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CRA Chronicles | Part 1: Facing My Fears

By SRAI News posted 01-09-2024 11:43 AM


CRA Chronicles | Part 1: Facing My Fears

This is the first installment in a three-part series sharing one research administrator’s experiences taking the Certified Research Administrator Exam. You can learn more about becoming a CRA on the Research Administrators Certification Council website. 

The last time I took an exam was in 1997. Elton John, Jewel, and Puff Daddy rode the top of the music charts, gas cost $1.23 a gallon, and computer-based testing was in its infancy. Having just finished my bachelor’s degree, it only made sense to apply for graduate school, and graduate school required the GRE. I won’t go into the gory details, but I will say that my memories of the GRE are not fond.

While the GRE is far behind me, I found that as I geared up for taking the Certified Research Administrator (CRA) exam, my brain was once again flooded with panic and anxiety from decades past. All my test-taking horror stories merged into a hurricane of nerves swirling around me as my finger hovered over the mouse. Should I click the submit button to register for the exam, or not?

I knew adding those little letters at the end of my name would be good for my career and encourage confidence from the people I work with and for. Yet I couldn’t help but question, could I do this? Would I have enough time to study? Could I even remember how to study? What if I panicked during the test? What if I forgot everything? Maybe I should wait until the next test cycle. 

In addition to the stress of the test itself, I was nervous about what it would mean if I failed. What would that say about my ability to do my job? What would my peers say? My brain immediately took me to a dream-like state where I was walking down the cubicle aisle at work, followed by pointed stares and mocking whispers, “Did you hear? She failed her exam!” Rationally, I knew that would never happen, and not just because I am a remote worker. My coworkers are the most encouraging group of folks I have ever worked with. I had no doubt of their support regardless of how I did on the exam.

After a few counseling sessions and a bit of channeling of my inner educator, I was finally able to acknowledge that passing or failing the CRA exam wouldn’t define me as a research administrator, as a co-worker, or as a person. While standardized testing is the best option we currently have for determining professional knowledge, we all know it has flaws. The difference between failure and success could be something as simple as fatigue. In the end, the worst thing that would happen if I failed the exam would be that I’d have to retake it. Time to click that register button and start studying!

If you’re feeling nervous about taking the CRA exam, know that you are in excellent company. It’s totally normal to be unsure, and the best way to face your fears is to be prepared. There are many resources out there to help you on your journey, and I’ve listed some below. Your institution may also offer resources, so be sure to check. 


  • Virginia Tech CRA Study Team – I highly recommend Virginia Tech’s CRA study sessions. Virginia Tech, and several collaborating institutions, have been providing this service to the research administration community for a number of years, and the materials are very thorough. In conjunction with the weekly seminars, the University of Michigan also emails a “CRA-A-Day” study sheet. There is no fee for this program.
  • RACC: How Do I Prepare For An Examination? – The Research Administrators Certification Council (RACC) offers study sessions and an online practice exam. There are fees for both the study sessions and exams, but your institution may cover the cost as part of your professional development.
  • SRAI Training Programs – SRAI offers a number of educational programs. These may be a good option if you are newer to the profession or if you want a more in-depth review. There are fees for the programs, but your institution may cover the cost as part of your professional development.
  • Quizlet – Search on “CRA Exam Practice Questions” on the search option. A number of fellow test takers have created Quizlets that you can use, and you may find this tool useful for creating study tools of your own. You can use Quizlet for free or choose to upgrade for more advanced features for a fee. 

Check back next month for Part II: What Not to Wear.

Authored by Carol Volker, Senior Pre-Award Associate
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University