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Pesticide News

Tips to help employees succeed

keys with a tag that says success

You finally found the right people to help complete your workforce. You are showing them what needs to be done and where. But are you helping them to learn how to apply pesticides safely and effectively? Are you guiding them toward the information they need, and will it be presented in the best format for their learning styles?

Preparing Employees

We routinely see frazzled employees show up to General Standards training because they were just notified about the training that morning. Often, they were not provided with any training materials to study ahead of time. While PSEP training courses provide a focused review of the basics of pesticide safety, they are intended to reinforce the content within training manuals.


Workbooks are provided at the training, but seasoned applicators know that having a workbook and manual to skim through ahead of time really helps. This is especially true of category trainings such as Turfgrass or Ornamentals where the information needed to fill in the blanks aren’t single words as it is in General Standards. For some, the act of simply reading the material is the preferred study method. Order study materials at the PSEP website

Class Selection

It will also make the clinic process smoother and less anxious for your employees if you tell them ahead of time what classes they are signed up for and what the expectations are. The simple act of taking a test (where often their job depends upon successfully passing that test) is nerve-racking. Many of the applicators we see have been out of school for many years and it could be that school wasn’t easy for them. So, inform them ahead of time and provide them with the right study tools. Our factsheet can assist: Tips for Certification Exam Preparation.

Online Options

Maybe the thought of being in a room full of 300 others is enough to spur concern. Our self-paced online training courses may be just the right approach. Courses can be taken when you are available at your speed. Yes, you can adjust the speed of the videos even! Content can be reviewed multiple times to reinforce learning. Access is available for 30 days. Knowledge check questions are placed between sections. Courses can be viewed from the comfort of your home or office. While this method will save time and gas money, it may not be the best method of learning for your particular employee. Have those conversations.

In-Person Options

Some have expressed to us that the in-person training clinics really are their preference because they need to see the trainer and be forced to sit and learn the material in a few hours. Some really appreciate being able to ask the trainers questions directly. Again, talk with your employees about this. Ask them how they would best be able to learn the material. It is in everyone’s best interest for them to learn how to apply safely. In-person training clinics will resume in the fall, but online trainings are available.

Test Assistance

Sometimes an employee will struggle to pass a test. Be sure and work with them to find out what manual chapter sections they are weak on. The IDA exam score printout will show the results for each section. You can assist by looking through their workbook and quizzing them. Coworkers can also assist in these efforts. You may find that they just simply need a little more work in certain areas, or you may find that there is something larger going on. I’ve seen people miss some basic topic questions that I thought were drilled into their heads. It could be that there are reading or anxiety issues that are complicating matters. A little one on one time might bring some of these matters to light.

In certain medical cases, extra time could be allotted by IDA, but this would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Department of Agriculture is committed to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  To request an accommodation for a licensing exam, please contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Environmental Programs, Certification/Licensing/Registration Section at (217) 785-2427, (TTY) 866-287-2999 or, and indicate the intended exam to be taken and the accommodation requested.  The Department may request additional information but will respond to the initial request within five business days.

We are often asked if there is a practice test somewhere. Unfortunately, there is not, however, the Knowledge Check questions located in the online training can act as such. To be able to access them again, simply click through the training quickly by clicking on “Next.” Alternatively, you could copy the questions down in your notes. The General Standards workbook contains sample questions in the back to give users an idea of the style to expect. Flashcards that have been created by other test takers are available online on platforms such as Quizlet. Currently, none of these materials have been created or approved by the University of Illinois Pesticide Safety Education Program or IDA. So please keep in mind that questions could have incorrect answers or could focus on extra material. While these services are free, ads come along with the flashcards.

Language Assistance

Language barriers may exist with some of your employees. While training is currently available in English only, the General Standards test is now available in Spanish for in-person testing locations. Please know that the included label is in English only. It’s important to consider that one should take the test in the language he or she is most comfortable with. If someone has been studying the material in English, don’t be surprised if they opt to take the exam in English too.  

In the end, it all comes down to good communication between you and your employees. It could be that they don’t know yet which learning method would work best for them and they’ll need to try a few things. They’ll appreciate you taking the time to ask them and work with them to help ensure their success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Wiesbrook provides subject matter expertise and training in pesticide safety with an emphasis on horticultural weed science. She serves as the Illinois Pesticide Review newsletter editor, collecting and organizing material; and co-coordinates social media information for the PSEP program and ensures its timely publication.