Soils Exam FAQs


Who should take the exam?
People who have a bachelor's degree in soil science or related science and are interested in professional certification or licensing. For requirements in a licensing program, contact the appropriate licensing board. If you are interested in soils certifications, please review the program requirements.

What is the exam format?
The exams are organized in a multiple-choice format with only one correct answer per question.  The multiple choice questions on the Professional Practice exam are based on several scenarios provided throughout the exam.

Are there study materials available?
Yes. The Performance Objectives (PO) are available free of charge on-line.  There is also a study guide available on-line for a minimal fee. The study guide is just that, a guide. It is recommended that the exam candidate work through the performance objectives and use study guides as supplemental information.

Are calculators allowed during the exam?
Yes, calculators will be provided. The exam candidate will be given the variables needed for an equation, but he or she is expected to know the correct equation.

Who prepares the exam?
The exam is prepared by the Council of Soil Science Examiners (CSSE), which is a panel of soil scientists from across the USA. The CSSE has about 15 members. Membership is a balance of practicing professional soil scientists, state and federal government soil specialists, and university faculty. The educational background and level of experience of CSSE members range from BS to PhD and from as few as 5 to as many as 40 years, respectively. Membership is also balanced to represent the entire USA. An individual member is appointed to a three-year term. She or he may be reappointed once. All new members must be licensed and/or certified.

What is the exam based upon?
The exams are based entirely upon the Fundamentals and Professional Practice Soil Science Exams Competency Areas and Performance Objectives.  These documents are available free online.

The competency areas and performance objectives were developed by surveying soil scientists from across the USA asking what a minimally competent soil scientist needs to know. This survey also established the relative proportion of knowledge that professional soil scientists need in the different competency areas. The competency areas and performance objectives are periodically updated in order to insure they reflect the current knowledge necessary for any minimally competent soil scientist. The most recent update was in 2013. It was completed by the CSSE in conjunction with a review by soil scientists from across the USA.

What is the balance of coverage among the Competency Areas and Performance Objectives?
Each exam is written to insure a balance of questions among the six competency areas: soil chemistry and mineralogy, soil physics, soil fertility and nutrient management, genesis, morphology and classification, soil biology and soil ecology, and soil and land use management. Not all performance objectives are covered on any exam although the number of questions asked per competency area is in proportion to the guidelines developed from a national survey of practicing soil scientists. Pragmatically this means the exam is weighted approximately equal among the six competency areas.

How is the exam graded?
The Council of Soil Science Examiners (the group that writes the exam) uses the Angoff Method to determine the cut score of the exam. This method determines a cut score based on the difficulty of the exam and is a common method that is used across a variety of examinations, not just soil science.  This method is recommended by our psychometrician, who oversees the statistical analysis of the exam. Thus, the cut score can change each time the exam is given based on the fact that the exam questions change, and therefore the difficulty of the exam can also change from exam administration to exam administration leading to a change in the cut score.  The methodology we use helps us to ensure that we have a statistically valid exam following accepted methodologies. Once the Angoff analysis is completed, a cut score is set. It is based only on the difficulty of the exam and does not compare test takers to each other or to a set percentage.

Is the exam curved?
No. The exam is NOT graded on a curve.

What is the passing score?
The passing score changes depending on the difficulty of the exam. The passing score of a particular examination is released after the examination has been graded but only to individuals who took the examination as well as pertinent certification and licensing boards. Given the scoring methodology that is used, the passing score fluctuates from year to year. There is no set passing score.

When will I receive my exam scores?
Exam scores will be mailed within six weeks of the exam date. You will receive the passing score, your score, and a pass/fail designation.

Can exam scores be given over the phone?
No. Exam score notifications are sent via email and examinees will need to login to their certification record (using the email and password we have on file) to access the scores.  Scores will not be given over the phone or sent by fax.

Will the exam scores be sent to anyone else?
For candidates taking the Fundamentals or Professional Practice Exams as part of their Agronomy or Soil Science certification requirements, the score will be emailed directly to the individual. The Soils Board is notified of your exam score.

For candidates taking the Fundamentals or Professional Practice Exams as part of state licensing requirements, the score will be mailed to the state board and then forwarded to the exam participant. Except for Texas, which requires the individual to notify the board of their exam scores.

Is an appeal of my exam score possible?
Appeal processes are handled by the Soils Board or by the state in which you are applying for licensure.

Which states use this exam for licensing soil scientists?
The following states use the Fundamentals Soil Science Exam: Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The following states use the Professional Practice Soil Science Exam: Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How often is the exam offered?
The Fundamentals and Professional Practice exams are each given twice a year. Exam date notifications are posted to the website.