Your ABO exam is coming up in just three months. The weeks are ticking by. So…how should you study? WHAT should you study? Should you buy one of those exam-prep packages? Which one should you buy?

Choosing a Study Plan for ABO Certification

There are lots of options out there for ABO exam preparation, and lots of price ranges. You can purchase an all-in-one study manual, a series of study booklets, a set of flash cards, or a textbook. There are also sophisticated study programs that come equipped with CD’s, DVD’s, and matching workbooks. Those tend to be pricey.

Or you might luck out and be working for a company that provides their own study program, or be apprenticed to an optician who takes complete care of your education. Barring that, you could always borrow somebody’s old notes (many people have used mine over the years!) or buy someone’s used test-prep program.

We recommend taking a lot of practice tests. As many, and as varied, as you can!

Exam-Prep Systems for ABO Study

The beauty of a complete, all-in-one exam prep system is that they tend to be easy to use. The makers of these programs seek to simplify things for you. There are lots of illustrations, plenty of “rules of thumb” you can memorize, exercises to help you practice the math, and a glossary of necessary optical terms.

A good exam prep program will show you JUST what you need to know to pass your Certification exam, knowledge you won’t get from the on-the-job experience. After buying one you may discover a lot of things you HAVE to know that you never even saw before! This may even be the first time you’ve seen all the formulas!

If you use a first class exam prep program, you do have an excellent chance of passing your ABO. If you use it properly and study very hard, that is. If you tend to test well, you don’t have to worry. But if you don’t…

The Downside to Exam Prep Systems

Ironically, the very simplicity of these study guides is also their greatest weakness. Opthalmic Optics is a big field. A great big complicated field. There is a LOT of material that might make it on to your ABO exam that WON’T be included in your study package. These guides try to give you “Opticianry in a nutshell,” and it doesn’t all fit. A lot of material is glossed over or condensed, leaving out much of the detail. Many things deemed “common optical knowledge” aren’t covered at all. I’ve encountered more than one trainee, from totally different companies, that had never heard the term CR39! It wasn’t in their training manual!

What you get in a classic exam-prep package is the basics, JUST ENOUGH to get you a 70%, which is all you need to pass. If you learn everything the study program teaches and get those questions exactly right on your Optical Board Exam, you will receive that coveted 70% and get your certification or license.

But what if you make a mistake? Much of our field requires math computation, and careless math errors are common. If you only know enough to get a 70, one or two mistakes could put you at 68 or 69. You would fail. Then, you would have to wait another 6 months to take the test again, and you would have to PAY AGAIN. It happens all the time.

The fact that all you need for the ABO is a 70 and the national pass rate is only 63% tells a very sad story. It means that many of those that pass are probably only just passing and a significant number of those that take the test are failing.

In the last seven years I have met an appalling number of apprentices who have missed the ABO by one point, and many missed by 1 or 2 points several times in a row! These trainees had exam prep resources. I even bought one of those expensive ABO training packages for the office and our apprentices still failed. Many giant corporations give in-house on-line training for their apprentices with much the same result. In fact, the latest trend at the ABO/NCLE is not to give the raw score at all, just a simple pass or fail! The reason is obvious.

So, if you need to pass the ABO (or the NCLE) what should you do?

Shoot for an A, not for a C!

The best strategy for ABO test preparation

If you are taking ANY test, and you NEED to pass that test, the best strategy is to study to WIN. In a complicated quasi-medical field like opticianry, it should be taken for granted that a qualifying exam (for which you have to shell out over $200!) is not going to be easy. The fact that the test still has only a 63% pass rate means that there is no one easy, quick-study, “guaranteed to make you pass” method that will work for everybody.

So use more than one! Yes, get a comprehensive test-prep program. Get it used, if possible. This will give you a good overview of general optical knowledge, and just enough info that might get you a 70.

But don’t stop there. What you really need is a good TEXT BOOK that goes beyond the basics. There will be questions on your ABO that don’t look like the sample ones in your test-prep package, questions that require you to interpret information differently from how you were taught. There will be unconventional questions, questions concerning archaic products, and questions that are far more technical than any simple test-prep manual can prepare you for. One unsuccessful trainee reported to me that they had a question concerning a “c-guage.” It wasn’t in the test-prep package, their office didn’t have one (I don’t know any office that does!) and they were certain that was the question that lost them their 70. Had they used a textbook they might have gotten it.

The text I recommend is System for Opthalmic Dispensing by Brooks and Borish. Opticians and optometrists have been using this book for decades. Get the 2007 edition. It has the latest ANSI updates! Anything printed before that will not be correct. Read the book and compare what’s in it with your test-prep package. I even recommend keeping the book after you get certified. By all means pass on your study-prep manual to the next optical applicant, but keep this book! If you stay in this field you are almost guaranteed to run into some odd optical problem that needs you to reference something in it.

Finally, to round out your ABO test preparation, you should take practice tests. LOTS of them. I recommend my own Here you will have the opportunity to take multiple practice exams, each with different questions, and all with answers and explanations, that will help you get ready for your ABO!