Lessons Learned from
Applying for CEM® Certification

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By Major Phil Jewell, CEM, Army, Dept. of National Defence, Edmonton, AB, Canada


I have written the following from my own personal experience. The intent is to help those who plan on applying for the AEM or CEM accreditation. Having recently completed the application process and been granted the CEM accreditation, I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I learned from my application process with the wider emergency management community.

The information is not intended to give those who read it an unfair advantage. Instead, the intent is to inform the wider community on some tips and techniques I used to help with the application process. It does not cover the entire application. Instead, I have focused on the topics which I found the most challenging: Professional Contributions, the Essay, and the Exam.

Professional Contributions

The biggest concern I had were the six professional contributions. The majority of my career has been spent in the Army, where the language used and skill sets developed have their own unique terminology. Translating this into language and experiences that everyone can understand can be challenging. The same applies in reverse, so when I initially looked through the list of requirements, I struggled with identifying contributions from my professional career that would fit into the listed categories.

However, once I sat down and really brainstormed, I began to develop a relatively good list. These initial ideas helped me to think outside the box and develop a comprehensive list of multiple contributions from which I could select. I think this situation probably applies to the majority of us. Each industry has its very own language, and translating this into generic emergency management language can appear challenging at first. I guess my one bit of advice is do not sell yourself short. The fact that you are considering applying for your accreditation demonstrates that you have gained a lot of emergency management experience. Finally, there are obviously a couple of easy wins with regard to these contributions.

Whether it is being a member of an emergency management organization or developing and delivering presentations, the majority of us will be able to quickly identify two or three contributions.


There is a lot of freedom with the essay in terms of the topic that can be chosen. My best bit of advice here is to use the marking guide/criteria as a framework for writing your actual essay. I used the criteria as “hidden headings,” ensuring that I touched on all points and integrated them into my answer. This approach helped me to ensure that: (1) my essay was well-balanced and covered all the relevant areas of emergency management, and (2) I answered the question in the way the application requested.


My exam was made up of 100 multiple choice questions, with 80 of them being generic emergency management questions and 20 of them being Canadian-specific emergency management questions.

This should help you prioritize and divide your studying time. Make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the references. They are there for a
reason, and the questions are based on them.

Generic Emergency Management Questions

All of the references used to formulate these questions are located on the FEMA website under the Individual Study Course Program. I found this to be a valuable resource when preparing for the exam. I took the time to study (or re-study if previously completed) each course and printed off the course materials, highlighting key areas from the material.

In addition, I actually took the test for each course, which acted as a benchmark and helped confirm my knowledge. If you get below 75%, you will not be granted the course completion certificate, but perhaps more importantly, this experience will highlight the areas where you are weakest and where you should focus your efforts.

Once you have revisited the course material, retake the exam and continue to use it as a benchmark to gauge your progress. Take notes of all critical points, and develop your own acronyms to help you learn key principles and processes (i.e. Principles of Emergency Management). Test yourself daily with these acronyms to confirm your knowledge.

Country-Specific Questions

There are far more references that these questions could be formulated from. Without a tool similar to the FEMA Independent Study Course Program, it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to start and how to prioritize what you learn.

What worked for me was to again print off all the references, go through each one, and highlight key points and areas from each reference. If you focus on key information, such as principles, processes and facts (including important statistics), then you are not only enhancing your specific emergency management knowledge (which is clearly the larger intent of the exam) but also preparing yourself for some of the likely questions.

Remember, all of the questions are multiple choice, and multiple choice questions focus on specific facts as opposed to generic open-ended information. Keeping this in mind should help you refine your study strategy. Again, I made key notes from each topic area, creating my own lists and acronyms and learning one or two a day leading up to the exam.


I deliberated and delayed my application, as it appeared overwhelming. However, as I look back, I value the detail and thoroughness involved as it makes the accreditation even that much more of an achievement. I made everything as self-explanatory and specific as possible, so it was easy for the subject matter experts selected to review the application to see if it met the requirements. If there is one bit of advice I would give above all else, it would be to find a mentor who already has the accreditation. They can help guide you through the process and provide advice and recommendations that may help trigger your own thought processes. For me, this happened over a coffee one winter’s afternoon, when the application process became less overwhelming and much more achievable. Without that guidance, I am convinced I wouldn’t be writing this article today.

IAEM Bulletin, January 2016

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