Pan American Aerobiology Certification Board


Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Why is the PAACB a good certification program?

The certification program was initiated by the Spore Counter Certification Committee of the Pan-American Aerobiology Association. The PAAA is a professional scientific organization whose members’ interests are centered on the source, dispersal, transport, deposition and impact of airborne biological material. The collective expertise of the PAAA in the understanding of the mechanisms, processes and identity of bioaerosols is unparalleled in North America. The PAAA recognized the need for validated competency in the ability to identify biological organisms such as pollen grains and fungal spores and built a scientifically sound program that will serve as both a means of professional development and metric to assure a certain level of competency.

  1. Will this certification be widely recognized? Accepted? Required?

Participation in the certification programs of the PAACB is strictly voluntary. Certification is not required by any organization, group or body although some accept this certification as evidence of proficiency for their licensing programs. The program is widely recognized in various industries, and individuals that complete our programs are recognized as having achieved a standard level of competency. Dozens of commercial laboratories, agencies, or groups have individuals that have participated in our programs.

  1. Our lab has AIHA certification—why do we need this?

There are many differences between the AIHA program and the PAACB programs. First and foremost, the PAACB program is for individuals, not laboratories. The PAACB believes that it is important to certify the individuals who perform the identifications and sample analysis as this is the best way to ensure the quality of the analysis. The PAACB program specifically evaluates the ability of individuals to correctly identify spores and pollen as would be encountered on samples for direct microscopic examination. This is not a web-based program; hence our evaluation process ensures that the person who doing the identifying is the one that receives the certification.

  1. What are the qualifications for analysts to participate in Level 1 certification process? (Who can sign up?)

Registration is open to all who believe themselves qualified. It is, however, strongly recommended that individuals have experience in performing sample analysis before attempting certification. We recommend 6 months full-time experience or 1 year of part-time experience. We have provided guidance documents on this website to aid in preparing for the certification process.

  1. What kind of information is included in the guidance documents?

The guidance documents outline the type of information that is expected to be known by individuals who complete all levels of the certification process. In addition, for many topics we list a number of references that can be consulted to gain more information. The list of references are not exhaustive but are meant as resource for individuals requiring help in locating specific information. There may be other sources that may also be useful. Questions on qualifying and certification examinations will be taken from topic areas covered in the guidance documents. Please consult the summary for information on topics covered by the Spore Analyst Level 1 exams.

  1. Once I sign up for this program, how does the process work, timelines, etc.? When can I sign up? What are the passing scores?

The certification process requires a number of steps

    1. Complete a registration form, submit the $450 registration and written qualifying exam fee, and submit a signed policy statement
    2. A written qualifying exam will be sent to you at a time when it is convenient for you to spend time to complete it. Once received, the qualifying exam must be returned within 3 weeks. You may use any reference material (books, literature, internet resources) you desire to answer the questions. However, the work must be the sole work of the candidate and no discussion with others is allowed. In addition, you must not share the content of the exam with anyone else (no photocopying or discussion with others)
    3. The exam will be graded and notification of your marks will be sent to you (as two graders will be marking the exam we expect this to take approximately 2 months). A grade of 85% is required to pass.
    4. Those who pass the qualifying exam will be requested to submit the $400 certification exam fee
    5. Once the certification exam fee is received the candidate will be given information to make arrangements to take the certification exam with a proctor.
    6. The certification will involve identifying images as well as answering some multiple choice questions similar to some questions on the qualifying exam. The results of the certification exam will be available to the candidate within two weeks.
    7. Upon successful completion, a rubber stamp with certification ID number will be issued for use on any reports bearing the individual’s work.
  1. How will the PAACB ensure that the certification process is unbiased?

Since some members of the board, advisory committee and the scientific committee are also involved with commercial laboratories, the issue of fairness is important and critical to the success of the program. The following steps have been instituted to assure a transparent, non-biased, and fair process:

A. All examinations will be assessed for fairness, accuracy of information, and clarity by mycologists and palynologists who are professionals in the field. Examinations are “beta-tested” to ensure that questions are clear and unambiguous and that passing cut off grades are set appropriately. As much as possible, tests have been prepared so that they can be objectively graded.

B. Persons correcting the qualifying examinations will be blinded as to the identity of the test takers. Each applicant will be assigned a code which will be the only identifying label on each page of the exam. The key to the codes will be carefully guarded and under the care of the PAACB administrator. The administrator has been hired to handle the day-to-day operations of the certification program to ensure an unbiased process.

C. The certification exam will be proctored. This ensures that individuals have equal access to testing and that the identity of test takers is assured (which would be impossible with a web-based exam). The certification exam consists of a large number of images to be identified plus some calculations and conceptual questions. The bank of images comes from a wide range of sources. Each one will be verified by a set of 3 reference mycologists or palynologists to assure the clarity of the image and the identification.

D. The entire program, as well as any individual complaints lodged by applicants will be subject to review by a large and competent ‘Advisory and Oversight Board’. The job of this board will be the following:

1) Help maintain objectivity

2) Review changes in organizational structure

3) Assure that certification standards are clear, unambiguous, reasonable, fair, and objectively grounded.

4) Assure compliance with by-laws.

5) Oversee scientific committees.

  1. Why is the fee $850? What does this cover?

The $850 fee covers all fees required for the certification process which is valid for a period of three years. This fee is needed in order to cover the costs of independent administrative management and proctored testing to ensure a secure, unbiased testing process. The income from these fees are used only to cover expenses related to administering the certification tests since all PAACB board, advisory and scientific committee members serve on a volunteer basis. The fee is split into two payments so that individuals only pay for tests they are eligible to take.

  1. I have three analysts on staff and want them all to participate in the spore analyst certification program. Our small lab cannot afford to sign them all up the first year. Does PAACB offer any discounts for multiple analysts?

There are no discounts for multiple analysts since the certification program is for individuals, not laboratories. We will be communicating and accepting payments from individuals, only. Some commercial laboratories may decide to fund certification for their analysts, but all such arrangements will be between those analysts and their employers. It is deemed very important that a wall of separation remain between laboratories and the certification process (PAACB).  We also feel that this is fairer to the individuals who are not connected to a large laboratory.

  1. In the certification exam, to what level are analysts required to identify samples (species, genera)?

The taxonomic level of identification required on certification examinations is the same as that possible when identifying pollen and spores from ‘spore-trap’ samples. There are few types that can be identified confidently to species. Based on spore morphology alone, most can only be differentiated to the genus level. In some cases broader taxonomic groups (family or groups of families) are the lowest possible level of identification. The level of identification expected will be clearly specified in each question.

  1. Will spore samples be representative of those found in an applicant’s geographic area or will they be more general?

Spore types presented are generally representative of the broader geographic context. However, where possible we acknowledge the different perspectives of individuals from different geographic areas and allow individuals to relate responses to their own area.

  1. What is the proficiency level required for Level 1 certification?

The certification program is set-up to assess competency at multiple levels. Level 1 assesses basic background knowledge, ability to identify common pollen or spore types, and knowledge of routine analysis protocols. This is level would be applicable to a knowledgeable entry level analyst.

  1. Where will I go to take my certification exam?

Certification exams will be arranged with a local proctor. There are specific instructions on who would qualify to be a proctor and tips on how to locate one. Each proctor must be approved before testing materials are sent out. 

  1. How will the certification exam be administered in Canada or other countries?

Proctor arrangements can also be made in Canada or any other country. We will build in additional time in order to send and receive materials through international mail.

  1. Will there be re-certification or proficiency testing?

Yes. Our current plan is to re-certify after 3 years. Once our boards and committees are meeting regularly we will establish a formal plan for proficiency and/ re-certification. Check the website for updates.

  1. Who will be on the PAACB board of directors? Will public health sector and building industry be represented on BOD along with microbiologists? How can I get involved?

We are very interested in maintaining a representative board that reflects the constituents with vested interests in pollen and spore certification testing. Our website will list the current roster of board and committee members and their affiliations.  We invite participation from all sectors and ask that you make your interests, expertise and willingness known to us. Please fill in the information sheet and contact the PAACB administrator.

  1. How much time should I allot for the Qualifying Exam?

We suggest one set aside from 8 to 12 hours.  Some with extensive experience will be able to complete the exam in less than 4 hours.  For those with less experience who use the qualifying exam as a learning tool and need to look up many things, it might take longer than 12 hours.

  1. What types of questions are on the Qualifying Exam?
Questions on the Qualifying Exam include fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, T/F, and drawings (by the candidate).
  1. On the Certification Exam, are spore sizes given or are micrometer lines provided?

Some images on the Certification Exam have micrometer lines, others do not.  Frequently there are other particles in the image that give clues about size.

  1. On the Certification Exam are fungal spores the only particles to be identified?

Images of both fungal spores and other particles that could potentially be confused with fungal spores are included on the Certification Exam.

  1. There is some lack of agreement between some commercial laboratories as to what is acceptable.  Therefore, for classifying “common” spore types for PAACB exams, what taxonomic or other categories are considered acceptable?

We take into account the morphological variability within a taxon and between taxa (based on input from a number of expert mycologists), as well as categories that are generally accepted by commercial labs, when deciding which taxon or categories to accept.  Our questions are clear as to whether we are asking for a genus name (e.g., Ganoderma), other taxonomic category (e.g., basidiospore), or some other morphological category (smut/Periconia).

  1. Do you provide specific information about mistakes on the qualifying exam.  For example, what images were misidentified, what mathematical  mistakes were made.  Do you return a corrected exam?

We do not provide specific information on questions incorrectly answered on the Qualifying Exam, nor do we return the exams.  We know of no other certifying agency that returns such exams.  For those that do not pass the exam (or who just barely pass), we provide general comments indicating areas where additional education would be helpful.

  1. Are questions on analytical methodology general or specific?  How are they evaluated considering that different laboratories sometimes use different protocols?

Questions dealing with protocols are, for the most part, general; addressing the reasons for analyzing a sample in a certain way, calculating concentrations (with the needed parameters provided), etc.  Acceptable responses are based on consensus of the PAACB Scientific Committee in addition to mycological expert consultants.

  1. Is the PAACB Certification program recognized and accepted by the industry?

Analysts from over 20 different groups/laboratories are currently certified; the Texas Mold Assessment and Remediation Rules (TMARR) (Texas Administrative Code §§295.301-295.338) (aka, House Bill 329) recognizes the PAACB certification program for their licensing of Mold Analysis Laboratories (RULE §295.317); both of these facts are a sign of acceptance by the industry.

  1. Are the PAACB exams difficult?

For the Spore Analyst I level, we require the fundamental basic level of knowledge to pass our exams. This core set of requirements was established by a working group of professionals in the industry and these, while not particularly difficult, do require a basic understanding of spore morphology, mycology, and sampling theory. The knowledge required to be a competent analyst is not typically taught in formal degree programs, therefore we designed the qualifying exam as a learning experience and made it open book, while at the same time allowing us to evaluate the candidate’s likelihood of success on the Certification Exam.  There is a strong correlation between the grade on the Qualifying Exam and success on the Certification Exam.  Therefore, those that take the time and opportunity to do well on the Qualifying also typically do well on the Certification Exam. The guidance documents are the key to locating the necessary resources to acquire this knowledge.

26.  How much will the PAACB pay to proctors?

Normally proctors charge between $30 and $60, some will do it for free during their regular working hours.  If the proctor you contact requires more, please contact the administrators to make arrangement.   Obviously, not paying high amounts to proctors will enable the PAACB to keep fees low.  On the other hand, we see the proctors as important part of this process and want to compensate them fairly.




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