyes on the ISMPP reading lists (I’ll get to that part in a minute)! That’s where the planning comes in.

Before you do anything, make a realistic plan for fitting in revision. I have children, so my time after work was limited and I had to take more of a “little and often” approach. I studied in short bursts each evening and some weekends over 3−4 months, with longer sessions where I could fit them in.

I was also extremely lucky that Word Monster allowed me to fit study time around client work. I downloaded and saved all my intended reading materials and then worked from my iPad. Each time I read something, I would annotate and save in a folder marked “Read”. This really helped me mentally, as I could see the “Still to Read” folder dwindling down and the “Read” folder gradually filling up. And having everything saved on my iPad meant I could literally continue my reading on the go, or whenever I found myself with a spare 5−10 mins.

Once I had my revision plan, I worked out how much time I had from registering to actually sitting the exam, then I planned targets for how far I needed to have progressed through the reading lists at certain key dates. Doing all this meant I knew I was on track to get through it all.

4. ISMPP is your leader now

The ISMPP website has a critical reading list to help you with exam prep. It covers three main themes: developing a publication plan, implementing a publication plan, and fostering ethical and compliant behaviour in publications. Read it all. Twice. Then read it again. Oh, and just for fun, they also have an additional reading list and a list of useful websites…. Read those too.

This might seem exhaustive but focus on the positives. Rather than having to stumble round in the dark looking for a needle in a big old haystack, your reading is already somewhat targeted (thanks ISMPP!). Use the provided resources as a guide for the minimum reading you need to do, and then springboard off that to fill in any gaps in your knowledge with a little extra bedtime revision. You’ll find that you already know so much more than you think from your day-to-day publications experience!

And if you’re still thirsty for more, ISMPP also have some great additional resources for members, such as webinars, Q&A threads, and access to some of the sessions from their annual meetings. I was lucky enough to have been able to attend the Annual European ISMPP meeting in person in January 2023 and it was EPIC! I would highly recommend attending an ISMPP meeting in preparation for your exam, if you can. Being part of the conversation around key issues helps everything you’re reading click into place, and provides insight into cutting edge industry thinking, which might not be captured in the reading list. And since we’re on that note…

5. The publications world keeps turning

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the industry will hit pause while you revise and sit your exam. The med comms industry, particularly publications, is evolving rapidly. From AI and ChatGPT, to digital content and patient involvement, it’s important to keep an eye on emerging trends and how they might affect current guidelines. And make sure that any resources that you lean on for revision haven’t been recently updated (yes GPP 2022 guidelines, I’m talking about you!).

Live webinars are a brilliant opportunity to ask an expert about anything that’s changed, or about areas of compliance that are just too complex to wrap your head round. They also offer a much-needed break from endless reading! Peter Llewellyn provides a great range of free weekly webinars, covering many of the most recent trends in med comms – if you don’t already follow him on LinkedIn, start now!

6. Network as if your life depends on it

OK so this sort of links to the point above but you will get amazing support (and knowledge!) if you expand your network by reaching out to people who have either sat the CMPP™ exam already or who are in the same boat as you. Talk to them about their experiences and lean on their expertise. I’m not too proud to admit that I reached out to a few of my LinkedIn connections in the build up to the exam, in need of a few well-placed words of encouragement. Thankfully, there are a lot of brilliant people in our industry willing to help. Getting trigger happy with the LinkedIn “connect” button also meant I had access to a great network of thought leaders and pioneers in the med comms community, who I could observe and learn from just by following their posts.

7. All about the self-love

Working towards your CMPP™ accreditation can be a huge undertaking. At times it can feel impossible, overwhelming, and frankly, just too much on top of work and life pressures. There were some nights where, after a long day at work, I’d need to look after a poorly 5-year-old or referee bickering teens, leaving me the mental stamina for only 5−10 minutes of revision. But that’s ok. Sometimes you can only do what you can do. Just make sure to show up the next day prepared to try your best. Make sure you continue to carve out a little time for the things you enjoy, like sports, time with loved ones, or a good boxset. In short: eat, sleep, and play well, and be kind to yourself. Treat this as a marathon, not a sprint.

8. Preparing for battle

So, before we get to the actual day itself, let’s chat about the final weeks/days before your exam. During this time, you’ll receive an email from Pearson’s Test Centre (or equivalent, depending on where you’re located), giving you the low-down on everything you need to do before the exam and on the day itself from a logistical perspective. Pay attention to this email – their requirements are a little regimented! I had to order a new driver’s licence with my married name weeks in advance to ensure that my photo ID exactly matched the name I’d registered with.

Make yourself a short checklist of everything you need to have with you on the day, then tick it off on the morning of the exam. And it might seem obvious, but plan your route, including where you’ll park. If you miss your test slot because you’re late, they may not allow you to sit your exam. That means all your months of hard work potentially down the drain, along with your test fee! If you’re taking the test online, make sure you’re fully clued up on what system requirements you might need before you try to log in to the test portal. You do not need your laptop to suddenly start to crash because of a “vital” update that’ll take 2,467 minutes to complete. There’s also a load of handy information in the ISMPP CMPP™ Candidate handbook to help you prepare in those final stages.

9. D-Day’s here

After all the blood, sweat, and tears, the big day is finally here! By this point, I was a dizzying mix of nerves and pure “Eye of the Tiger” vibes. I knew I’d worked as hard as I could, and I was ready to smash it by this point. Come exam day, you’ve done all the studying you can do, so no last-minute

cramming in the car. Instead, focus on getting your head in the game and putting on your best “I can, and I will” mindset, even if you have to fake it!

The exam is taken on a computer screen, and you have to answer 150 multiple-choice questions over 3 hours, no breaks. So you need a calm, clear focus to get you through. Oh, and if you want to pass, you need to score around 80% – no pressure! The good thing is that your answers are not locked down until you click the “submit test” button at the end. Before that, you can flick back and forth between questions, leave some blank, change answers, and place electronic flags on questions that you want to go over again.

I chose to go through all the questions, answering what I could as a first pass, and flagging any I wasn’t immediately sure of. I didn’t allow myself more than a minute to mull over each one before moving on. Thankfully, there were a few I knew the answers to within seconds. When I got to the end, I still had a reasonable amount of time spare to go back and look at the questions I’d flagged. This time round, I spent a little longer on the flagged questions until I could answer with as little doubt as possible.

After that, I still had some time left so I used this as bonus time. I went right back to the beginning and reread every single answer, checking I was still happy with my choice. When I was right in the thick of the exam with beads of sweat trickling down my forehead, my head momentarily went and that’s when the negative self-talk started to creep in. Taking a calm moment to go back through everything at the end made me realise there were only a few answers I wasn’t 100% confident on. This gave me a huge boost that I’d given it my absolute best. Only then did I hit the big red atomic “SUBMIT TEST” button.

10. The epilogue

What comes after the test is a 6−8 week for your results. It feels brutally long and a bit anti-climactic, but it is what is… a waiting game. Use the time to keep on top of your knowledge and to reflect on what you can bring from your training into your current role. Educate others around you if you can. The commitment you make to the industry when you undertake the CMPP™ exam is one of continual learning, so embrace that spirit now that you have free time on your hands again. And if you find out that you weren’t successful in passing the exam first-time round, re-sit in the next testing window. Not only will you have retained a lot of the reading, you’ll also get a considerable discount if you resit within 6 months! It’s not a wasted journey even if it takes a little longer to pass the actual exam.

So that’s my 10 steps for CMPP™ success. I hope this is helpful but if you decide to jump on the CMPP™ train and suddenly find yourself hurtling into the unknown, find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to offer any practical help that I can. And at the very least, I can always recommend a good boxset for those self-care/distraction moments we talked about!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to being able to use my spangly new CMPP™ qualification to be able to offer the best all-round publications service to our wonderful Word Monster clients and to our future clients, who we can’t wait to meet.

Good luck – you’ve got this!