Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2001   by Jim Anderton

Are you ready?

A little preparation will help you ace your ASE's

As March draws to a close, technicians across Canada are preparing for a test that’s becoming a seasonal ritual: ASE exams. For those few technicians who aren’t aware of ASE, it’s a certification program run by the U.S.-based National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Successful completion of one of the eight tests, combined with two years of hands-on work experience qualifies for certification and those who pass all eight earn the title “ASE Master Automobile Technician”. Certifications last five years, with recertification testing available at regular test dates and sites. The primary advantages to ASE certification is the ability to demonstrate competence and skill against a continent-wide standard, both to employers (current and prospective) and to customers.

The tests cover auto/light truck technology in eight areas:

Engine repair

Automatic transmission/transaxle

Manual transmission/driveline

Suspension and steering


Electrical/electronic systems

Heating and A/C

Engine performance

Questions are multiple choice, and are based on real diagnostic and repair procedures. ASE testing checks a technician’s ability, not “book-knowledge”, so don’t expect to see theoretical questions. There are between 40 and 70 questions in total, answered in a sessions lasting four hours and 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time to complete several exams.

Test taking tips

If you’re an experienced technician, it’s probably been some time since you “sat for exams” and if you’re like most of us, it wasn’t a comfortable experience. The ASE experience doesn’t have to be difficult, especially given the ample time allotted for the tests and the practical nature of the material. Some tactics, however, can help make the test a breeze. The obvious first step is preparation. Multiple choice questions can sometimes seem to be a confusing riddle, but they aren’t designed to cheat the technician.

Naturally, you’ve taken practice tests and know your stuff, but what about preparation for the test event itself? Small things count if you’re feeling a little nervous, so strategize a little on the things you don’t normally consider in the shop.

First, to perform well, you must be comfortable, so if sitting for a protracted period of time causes pain or discomfort, consider a cushion or pillow for your seat. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, and with your back as straight as is comfortable. Believe it or not, your grade school teacher’s admonition to “sit up straight” does help, and if you’re one of the half of all adults that has some form of lower back pain, it beats squirming in your seat while you try to concentrate. A good night’s sleep is a good idea, as is the avoidance of alcohol the night before. Compare your intake of caffinated beverages such as coffee and colas with the capacity of your bladder, since the middle of the test is no time to visit the washroom. Do use the facilities before the test. If you wear contact lenses, another good idea is to bring solution, a case and backup eyeglasses. If there’s a problem, you can quickly remove the lenses and use your glasses.

Comfortable clothes are a must, as is a plentiful supply of pens and pencils, as well as one of those large, soft “art” erasers. Use a soft pencil, such as a “#2” and consider a pocket sharpener. Some timing device is essential, and can be your watch, or a small timer or clock you can place in front of you during the test. And if fluorescent lighting bothers you, wear a baseball cap or visor.

Getting into the test

A surprising amount of trouble in testing comes from sources that have nothing to do with what the technician knows about servicing vehicles. Step one is to read the question. As silly as it sounds, failure to read the question well is the cause of lots of trouble in multiple choice testing, and the best way to ensure that you’re answering the question the test asks (rather than the one you think it asks) is to practice and to read aggressively. Aggressive reading means use your pencil, and scribble. Wherever you can, underline, circle, jot down a key word, or just scribble a check mark or star to highlight the key word in each sentence.

Very little practice with this technique will dramatically reduce the amount of re-reading that you’ll do on the test. This has two benefits: it saves time, and it reduces the chances of your worst enemy in multiple-choice testing, the “second guess”. Ever changed your answer from the right one to the wrong one after re-reading the problem?

It’s frustrating, and is almost always the result of your changing perception of the question on a second reading, so use your pencil and personalize the passage to get at the real meaning.

The same tip goes for the answer section of each problem. The key is to remember that you’re looking for the best answer, not the first one that has an element of truth. Read all the answers, even if the first choice looks like the correct one. Even filling in the answer “bubbles” isn’t a no-brainer.

The tests are scored by machine, and as Al Gore knows, how you fill in the blanks makes a big difference. Fill in one answer only, and be sure that the answer that you’re filling corresponds to the one in the test booklet. If you get out of sync here, your correct answers will be compared to the wrong questions, and the machine won’t notice the problem. This is especially important if you’ve skipped a question that’s tough, with the intention of coming back to it later. Remember to put in a “placeholder” answer (and a star or checkmark to find it later) or every question from that point forward will likely score wrong no matter what you do. It happens surprisingly often. Don’t forget to go back and pick up those skipped questions, and remember you’ve paid for four hours and 15 minutes, so why leave early? Rechecking your answers will always reveal errors.

Is there a “trick” to answering ASE tests? The answer is no, there is nothing in the patterns of responses, the way the questions are arranged, or the wording used that can give you an advantage over the test content. The good news, however, is that everyone wants you to succeed, including ASE, and if you have trouble, your results will suggest more preparation, not that you’re somehow unintelligent.

Your results aren’t shared with anyone unless you give written permission, so there’s little to fear. Good luck to all candidate technicians from SSGM!

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