Doing your best on the CPO® Test

TMI just wrapped up our spring Certified Pool Operator (via the National Swimming Pool Foundation) course. Having been intimately involved in all of our classes since 2007, I’ve come to identify some tell-tale markers than tend to indicate how a student will do on the test. Since I never like to see anyone fail my class, I thought I’d put some tips out there should anyone reading this find themselves preparing for their first CPO® test.


Of course, each CPO® class will be run differently, but in many cases you may receive your book and materials in advance of the class.  We always send books out a minimum of two weeks ahead of the class, and you may want to ask about this before signing up for one. Since the test is open book, it makes sense that you may do better if you are familiar with the material ahead of time. If you do receive your book ahead of time, make the best of it. Sure, it’s not light reading, but even skimming the chapters ahead of time will gain you an advantage in class. You’ll have a better feel for the layout of the chapters and may find that it’s easier to follow along with the instructor in class.


This is my very first CPO® book on the left, and that’s my co-worker’s on the right.

cpo test

See the similarities? That’s because taking notes, highlighting important information, and making tabs can truly make the all the difference on the test. On a timed test, it is critical that you are able to move quickly through the material in the book so that you can move on to the next question. It has been my experience, after many classes, that my students who tab their books and who can effectively use the Index are those who pass the test, and who then can also quickly find that information when needed down the line.

In addition to organizing your book, take a minute before the test to organize your desk space. Pull out the notes and handouts you know you’ll need, such as those that help you through the math, and file the rest into a folder or neat pile. Managing the clutter around you clears your head and allows for more focus on the test.

Time Management:

Time management is crucial. Approach the test with a plan. I advise my students to identify their week spots and to work around them. For many, math seems to be the sticking point. If that’s the case, identify the math questions and finish them first. This allows you to give them more time and focus while leaving your “easier” questions for later on. Conversely, you may choose to finish all of your “easy” questions right off the bat, freeing the rest of your time for the more time consuming ones. Instructors can tell when a student began to lose control of the test due to time stress. When the first 1-1.5 pages don’t have a single missed question but slowly give way to more and more wrong answers, it isn’t hard to see that the student began to rush as time ran out. Don’t let that happen to you. Have a plan as to how you want to approach the test and pay attention to the clock. Don’t find yourself with 20 questions left to finish and less than 30 minutes to go.

Resource Utilization:

I’m not talking about using your book or the handouts you receive, although those are certainly important. No, in this case, I’m talking about me, your instructor. Your instructor is probably your greatest resource in that classroom. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Far too often I can tell after grading tests that people did, in fact, have questions that went unanswered. I don’t know if this is a case of classroom confidence that dissolves under test stress, or they are unwilling to speak up while amongst peers. Either way, don’t let that happen to you! Ask questions. Ask for one on one explanation. Ask for additional demonstrations. Just ask.

CPO® Instructors became instructors because we want there to be more Certified Pool Operators running public and private pools. We want to see an educated workforce in the aquatic industry. We want you to walk away knowing more than you did when you came in the door and we want you to pass. If you happen to be preparing to take a CPO® course, hopefully these tips will help you approach the test with less stress and more confidence.