Six Sigma Yellow Belt – Exam Guide

Six Sigma is a certification program that’s vastly more popular in Japan and India than over in the United States or Europe, so it’s not terribly surprising that many people here State-side have never heard of it.

It comprises several things, including organizational efficiency, operations standardization, eliminating waste in processes and products, and reducing variation in your organization to increase productivity. While this description sounds somewhat generic, several practical examples of what Six Sigma brings to the table are:

  1. How to have team meetings that are faster, more productive, and get everyone on the same page in a better fashion.
  2. How to lead your team, or your business, in a fashion that keeps employees happy and growing in their positions and skillsets while keeping things moving forward in efficient fashion.
  3. How to find ways to streamline everyday tasks to save time and money, which is actually easier to do than you’d think, as long as people are receptive to change and a few fresh ideas.

I went down the road of getting my Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification recently; there are currently 5 difficulty/complexity categories of Six Sigma certification, and Yellow Belt is the second easiest. It’s geared towards team leaders or managers who need a high-level process management plan for their teams without needing to dive in to a heavy amount of low-level process understanding. With how highly valued it is in Japan’s workplace environment, I figured it would help me market myself better on the other side of the world while equipping me with some much-needed business skills.

To my surprise, I actually got a tremendous amount of “mileage” out of this certification, and would recommend its content as a course of study to people working under me or for others who’d like to leverage more out of their organization if they haven’t had an efficiency audit performed in a while.

That being said, I had a few observations to make about the program for others who are interested in going down this road. While this may demonstrate a bit of weakness on my part, I hope this proves helpful for English speakers who are looking to add this cert to their repertoire.

Study Options – An Unconventional Road To Traverse

The two main routes you can go down to get the necessary knowledge for this certification are either self-study with course books, or pay for the International Association of Six Sigma Certification’s (IASSC) two-day classroom course. I went the self-study route, as is my tendency.

Unlike any other certification I’ve ever done, I actually felt like the study books I used, while they were good, didn’t fully equip me for the exam. I learned this the hard way after purchasing three study books, taking thorough notes of all of them, then sitting for the exam and failing by a slim margin. (making this the first exam I’ve actually failed in over 7 years)

The books I used were:

  • The Certified Six Sigma Yellow Belt Handbook, by Govind Ramu
  • Certified Six Sigma Yellow Belt Exam Secrets, by Momentrix
  • Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt & Orange Belt, by H.C. Thiesens

The best of these books was hands-down Mr. Ramu’s book – it very clearly sticks to the exam objectives in its content and was my best reference for the test. The other two books were alright and are great desk references, but didn’t equivocate content to categories on the test the way Mr. Ramu’s did.

The clear downside to all three, as was implied prior, is that none of them in my opinion adequately cover the test content. Over a third of the questions on the test related to concepts or terminology that these resources didn’t cover, and I was forced to start researching post-fail to find out more information on what I got wrong.

My suggestion is that if you go the self-study route for your exam, use IASSC’s Body of Knowledge (BoK) layout – which covers all of the information categories that the exam tests on – to find books that align to the test content well. Select books using a method where you can examine part of the book before you buy it to determine that it actually sticks to the BoK thoroughly.

If you’d rather do the classroom training route offered by IASSC, which I assume offers the best coverage for the exam content since it’s the course the actual vendor recommends, you’re looking at $995.00 in exam fees, which is moderately steep for a two-day course. Locations for the class vary across the United States – check on IASSC’s website to locate the center closest to you.

“Off The Record” Thoughts On This Exam

As a disclaimer, I can’t prove most of the points I’m about to make, as they’re based off of suspicion as opposed to hard facts. So, take this with a real grain of salt, coming from a salty “old” man.  🙂

I suspect that there’s a degree of disconnect on this exam for English-speaking audiences here State-side because this exam, first and foremost, is actually a Japanese exam. Once it’s been transliterated into English, and the content changed to suite English-speaking audiences in wording, it’s then offered to vendors who write the test prep books for the exam along with a transliterated copy of the BoK. As such, my gut reaction is that the English version of this exam is far different than the Japanese one.

Perhaps this is why the test prep books didn’t adequately prepare me for this test; there’s also the possibility that I simply purchased three less-than-suitable books in a row. This is not a diss against any of these books, because I feel there’s a lot of practical real-world knowledge in them, but they don’t quite span the scope of the test content.

If you’re particularly inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, you could also suspect that IASSC is deliberately leaving out key pieces of information to test prep vendors for their books in an effort to try and “force” people down the road of taking their two-day course on the exam, because the course costs over twice as much between the cost of my books and having the pay for the exam myself twice.

There also seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of IASSC as to what the exam objectives really are, as hard as that is to believe. I say this based off of some of the actual exam content I saw that made no sense at all and wasn’t in the BoK scope, in addition to the fact that the official IASSC Body of Knowledge page for the Yellow Belt exam has several flaws on it as validated against multiple other reputable sources (1.4.4 lists seven Muda (waste) elements when there are actually eight; in 1.4.5, the 5S (Sort, Set In Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) principles are listed incorrectly; etc.).

But, at the end of the day, who knows?

I will say this – and this is a fact – that even if you buy $150 worth of books, then have to sit for the exam three times (one pass and two fails, which will cost you $200 for your first attempt, and $150 for every subsequent one), you’re still only sitting at $650 spent, which is less than the $995 IASSC course.

If you’re not pressured for time to get your certification, it’s more financially worthwhile to simply try and “brute force” your way past the exam even if you fail it a few times in the process. I don’t normally advocate this kind of approach in anything in life, but this is honestly what I felt like I had to do to finally get this notch scratched down on my certification checklist.

At the end of the day, I’m just a salty “old” man. What do I know, anyway?

Registering & Sitting For Your Exam – What They Don’t Tell You

There’s two methods of taking your Six Sigma Yellow Belt exam, and they’re a bit of a head-scratcher for me.

You can schedule the exam through Pearson Vue, then find a test center close to where you live, schedule a time, and go in to sit for the proctored exam, which costs $310 as of the time of this writing.

Alternatively, you can also buy a voucher from IASSC, then register through an online service called ProctorU, and take the exam in the comfort of your home 24/7 and have a vendor simply proctor you through your computer’s webcam and microphone, which costs $200 at the time of this writing.

This seems like a bit of a no-brainer, even if you don’t have a webcam and microphone on your PC at home. Buy a set for $30 or so, and just take the test from home. It’s a more comfortable setting for you, and cheaper.

What IASSC also doesn’t tell you about this exam beforehand is that you’re allowed to use a basic calculator of your own, a pencil and paper for formulas and notes, and they will provide you with sheets of the more advanced formulas tested on the exam (such as the formula to calculate Standard Deviation). For the pencil and paper, you need to also have a paper shredder ready beforehand, because the online proctor won’t allow you to use these resources unless they watch you shred the paper notes at the end of your exam session.

In my personal opinion, Yellow Belt doesn’t dig quite deep enough into the formula conversation compared to the higher-ranking Six Sigma exams, so you probably won’t need the calculator. I didn’t use the note sheet options on my exams, but you’re more than welcome to if you feel it would help.

You’re allotted two hours for the exam, although most folks would finish theirs at around the 60 minute mark. You’ll be permitted to go forward and backward in your exam questions, mark questions for review, as well as add comments to your test.

These tests are not auto-scored, meaning that each test is actually manually graded the old-fashioned way. The reason for this is that if there’s a question on the test that’s vague, is worded incorrectly, or conflicts with some of the study books you used and you mention this in the comments (along with book titles and author names, etc.), they’ll actually give you the credit for the question as a misnomer on their part. So, don’t be afraid to use the comments feature on your exam if you’re 100% convinced that you’ve stumbled across a bad question – those comments, if used correctly, can net you back some points you otherwise wouldn’t have scored.

The tests take 1-3 business days to grade, so there’s a little bit of an anxious wait after taking the exam before finding out your results. If you don’t pass the first time, you’re allowed to take the exam again after two weeks. If you don’t pass the second time, you’ve got to wait three months before taking another stab at the exam – keep this in mind if your employer has put a tight schedule on you to get your certification by, because the IASSC course may be the route you have to go.

Should you fail the exam, apologies. The good news, however, is that unlike the lion’s share of certification tests you may have otherwise seen in the course of your life, Six Sigma will actually give you a detailed report telling exactly what question subcategories you answered incorrectly on. This reference is an incredibly useful tool for gearing up on your weaknesses to prepare for taking the exam again. In other words, they’re fairly forgiving in terms of getting back up and trying the exam again.

Why I Haven’t Published A “Study Sheet” For This Exam

While my habit is normally to post an exam “cheat-sheet” of sorts that covers all the key terms and concepts for what a test entails, I haven’t done this in regard to Six Sigma Yellow Belt for two reasons.

Firstly, since I didn’t feel that the books I used adequately prepared me for the test, I’m hesitant to publish my review sheet I created based off these books because I don’t feel like it’s good enough. You’re likely better off making a review sheet of your own prior to your test, as I found that the process of creating my review sheet helped instill the concepts for it in me better than simply reading something and trying to memorize it.

Secondly, the review sheet I created actually ended up being a condensed version of primarily Mr. Ramu’s book. Publishing it here wouldn’t be fair to the author, as he worked hard to put his findings on the exam into a book for others, and he has a family he needs to financially sustain, too. You can obtain a copy of his book for $30-35 through online vendors, and my suggestion is to obtain his book that way to obtain this reference for yourself.

Closing Thoughts

I’m fairly glad this exam is over; I loved the course material for it, but I can’t say as I want to take it again.

If you’re planning on keeping the majority of your work career in the United States or Europe, Yellow Belt can provide some key knowledge for you in getting more out of your business team, but I can’t recommend pursuing the certification purely for that reason – the cert just isn’t enough of a value-add for the hurdles you’ll have to jump through to obtain it.

On the flip side, if you’re located in India or Japan, your employer might require you to obtain this certification as it’s valued more highly on your side of the world than for me. As such, you’ll likely have better options available in your native language for this exam than I do in English – and the quality of your reference materials may be higher. By all means, my suggestion is to go for the self-study route first, and if you have difficult with that approach if you fail the exam once, then consider going for the two-day course.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my CCNP exam studies – which you’ll have a study guide entry for by August (I hope).

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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