Brookfield, Wisconsin, the home of the International Foundation, is a place that truly presents four seasons of weather in all of their contrasting splendor. Colorful fall is out and blustery winter is in. We had our first “polar vortex” subzero temperature plunge and several snowstorms before winter’s official start date and there are weeks of snowflakes and icicles ahead of us!

I learned in the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) course GBA 1 that one of the principles of risk management is avoidance—the technique I prefer to use with winter. Once it’s colder outside than the inside of nearby Pettit National Ice Center, I stay in as much as possible. Cozy pajamas are my afterwork uniform and nights out turn into nights in with hot cocoa.

Winter is the Perfect Time to CEBS!
This year, I’m giving winter the ultimate cold shoulder. I’m trying to finish my CEBS designation before the spring weather arrives. I’ve passed six exams so far and I’ll attempt my last two exams in the first testing quarter of 2017. I’m already a homebody in winter, so why not get something done while I’m snowed in? I’m so busy with CEBS that I’m not even catching cabin fever this year. Winter is the perfect time to CEBS!

Last summer I brought a module of my Learning Guide and my textbook to Bradford Beach on Lake Michigan without fail. If all goes well, I’ll enjoy a summer without books in my beach bag and I’ll be looking forward to attending the CEBS conferment ceremony and the 37th Annual ISCEBS Employee Benefits Symposium in Denver, Colorado.

Working on my CEBS has been a journey, that’s for sure! I’ve been creating my own study techniques and traditions as I go. Here are some of the things that have been working for me:

  1. Take just ten minutes a day for a more prepared you. I can almost always find ten minutes in my day to dedicate to studying for my CEBS exam. I set an alarm on my phone and concentrate only on studying. It’s surprising what I can get done in a short time when I’m fully focused! By the end of the week, I’ve made a lot of progress and prevented procrastination from creeping up on me.
  2. Establish your study workflow. The first time I took a CEBS exam, I wasn’t sure how to study for it. After passing a few exams, I’ve found a process for studying that works for me. Taking the online instructor-guided course keeps me moving through the materials. First, I read the assigned readings without taking any notes.  I let all of the concepts flow through my mind. Then I do a deep reading of the Learning Guide and take notes, using my own words on each Key Concept. Next, I use materials from the online course site to make sure I understand everything. I read the instructor’s notes, compare them to my own and try to fill in any gaps in my knowledge. Finally, I use the online interactive games and quizzes to test myself and make sure I’ve mastered the materials. Take note of what works for you and keep doing it!
  3. Enlist help from your inner circle. Let’s face it—less time cooking, cleaning or shoveling snow means more time to study! Studying takes up a lot of time, especially the review process leading up to the exam. I was getting ready for GBA 3 as the holidays were approaching. This year, I let my dad and daughter decorate my house. It wasn’t just like how I deck the halls, but things were still merry and bright and it was easier on me! Delegate your dust bunnies to someone who loves you and ask for extra hugs when you’re nervous for your exam!
  4. Focus on what challenges you the most. There are always a few things in each module that still mystify my mind after multiple reviews. I write down the four or five terms or concepts that keep throwing me off with some notes. I briefly revisit my trouble spots in each module every day before the exam. I end up with a few sheets of paper that map out exactly what I need to focus on. I look them over one last time in the car before I walk into the testing center.
  5. Celebrate each success! After investing so many hours into studying, there’s no bigger adrenaline rush than clicking on the button to submit my exam at Prometric. Passing an exam requires some celebration because my CEBS support squad is just as elated as I am! My daughter and I go out to dinner whenever I pass an exam. I also take a few days off from studying to relax. Do something fun or special to reward yourself for each milestone you reach working toward your CEBS. I think you deserve it!

What’s your motivation for striving to get your CEBS? How do you get into study mode and celebrate when you pass an exam? I’d love to hear your tips—Please share in the comments below!

Are you ready to make some big progress and get the most out of your winter? Check out to learn more.

Christine Vazquez, GBA
Manager, Professional Development at the International Foundation




Christine Vazquez, CEBS


6 thoughts on “Winter is the Perfect Time to CEBS!

  1. Brad Hanovich

    If you were taking the online classes from Sept – December, would you recommend taking the exam in the 4th quarter right when the classes end so its fresh? or would you push it to 1st quarter following year to allow more study time?

    1. Christine Vazquez, GBA

      Brad, it looks like you’re considering taking a class in the new CEBS program this fall. The new program contains applications throughout each course–Benefits in Action mini cases and an Integrated Case to help you connect what you’re learning to your work.

      I would recommend that you schedule your exam in first quarter to give yourself enough time to complete the applications.

      1. Brad Hanovich

        Thank you for the insight. Yes, I am starting the new program – excited to see what knowledge it brings to my career.

        I am a bit disappointed to not learn the compensation part from the old program, but looking forward to starting!

        Thank you again!

  2. Julie

    Hi Christine,

    How long did you decide to study before taking the exam? Not sure if the instructor-led course is enough time to learn the material or if additional time after is recommended. Also, did you take multiple courses at once or one at a time? Any advice will be appreciated!

  3. Christine Vazquez, CEBS

    Hi, Julie,

    I would start studying for a CEBS exam around the beginning of a testing quarter and take the exam at the end of the quarter. I took the instructor-led online classes and studied for a few additional weeks of intensive review after the classes concluded. I liked to take the exams while the content was fresh in my mind.

    At first, I took one exam at a time. When I was closer to finishing the CEBS designation and better at the process of preparing for the exams, I took two exams in different designations per testing quarter. I earned my designation in the former program.

    My advice would be to give yourself plenty of time to learn and study, especially for your first CEBS exam. I also recommend that learners begin with GBA 1 or RPA 1. These classes are introductory to the topics of group health and retirement benefits. The content in GBA 2 and RPA 2 is at a more intermediate level. Finally, GBA/RPA 3 is a blend of both strategic health and retirement topics. Some students choose to complete the GBA or RPA first and finish the other designation to earn their CEBS. Other students leave GBA/RPA 3 for their last class.

    1. Julie

      Hi Christine,

      Thank you for the information.I’m excited to start the journey and appreciate your insight!


Comments are closed.

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