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Reducing the Pressure on HERS Rater Class Students

 

HERS rater class preparing for the national HERS rater testYesterday, our first HERS rater class students had their first shot at the national HERS rater test. I'm happy to report that 100% passed the test, and the high score was 98%.

If you read my earlier article about the difficulty of the HERS rater test, you know that many students don't pass it on their first attempt. It's a hard test, which it needs to be, and many HERS training providers try to squeeze too much material into too short a time.

Here's what I attribute our success to:

  • The test is not the culminating event of the class.
  • The students have three chances to pass before they leave the class.
  • Our class is three days longer than the typical class (8 days rather than 5).

In home energy rater training classes that last five or five and a half days, the national HERS rater test is usually the last thing the students do. All week long, they're hearing about the test, and the pressure builds. They know that as soon as they're finished, they'll pack up and go home, so the pressure is great to pass the first time.

In our class, the students still feel pressure because they want to be done with it after their first try, but they know that if they don't make it the first time, they've got two more shots - at no extra cost. That knowledge acts as a pressure relief valve, and that's pretty important because some people tense up during a test, and extra pressure only makes it worse.

The way we've structured our class, the students take the test at the end of the fifth day. During those five days, we mainly focus on the building science, pressure testing, and HERS protocols that they need to pass the test. We do some work with the software, starting on the first day, to get them familiar with it, but most of the training for REM/Rate happens in the last three days.

We also went out into the field twice in the first five days and visited three houses. On the first day of class, we did a walk-through of a house under construction and then a full field inspection with pressure testing of an existing home. On the fourth day, we went out and the students got practice with the Blower Door and Duct Blaster.

This is only our first class, although it's the 20th time over all that I've taught a HERS rater class. I don't know that we'll get 100% passing on their first attempt every time we teach the class, but I think my goal to have 100% pass rate by the end of each class is realistic. 

Comments

Very interesting post, Allison. And I must say, congratulations on the impressive pass rate. I have several students from our most recent HERS training making their second attempt at the exam this week. We always strive to find that balance in our HERS trainings and I hate the idea of just 'teaching to the test'. I would like to incorporate more field work and 'hands on' training in our classes. But if we go overboard there, our pass rates on the exam tend to drop. We're committed to producing quality raters, so I'm not defining success solely on pass rates. The exam is a necessary step, so if I want to spend more time on practical training and still have reasonable pass rates, I will either have to improve the quality of materials/instruction, implement a screening process for students, or ditch the 5 day format. For several years now, we've placed our focus on improving the quality of our product by surveying our students and re-evaluating after each and every class. While I'm certain we can still improve there, I think ultimitely getting away from the five day format is best for us and best for the industry. 
 
I hope you and I will have the opportunity to present a session on this topic at the National RESNET conference in Orlando.
Posted @ Thursday, August 19, 2010 11:16 AM by Scott Doyle
You and I have reached the same conclusion, Scott - 5 days is not enough time for most students to master all the skills and knowledge needed to become a home energy rater. For someone who's an engineer or physicist, it's enough, but for the majority, understanding pressure, psychrometrics, and heat flow is a challenge. The brain needs time to assimilate all this new information, and 5 days isn't enough. Even 8 days isn't enough for students to really learn the material, but they get a much better start than with a 5 day class. 
 
I also hate the idea of teaching to the test, which is another reason to go to a longer format. In our first 5 days, we were able to focus on the building science, pressure testing, HERS protocols, and math. The students got to work through a lot of the problems and think through the issues.  
 
It sounds like you know what you have to do next, Scott. Make the leap. It shouldn't be too hard for you guys to expand it because aren't you already teaching a 2 week HERS/BPI class? 
 
I, too, look forward to presenting with you at the next RESNET conference on this topic. One comment I heard too much last year was, "Market forces dictate a one-week HERS rater class." Let's change that paradigm!
Posted @ Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:40 PM by Allison Bailes
I was also bothered last year by the sentiment that the market couldn't be changed. 
 
You are correct that we already have a two week class, but we teach both BPI Building Analyst and RESNET HERS. If anything, this format is more intense and demanding on students than a five day class for one or the other. There is some overlap in the basic building science, so we are able to add more field/practical, but I am not satisfied that it is enough. 
 
 
 
I am ooking forward to changing the paragigm as well!
Posted @ Thursday, August 19, 2010 1:12 PM by Scott Doyle
Allison, 
 
It is great that things are going well with your first class. I am pulling for you. A great result thus far - of course you can do 100% again. 
 
Let me say again that I am impressed with the way Energy Vanguard is going.
Posted @ Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:22 PM by Sam Bagwell
Thanks, Sam! I'm really enjoying teaching my own class now. It was a lot of fun teaching with Mike, too, but I like having control over the curriculum and the format. This first class has been great, and I have lots of ideas now about how to make it even better for our October class.
Posted @ Friday, August 20, 2010 8:35 AM by Allison Bailes
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