The American Board of Opticianry (ABO) now offers their certification exam (NOCE) four times a year. But what, exactly, should you be studying?

Those of you enrolled in a college program don’t really have to worry about it. Your curriculum is based upon the exams you need to take to get certified. It is all of you who are NOT going to school, and are studying on the job, who might be up in the air a bit.

Considering the current pass rate for the Opticianry exam, it really seems that a sizable majority are studying on their own. Most of the time this is done by borrowing somebody’s book or notes, or purchasing a correspondence course.

I have supervised the training of many opticians over the last 28 years, and very few of the trainees I’ve met had paid for a correspondence course. Most borrowed books (and we were happy to lend them!) or used whatever notes we still had from our college days. Sometimes that was all it took. Recently, however, these efforts don’t seem to be good enough. More and more applicants seem to need more than one try at the NOCE. With all the study material out there, both in print, and on-line, this is an alarming trend.

So let’s go over what sort of knowledge you actually need. According to the American Board of Opticianry:

34% of the exam is devoted to Opthalmic Optics:

      • terminology
      • Rx interpretation
      • lens characteristics
      • lens powers and formulas
      • multifocals
      • lens materials
      • prism

23% concerns Opthalmic Products:

      • frames
      • lenses
      • applying product knowledge
      • recognizing specific product application
      • verifying frame and lens parameters and other physical characteristics

16% has to do with Instrumentation:

      • use of lens power measuring devices
      • select opthalmic tools, instruments, and equipment

7% deals with Ocular Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology:

      • structure of the eye and function
      • refractive errors

In future articles I will do my best to break down these individual categories into more specifics. At present, though, I want to point out that the percentages given by the ABO do not equal 100%.

34% + 23% + 16% + 7% = 80%

Either that means that the percentages given are wrong, there will be 20% “other” content in the exam, or that the percentages given are sort of a basic foundation with the last 20% of the questions being drawn from any or all of the categories.

That means that Anatomy and Physiology doesn’t HAVE to constitute just 7% of the test questions! The other 20% could be drawn from that category. It wouldn’t be a good idea to look at the table provided by the ABO and dismiss Anatomy as being unimportant simply because it was assigned a mere 7% of content value!

The truth is that EVERY QUESTION COUNTS.

Now, if you know the basics of the profession: Prentice’s Rule, interpreting and transposing prescriptions, ANSI standards, and Corrected Curve theory, etc, you might just slide by with a “C” grade. After all, all you need is a score of 70%, right?

Yet, it is really amazing how many people I’ve met in recent years who have failed to get that 70% by 1-2 points. Imagine losing a test you only need a “C” on by 1 point! But it’s happened time and time again.

Just ONE question could mean the difference between getting your certification or having to wait another 6 months before trying again. That question could have been about anatomy, some frame material which is currently not in vogue, or some obscure optical tool like a “C” gauge. Hey, for want of “C” gauge, you might not get your “C” grade.

Best not to shoot for a “C” at all.

Better to shoot for an “A”! Instead of aiming for a “near pass” try to “ACE” your test. That way, if you do make mistakes (and we all do!) you’ll have some “wiggle room” which could insure a comfortable pass. If you are shooting for a 90%, and you’ll only drop below a 80%, not the 70% you desperately need.

And how should you study? Take advantage of every avenue available! Practice exams are especially helpful. There are a number of practice test opportunities. Most of your text books and correspondence courses have a set pf practice questions at the end of each chapter or section. Continuing education courses also have a set of questions at the end.

The practice tests available on go several steps further. Instead of one, static set of questions, there are THOUSANDS of questions in the database. You won’t get the same slab-off question you had before, or the same focal length question. And if you choose, you can not only view the answers to the questions you got wrong, but read explanations that teach you why the right answer is correct and why the other answers are wrong. Each practice exam is a learning experience, and they are practically unlimited.

Any way you study, keep at it! Your goal of certification is worth it.